It’s that time of year again! The party season is in full swing and many of us are about to embark on a feast of over-eating and over-drinking, with the added stress of family gatherings in cramped indoor environments. All this, coupled with the winter blues - less daylight, less activity, more dreaded bugs - can take its toll on our health and wellbeing.
These are my top tips to stay fighting fit and have a thoroughly enjoyable and healthy holiday season.
1. Start as you mean to go on
A mug of warm water with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice* is a great way to start the day as it gives your liver a gentle detox, increases your metabolism, improves digestion and can put you in the right mindset to make healthy (or at least less unhealthy!) choices throughout the day.
* or you can add a couple of drops of Lemon Essential Oil which is extracted from the rind and kinder to your teeth than the more acidic juice.
2. Go for a good quality protein breakfast
This will set you up for the rest of the day, balancing your blood sugar, regulating your appetite and reducing those temptations for the sugar-laden goods on offer. It will also keep your energy levels up, helping to avoid those dreaded mid-afternoon slumps.
Healthy breakfast options include:
Porridge with blueberries, flaxseeds and walnuts
Poached eggs on steamed spinach and rye toast
Greek yoghurt with homemade blackberry and spice compote (gently heat some berries with some cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a dash of honey until softened, then stir in 2 tbsp ground almonds)
Don’t skip meals or go hungry
Even if you are planning a large meal on Christmas Day I would still recommend a light breakfast 3-4 hours beforehand (especially if it’s a late lunch) e.g. berries and yoghurt and a few nuts, so you don’t sit down at the table starving – a recipe for disaster when it comes to self-control!
In fact, skipping meals to cut down on calories is possibly the worst thing you can do! Avoid all shop bought low calorie meals, as they are often high in sugar and low in nutrients meaning you just feel hungry later on. Instead, eat every 4-5 hours and always include a source of healthy fats (such as nuts, seeds, oily fish, olive oil/flaxseed oil, avocados), a source of lean protein (pulses, fish, nuts, seeds, turkey, chicken) and of course plenty of veg.
In the evening after an unusually big lunch, a vegetable soup or poached salmon with salad would be perfect.
3. Go nuts!
Nuts are in prime season at this time of year and a handful of unsalted, unroasted nuts a day is a very healthy snack. They are not only an excellent source of protein which will keep you full in between meals but rich in essential fats and high in zinc which is a super immune boosting nutrient. These are preferable to crisps or fat laden pastry style finger foods anytime. For a special treat you can always melt some dark chocolate in a glass bowl, stir in some of your favourite nuts, place fat on a baking tray and when cool, refrigerate for some irresistible chocolate-coated nuts.
They are also the perfect accompaniment to your aperitif, pre-dinner drink or customary glass of sherry with Aunt Mabel as you should never drink on an empty stomach (see below).
Try walnuts slowly baked with rosemary and a pinch of rock salt instead of crisps or bake almonds on a very low heat for 40-50 minutes til crunchy. They’ll be eaten in a flash!
4. Get your Vits
Cranberries, clementines, kiwi fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, red peppers - you can’t get enough Vitamin C rich foods this time of year. If you do come down with anything, take a Vitamin C supplement, at least 1000 mg per day (or 3000 if you can tolerate it!) to help shorten the length of the infection.
Vitamin D, dubbed the ‘sunshine’ vitamin is another important vitamin in your armoury, helping to support your immune system, your bones, your brain, your gut and your mood. Sources include oily fish but definitely a good idea to supplement in the winter in the absence of sunshine.
And of course, it’s Brussels sprouts season! Load your plate up with these super healthy veggie friends, rich in B vitamins, Vitamin C and the cancer fighting chemical, sulphorafane. Hate them? Learn to love them e.g. sliced thinly and stir fried with chestnuts, onions and tamari sauce. Yum!
5. Stay hydrated over Xmas and choose your booze carefully!
Alcohol is often seen as a stimulant but more often than not it is a depressant so drink plenty of water alongside your tipple to keep your mind clear. Aim for at least 6 glasses a day.
Spirits e.g. G & T or a small glass of dry white / red wine / champagne will not disturb blood sugar too much and contain far less sugar than beer and cider
Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach - eating a handful of unsalted nuts with your drink will keep your blood sugar stable.
Try a mix of apple cider vinegar, Cherry active and cinnamon – could easily pass as mulled wine and fantastic for digestion and sleep too. Cheers!
6. Protect your liver!
Take Milk Thistle - this amazing herb will help protect your liver during the party season. Take a tablet or a few drops twice a day to stave off nasty hangovers! Eat plenty of foods that support your digestion and liver function such as beetroot, artichokes, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and chicory.
7. Trouble sleeping?
Did you know that one of the reasons we fall asleep after Christmas dinner, apart from overeating, is due to a relaxing and sleep-inducing natural chemical called tryptophan which is contained in turkey? So ensure you have some turkey leftovers in the evening to promote a good night’s sleep.
Other sources of tryptophan include eggs, cottage cheese, oats and sunflower seeds and you may want to try a supplement called 5-HTP which can aid sleep.
Magnesium, known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ can also help improve sleep as well as anxiety. It’s found in pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, wheat germ, oats, buckwheat, avocado, barley, brown rice, kale, figs and dates and again it’s a good idea to take a good supplement e.g. magnesium citrate. It’s also in dark chocolate so enjoy!
Try a chamomile tea or a Pukka’s Night time blend and avoid drinking coffee or tea after 6pm, or earlier if you know it keeps you awake. Cherry juice e.g. Cherry Active is a natural source of melatonin so adding a teaspoon to warm water before you go to bed may help.
Calming Essential Oils such as Lavender, Petitgrain or Serenity (doTERRA’s restful blend) can also help promote a good night’s sleep…
8. Alleviate stress with Essential Oils
Essential oils such as lavender, lemon, bergamot have become my best friends this past year, helping to keep me calm, grounded and, dare I say it, bug-free. The traditional essential oils to support you over the festive season include cinnamon, clove, wild orange and ginger, and of course the one with the obvious religious connection this time of year is Frankincense (the King of Oils) which can keep you feeling relaxed during what can be a rather stressful period. I diffuse my oils whenever I can and besides the lovely aromas that are wafting around my house, I know that they are protecting and supporting me as well as those around me – so a great way of keeping the whole family calm too in case tensions run high…
My favourite oil blend to help keep the dreaded lurgy at bay is doTERRA On Guard which contains the natural antibacterial spices clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus and cinnamon and some say it smells just like Christmas…
9. Walk, walk, walk
Keep mobile over the festive period and build in plenty of winter walks post lunch rather than slumping on the sofa. Just think only one mince pie will take approximately 35 minutes to walk off! So use your Fitbit to keep an eye on your activity levels or an app I have discovered recently is Active10 which encourages you to go for 3x10 minute brisk walks a day – anything that stops you sitting around for hours is highly recommended!
10. Breathe and enjoy the holidays
And if it all gets too much, close your eyes and breathe in slowly through your nose for 4 counts, pause, then out for 4, pause. You just hit the switch on your nervous system and took it out of fight-or-flight and into rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Amazing! So keep doing this throughout this busy period and you’re all set for a super relaxing stress-free holiday period!
Wishing you all the best for a healthy, harmonious holiday!