Christmas is just around the corner, and with it the vast mountains of delicious yet belly-bursting food. We can already see that you’ve got that yearly look of defeat in your eyes – “oh well” you say to yourself, “might as well just accept the fact that I’m going to eat a lot of junky food over the holiday season and work off the flab next year”. Well, you can wipe that defeated look right off your face, because if you follow these tips you’ll be able to eat like a champion while maintaining your wondrous physique!
Merry Christmas and a Flabby New Year?
Around this time every year, people begin loosening and/or removing their belts, donning their elastic-waisted trackpants, and settling down for an extended onslaught of delicious food. The subsequent collective weight gain across the globe is somewhat alarming, considering it often runs hand in hand with serious health conditions and an almost universal decline in self esteem. But, despite what the mainstream media would tell you, it’s not the amount you’re eating that’s the problem – it’s WHAT you’re eating. If you take heed of the following guidelines, you’ll be able to maintain your trim waistline, stay healthy, AND eat delicious food over the holidays.
1. Balance is king: maintain a healthy macronutrient ratio
Your body needs a certain ratio of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in order to efficiently fuel your metabolism. Advice regarding “healthy” macronutrient ratios varies widely, depending on who you listen to. As a general rule of thumb, however, most diets consider fats to be the enemy, followed closely by carbohydrates. Also as a general rule of thumb, most of these diets are horribly misinformed. Our bodies are designed to run most efficiently off fats – healthy fats, that is, not the nasty kinds which come from ultra-processed vegetable oil or unhealthy animals. As such, you should aim to maintain a ratio of around 30% carb, 55% fat and 15% protein, as determined by extensive meta-analysis and careful data gathering from this source.
It’s important to note that this is not a rigid requirement – our bodies thrive on change, therefore don’t stress out if you can’t always maintain this exact macronutrient balance. It’s also important to remember that your fats should come from healthy sources: avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter and ghee, and fatty meats from grass-fed or pasture-raised animals. There’s plenty more information on how you can optimize your healthy fat intake here. So, if you’re preparing a delicious Christmas feast, cook your meat in coconut oil or grass-fed butter, put olive oil and balsamic vinegar on your salads, and make your desserts with plenty of coconut oil or butter – they both taste great in baking and don’t denature under high heat. The real upside to incorporating more fat into your meals is that they help your body absorb nutrients, so all that vegetable-eating isn’t going to waste :)
2. Avoid gluten and grains where possible
This should be a relatively easy one, as let’s face it – the superstars of holiday feasts are always the heaving platters of delicious glazed/basted/smoked meat. Many grains (not just wheat) contain gluten, which irrigates the gut, prevents uptake of nutrients, and weakens your immune system. It can also cause chronic inflammation – the kind which makes you look bloated and overweight. As such, try to avoid the following where possible:
- bread (even “gluten-free” bread – often this still contains trace levels of gluten, and typically has other nasty ingredients to make up for the lack of wheat)
- oats (unless they’re soaked and/or sprouted)
- pie crusts
- battered/crumbed meats and vegetables
Glutenous foods just fill you up anyway, and there’s nothing worse than getting full too early on in the Christmas eating binge! If you’d like to find out more about how grains are ruining your health, check out this article.
3. If your food is high quality, calories don’t matter
Shock horror: calories aren’t as important as you might think! Perhaps that’s a little melodramatic, but the point is that you can put away your calorie counter and focus in on WHAT you’re eating, not how much. As explained above, your meat should be from quality, grass-fed/pasture raised, organic, humane sources. Your vegetables will preferably be organic/heirloom and local – if this is too much of a stretch, there are certain vegetables available which you don’t need to buy organic due to minimal use of herbicides and other chemicals. These include onions, avocado, asparagus, sweet potato and mushrooms – this article provides more info on the topic.
As for baked goods – try to keep use of conventional sugar to a minimum, or replace recommended sugar amounts with its equivalent in raw honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup – these are the lesser of the sugar evils. We typically make use of overripe bananas to provide most of the sugary sweetness in our baking. Instead of using typical gluten-laden wheat flour, stock up with coconut and almond flour – these make great substitutions to traditional baking flours. Finally, be sure to incorporate plenty of healthy fats like coconut oil and butter, as these fill you up more and allow your body to more efficiently process the other baking ingredients.
4. Keep stress to a minimum
The holiday season is notorious for placing vast amounts of stress on families, what with rushing around buying presents, trying to finish off last-minute assignments at work before the break, coordinating huge family gatherings, and the general mayhem of having too many people cooped up under one roof for an extended period of time.
Surprisingly less notorious is the impact that stress has on your health. In his article on stress, nutrition guru Chris Kresser provides a compelling argument as to why stress is so damaging to our bodies. It really doesn’t matter how much effort you put into keeping your diet clean over the Christmas period if you’re being put under a lot of stress, as it can derail even the healthiest eater. Stress can raise your blood sugar, weaken your immune system, cause leaky gut, increase hunger and sugar cravings, and result in considerable weight gain.
To keep your stress levels down, make sure you take time to just relax by yourself. If things start getting heated around the dining table, grab a book and go and lie on the bed and read for a while. Even if the weather is nasty, get outside and interact with nature, as many studies have shown that simply spending 5 minutes in natural settings (think parks, rivers, lakes – that kind of thing) can dramatically reduce cortisol (aka the “stress” hormone) production and promote feelings of happiness. Finally, yoga can be a good way to unwind after a stressful day – spend 10 minutes before bed running through a few basic yoga exercises and you’ll find yourself immediately relaxing and feeling like you’re actually ready to go to sleep. This DVD comes with spectacular ratings on Amazon and has loads of great yoga workouts perfect for both beginners and pros.
Comments? Thoughts? Let us know how YOU plan on watching your weight while still enjoying the culinary delights of the holiday season!