Can you smell it? – The tempting scent of ginger cookies, mince pies and delicious puddings is virtually everywhere! It’s the same procedure every year: when the days get shorter and closer to Christmas, our will-power takes a nose-dive and we eventually give into this urge to indulge ourselves “just this once” …more and more often.

But, what can we do to find the golden middle? How can we keep up our healthy lifestyle and still not feel deprived of the palatable pleasures? Which strategy gets us happy and without weight-gain through this year’s holidays? – The following 7 tips will show you your safe passage to the New Year.

Take your time and be mindful

Gingerbread men, home made biscuits, lovely chocolates are now all around us and the sheer look and smell of them makes us grabbing one, and another one, and another one… They seem so tiny and harmless but we all know they aren’t.

To keep yourself in check and still don’t feel deprived of those yummy seasonal treats, decide to only have them when you’re in company with others. – Following the insight “Snacking on your own, makes you fat.” When together with others, we tend to eat slower, are distracted from grabbing the next cookie by conversation and social interaction.

In addition, build a new habit (even before the 1st of January ;-)) and chew carefully, eat slowly. The faster we eat, the more calories we consume before our brain realises that we have had enough. Another reward of the slo-mo snacking: you will discover and enjoy the rich taste of your food much more.

So, lean back, spend you “me-time” with an aromatic, warming cup of tea or coffee and have your sugary and savoury “extra’s” when you’re having friends and family around you.

Drink water

Don’t drink your calories! You love Christmas cakes, hearty party food and scrumptious puddings? Then, of course, you should have them as a luxurious treat during the holidays – in reasonable amounts 😉

However, be smart and avoid a few calories somewhere else. – Have a lovely tea in place of mulled wine, drink water between your meals and dump fizzy drinks at all (also a good start-up for your New Year’s resolutions).

You feel helpless against the temptations of mince pies, cakes and chocolates? Make it your golden rule to first have a glass of water when you feel the urge to snack. Still feeling like you need food? Your next choice could be an apple or a handful of (plain) nuts. – You will see that your brain is playing every trump card it can find to get you eating sugary stuff. But once you’re aware of that, you will also have a few aces up your sleeve 😉

No alcohol at all?

Let’s stay realistic. For most of us a glass of wine or bubbles, a lovely gin-tonic or an exquisite single-malt are part of the get-togethers with family and friends around the holidays. So, also here you should allow yourself a wee departure from your course for those few occasions. – Just remember that one gram of alcohol holds almost as many cals as a gram of oil. And with that in mind, apart from the less attractive taste, you certainly wouldn’t think about drinking half a bottle of the latter, right?

So, hold measure regarding the amount and the frequency. Give a tasty herbal tea a try or at least have some water together with your beverage.

Before you go to a party, make a decision regarding your alcohol consumption, e.g. 1 glass or 2, sticking to white wine only etc.

Bring colour on your plate

During this time of staff nights out, family dinners and tempting Christmas menus in the restaurants, we are usually not concerned about the nutritional value of what’s on our plate. – And there is no need to overthink it. Ditch your calorie tracker together with your bad conscience and use your common sense and a few basic rules:

You can easily find a save passage through those calorie-rich days and weeks by sticking to normal portion sizes, making veg covering the biggest part of your plate and choosing a variety of foods: the more colours the better. Especially green veg is low in calories, rich in fibres and full of flavonoids. Together with herbs and spices, they will not only trigger your feeling of saturation but also help your digestive system to deal with the bountiful meals.

Quality over quantity: DIY

Naturally we all are wise enough to conclude that unbridled munching and snacking during the holidays will result in weight-gain. But often our desire is so overwhelming that we take the plunge and comfort ourselves with our New Year’s resolution to be more active. – Take a word of warning: although for sporty people some of the extra calorie-intake can be undone by an increased physical activity in the new year, for most of us this calculation won’t work out.

So, spare yourself such a pressure at the beginning of a new year and rather be smart at the end of the old year….

Choose your poison wisely. – Don’t become a victim of marketing companies which happily tell you that some cheap cookies, a microwave dinner, tinned stuffing or ready-made pudding will be “just like home-made” or even “healthy”. – Invest some time and effort to prepare as much food as possible yourself, use “real” (pure) ingredients, take the time to let it cook, bake etc. as your Granny would have done it. You will also discover that tiny healthy tweaks to recipes still end up in yummy Christmas biscuits etc. The internet is full of inspiration. Some very easy ones would be:

Use 10-20% less fat

Cut down the sugar with 20% or replace it by natural sweeteners (from stevia to pureed soaked apricots) and add cinnamon for extra sweetness and for balancing your blood-sugar
look for low-carb recipes (e.g. with almond flour)
cut out icing, creamy toppings, sauces etc.

If you follow those steps, you will find out that you’ll appreciate your treats even more and won’t stuff yourself mindlessly. Take a reasonable portion of your favourite calorie-bomb, chew slowly and enjoy the flavours. Put your cutlery down in-between and become aware of the warm feeling and good childhood-memories brought up by this delicacy.

Be a victor, not a victim!

Yes, you have a choice: at every moment, with each craving, at any meal. Now it’s the question if you will be the one who controls those choices or will you be controlled by your impulses, the learnt eagerness to have sugary snacks to avoid “light-headedness”, an “empty feeling in your stomach”…

First of all, face it: those last mentioned sensations are just attempts of your brain to have you eating what your brain-cells desire like no other energy-source: sugar. But trust me, those cells and you will survive, even if you resist the urge to grab that third piece of cake, to have those delicious mince pies with your cup of tea etc. And, on top of that, you’ll not only avoid the sense of guilt but also will feel much better without them, have more energy and be happier!

The key to staying in control: have a vision, have a goal and have a plan! Prepare for those “battles” around the holidays by making a pact with yourself, building upon the following questions:

What … will you indulge yourself with? (Pick one or two foods/drinks or one meal for the party, family meeting etc. you will enjoy at ease.)

Which … are your options to not be “the outsider” at the party when you eat less, skip the desert etc.? (There is plentiful to choose from… like loading your plate with an abundance of veg, eating slowly, having a herbal tea instead of a desert.)

When … will you eat and when will you “compensate” for any overeating? (Perhaps you have a lovely big brunch and then only have a low-carb- dinner that day? Or will you have light lunch and go for the big turkey-dish in the evening?)

How … many glasses of mulled wine will you have tonight? How often will you reach for the party-snacks? (Make your allowed amount – of whatever – last longer by alternating it with sipping on a glass of water.)

Why … will you stick to this pact? (The most important question! This one will be your life saver when you’re at that party and wonder why you shouldn’t just give in and ignore your resolutions. – Perhaps because you are determined to achieve your goal or because you have already come so far or because you know how bad you’ll feel the next day etc.) Write your answer down – at a wee card, on a sticky note, in the palm of your hand! Have this note at hand and read it when your in dire straits.

You still need a secret weapon? – Well, alright, it’s the season of giving, isn’t it? It’s far simpler than you might think: simply make a fist. Yes, you read correctly: making a fist when we sense our determination fading, will help us finding back our mental strength. – So, before you grab your next snack, have a breather, drink a glass of water, decide to wait 15 minutes before you have it …and if that seems a hard thing to do, make a fist and visualise yourself 6 months from now: slimmer, happy, in good shape.

No “don’ts”

Restrictions trigger longing. Restrictive diets trigger overwhelming appetite. – So, the golden rule to every sustainable and successful diet is to build the habit of making healthy choices without any feeling of deprivation.

How does this work with Christmas? – As mentioned before, don’t forbid yourself to have certain foods but focus on your goal. This being said: first you need a goal. This can, for instance, be a particular weight or a fitness-level or body-shape you desire. Especially the latter is too vague and not easy to measure. Visualisation is a powerful means to program your subconscious to make certain choices and to strengthen your motivation to take the steps which help you achieving your goal.

Once you’ve decided on what you are aiming at, use pictures, short daily meditations etc. to burn this goal into your mind. In addition contemplate the lifestyle that belongs to a person who already is in this shape, has this weight etc.: Would that person let herself go and eat whatever is available, whenever it’s available? Would that person have a few principal rules reg her food-intake and drinking during the holidays? How could those rules look like and still not feel too strict? – Start thinking that way and you will easily navigate through those days ahead and feel good about yourself and the choices you make.

In short

A rich variety of home-made foods, prepared with whole-some ingredients, enjoyed in sensible portions and in good company will help you finding pleasure and relaxation. Keep your eyes on the prize: visualise your goal, see its practical dimension. Avoid grazing, rather have your three meals or two meals and an indulging afternoon snack.

Combine this with a daily workout – for at least 30 minutes and preferably on fresh air. A brisk walk, some gymnastics or how about some yoga in the morning with the window open?

As you see, it is not too hard to keep control over how you encounter the temptations of the weeks ahead and the good new is: you will not only keep your weight, you will also feel far more energetic. That is my gift to you and I wish you Merry Christmas and a Happy & Healthy New Year!