"Il y a un temps pour tout" - that is one of my favourite French sayings which would translate as "There is a time for everything". And this is particularly important during the festive season because this time of year enables us to do those things that are special to us but can't be easily done in our normal day-to-day life. Very exciting, right?
But for some, the festive season comes with some fear and anxiety around food, especially if food may affect their health.
So here are my top tips to tame those fears, making sure that you are addressing your health and overall wellbeing while enjoying yourself. It is all about having clear and sensible intentions!
Tip #1. Work out what is truly important for you
What matters to you during this time of year? What would you make satisfied during the festive season?
spending time with friends & family?
eating and sharing some delicious food?
changing pace and chilling out?
celebrating and partying?
not following any schedule?
Taking care of yourself and getting strength back?
taking full advantage of what the city/nature has to offer?
Having a clear idea on what your expectations and motivations might be, will helpful shaping up your priorities. And yes, of course, some of them might not be fully compatible but as long as you keep them all in mind, you should be able to have a flexible approach and avoid the "All or Nothing" approach... which leads me neatly to my second tip!
Tip #2. Avoid the "All or nothing approach"
Health is not about "being good" all the time but rather getting it right most of the the time. And this is especially true with diet where flexibility is key. Otherwise you are at high risk of the "Sod it!" effect: this tipping point when you decide that you blew it anyway so you might as well be adding to the damage and live (and eat and drink) like there is no tomorrow... yet, tomorrow does come and by then you are feeling rough, with possibly an ounce of guilt.
Instead, stay intentional about what you drink and eat - reminding yourself where this sits with what you identified as important to you (back to tip #1).
Tip #3. Enjoy eating too much (for once!)
Being intentional about what you drink or eat doesn't mean that you shouldn't overeat on Christmas day or New Year Eve. This actually a very valid intention on special occasion.
It is absolutely fine to embrace the plentifulness of a meal once in a while! Yes, you might feel uncomfortably full and the food might be a bit too rich but this is not going to do any long term damage. Your body is a great machine and it will cope just fine. A bit like it is ok to occasionally sleep only 3 hours a night - you body is not loving it but this is temporary and it can deal with it no problem - it is when it is repeated again and again that it can impair your health.
Tip #4. Focus on what to include in your diet, not what to avoid
Rather than telling yourself "you can't have second helpings", "you can't have another drinks", "you can't have this mince pie" (which will just increase feelings of frustration and deprivation), focus your attention on what you can do so your overall diet is nourishing.
Did you have a fulfilling breakfast? Do you have a good amount of fibre in your plate? Are you getting enough vitamins, minerals and polyphenols from fruit and veg?
By ensuring you are addressing all your nutritional needs and answering your physical hunger with nutritious foods, it means that you will be using the delicious-yet-less-nutritious food mainly for pleasure, and will be eating it with the right intention.
Tip #5. Know what YOU like and how much will satisfy you
Too often we eat and drink whatever is in presented to us without thinking. No need to become picky or obsess with only eating 'the right food' (whatever this is - a good diet is made out of all kinds of foods!) . But it is worth questioning why we eat something: is it because we are hungry? is it because we want it? or is it just because it is there, in front of us?
This is particularly true for alcoholic drinks, because we can easily feel pressured to carry on drinking more, and ... as we drink, we loose some of our executive functions and the ability to be intentional with our drinks!
Tip #6. Plan ahead
If you are particular worried about one event - whether you think that you might fall in to the "Sod it" mindset or, on the contrary, you are unlikely to enjoy letting go of some of your normal habits - have a plan! Rehearse in your head the situation and anticipated these possibly unhelpful thoughts that what might come through your mind.
How could you handle them so they don't undermine you? What action can you take now to make it either then?
And a bit, like a birth plan, the day/event might not pan out how you had imagined but at least you will feel better equipped to handle it.
Tip #7. Stay active and protect your sleep
The foundation for good health and good food choices is sleep - when tired people crave for highly palatable food, they want to eat more to keep themselves awake and they are less able to resist 'hedonic eating' (eating just for the pleasure, the reward). And that is just the impact on eating habits!
Poor sleep is also very likely to impact on social and mental wellbeing. And one of the best tools there is to improve sleep quality is physical activity - so during the festive season make sure you take one hour a day to get outdoors and move your body! Your heart, your lungs, your muscles, your sleep, your brain, your gut, your soul... they will all thank you!!
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