10 ways to enjoy your food this Christmas without putting on weight
Although 2020 is a bit different from usual, many of us will be eating out or indulging at home. The good news is that you can still eat, drink and be merry without overdoing it. Here are my tips for enjoying this Christmas while keeping an eye on your waistline and health.
1. Don't overdo it
Yes, it's been a tough year, but whatever the supermarket advertising would have you think, a second dessert isn't going to change that. Try to remind yourself of your health goals and why looking after your heart is important to you, and you'll get more of a glow from achieving that than from another slice of that gold-leaf-dusted celebrity-chef-endorsed creation.
Many of us eat more than usual over the Christmas period. And when we eat out, we often eat more than we would at home. We know that sticking to just one course once you see what everyone else is having is hard, so decide before you begin if you are going to have a starter or a dessert.
If you don’t want to feel too stuffed, consider a starter (perhaps with a side order of vegetables), instead of a main course, or ask for a smaller portion. (If you're in tier 2 restrictions and having alcohol with your meal, this should still count as a "substantial meal" for the purposes of the restrictions, but you can always check with the restaurant if you're not sure.)
Whether you're eating out or at home, having a coffee or cup of tea while others have a pudding is a good way to round off a meal, or you could share a pudding with others.
2. Try to eat a bit less at other times
A one-off celebration meal out probably won’t make any difference to your health in the grand scheme of things, so enjoy it. However, if you're having a few, try to scale back what you're eating in your other meals. This could mean having a lighter meal in the evening, like soup, salad or sandwich, if you had a big meal earlier in the day. Try to choose options that are low in fat and salt for your other meals of the day.
3. Check the menu in advance
When you're eating out, one of the best ways to make healthy choices is to check the menu beforehand, whether online or in person, and choose what you're going to have with your health in mind. It means you can choose your meal without others influencing you. Many restaurant chains offer nutritional information online.
4. Be demanding (politely) in restaurants
Don’t be afraid to ask the restaurant to adapt dishes. Yes, it's a tough time for hospitality staff, and we all want to be nice to them, but it’s not usually a problem to replace chips with a jacket potato, salad or vegetables. You can also ask for no extra cheese, butter, mayonnaise, dressings or oil, and to put sauces in a dish on the side.
5. Choose healthier options
If you're eating at home, try to plan what you eat with your health in mind. Choose lean cuts of meat, and remove any visible fat, and try to limit your red and processed meat you have in favour of chicken, turkey and plant-based options.
If you're eating out, try to could choose the healthiest menu options to make the meal fit into your normal diet, rather than just going for your favourites. Steer clear of pastry-based dishes and if you're having dessert, choose fruit-based desserts.
6. Tuck in to turkey - but beware of all the extras!
A traditional Christmas dinner isn’t the worst choice when it comes to your health. Turkey is a lean meat, and plenty of vegetables with your meal is good. Try to fill up with vegetables like sprouts, carrots and peas (as long as they're not coated in butter) and go easy on the roast potatoes and parsnips, which come with extra fat and therefore calories.
Sausages wrapped in bacon, stuffing balls and gravy are all usually high in salt, which is bad for your blood pressure and can make you thirstier, leading you to drink more alcoholic or sugary drinks than you had planned.
7. Fill up on vegetables
Having a good helping of vegetables with your meal will add vitamins, minerals and fibre and help you towards your five a day, but beware vegetables that come with added butter, cheese sauce or salt.
If you're in charge of the cooking, offer steamed or boiled vegetables without salt, and steer clear of cheese sauces, or adding bacon to your sprouts, or butter to your carrots or peas. With everything else that's on the table, no-one will miss these added extras.
8. Cut back on Christmas nibbles
Nibbles are seemingly everywhere at Christmas. It’s fine to indulge in the odd mince pie, shortbread biscuit, festive tipple or a chocolate sweet, but sticking to a regular pattern of meals and snacks will help to make sure you aren’t hungry between meals and help maintain your willpower.
9. Be drink aware
It's important to stay within the guidelines of 14 units a week for men and women, particularly as many of us drink more than usual in December. If you're drinking at home, it's easy to lose track of how much you're drinking, so try to note this. Check the labels on bottles to see how many units they contain. If you drink spirits, remember it's a standard measure is 25ml (slightly less than one and a half tablespoons) - if you don't have a spirit measure, you could use a measuring spoon or jug to measure it out.
As well as the impact on your health, don’t forget the calories that drinks can add, which can have an effect on your waistline. Remember that soft drinks can be high in calories too, so if you can, choose sugar-free drinks or water, and alternate these with any alcoholic drinks you are having.
10. Socialise in other ways
We all enjoy sharing a meal with family or friends but have you considered doing something different? That way you are more likely to avoid unhealthy food options, and you'll save money, too. You could go for a winter walk together, perhaps with a flask of tea or coffee.