How to manage food and fitness for a happy healthy Christmas

It's important to keep physically active over the festive period

It’s important to keep physically active over the festive period

The festive season is well underway now with the usual rounds of parties, drinks and over indulging. It can be pretty overwhelming and often when you are feeling isolated or depressed, the prospect of the next few weeks can be quite scary.

This pressure can lead to comfort eating, drinking too much and lethargy, which actually makes you feel worse in yourself. The different routine and lethargy can also mean your physical activity decreases. Physical activity is one of the best ways to look after your body and your brain – it can even reduce your cancer risk, so it’s important to try to keep active during this festive period, too. Life is about finding the right balance and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a little plan in place to help you get as much enjoyment as possible.

So here are a few ideas from Dr Nancy Priston, our Health Ambassador, to help keep you on track.

#1 Be kind to yourself and try not to panic

It’s normal to feel low or not yourself when experiencing cancer (personally or through loved ones) and the holiday season hype often makes us want to steer away from the festivities. Studies have shown that forced cheeriness is bad for our mental wellbeing, so it’s important to take time away from the festivities when you need to. A huge focus of the holiday season is food, which can also be what we turn to, in order to make us feel better when we are depressed. Over-eating on a night out, or any time, does NOT make you a bad person. Your food or drink choices do not reflect your value as a person, so if you have a blip and end up splurging when you don’t mean to, it’s ok. Equally, saying no to certain events doesn’t make you a bad person either. So try to remember to stay positive, even when things don’t quite go according to plan. The festive season is challenging for everyone and there’s no point berating yourself over a few extra mince pies. Practice self-compassion, forgive yourself and don’t let it spoil the festive season.

#2 Make a plan – choose your events and enjoy them

Be realistic about how you’re going to handle social gatherings. Are you going to have enough energy to cope with other people or will you find it overwhelming? Look at your diary and decide which events are worth attending – use your own criteria to choose – it doesn’t matter how you decide, the important thing is that it’s worth it to you. Once you have made up your mind, politely decline the ones you don’t want to attend and then stop worrying about them  – just look forward to enjoying yourself. The reason you’re there is to share time with people in your life. Focus on the people and the activities rather than the food and drinks.

#3 Alcohol tips

Avoid drinking alone – make it special by meeting up with someone to share a drink together. Or have a virtual glass of wine with a friend. Alternatively, does it have to be about drink? Instead, why not have a Christmas coffee and slice of cake with someone special or even a Christmas wander to see the lights etc. Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks at parties and drink lots of water (hydration lessens fatigue and helps prevent hangovers).

#4 Keep moving

Getting physical exercise is really important to your overall wellbeing. This doesn’t mean visits to the gym. Any kind of movement increases the levels of serotonin (the happy hormone) in your brain, which can lift low mood. So taking the dogs for a walk or dancing to your favourite Christmas song are equally valid forms of exercise. Ask a friend to join you on a bike ride or join an online yoga class. Try and aim for 30 minutes every day no matter how you’re feeling or what the weather is doing.

#5 Ideas for staying active

If you have a regular exercise plan, make sure you prioritise it – write your physical activities down on your calendar so that other things don’t get scheduled in during that time. If you are short on time, introduce 10-minute mini walks twice a day

#6 Maintain good habits

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you need to forget all those other great habits you’ve developed. So still have a healthy, protein filled breakfast, drink lots of water, keep junk food out of the house, get your daily dose of vitamin D and focus on good quality sleep. Lack of sleep can make you grumpy, clumsy and far more likely to catch a cold or the flu, but it can also make you more susceptible to serious health issues. Cut back on caffeine and limit alcohol before bedtime.

#7 Have a food or alcohol strategy

Even though you have a plan, sticking to it may be easier said than done.  So you need to think about the possible obstacles in advance and plan ahead. Are buffets your weakness? Do you tend to not eat enough earlier in the meal and then end up over doing it on pudding? Are the canapes your weak point? Or is it the bowls of crisps…

Try to have some alternative plans ready – for buffets commit yourself to one plate of satisfying food only, don’t go back for seconds. Take your time to pick the healthiest options you can and eat them slowly and mindfully. Make a decision before you go not to dip in to the canapes and crisps and ensure you’re not too hungry when you arrive, so you’re not starving when they come round. Making an active decision before you even get there will help you to resist them more easily.

#8 Be sensible and realistic

Be smart about your strategy and honest about what you can manage. You have to be realistic about the situations you’re facing. There’s no point planning on just eating carrot sticks all evening at a drinks party – you will fail, no question. If you have a friend going with you share your plan with them – they might be keen to help you and give you some moral support – it’s a lot easier to say no to those canapés when you’re both refusing them.

#9 Be prepared to adapt

You’re going to find some things easy, others hard, you’ll have successes and setbacks and you’ll find what works for you and what really doesn’t. So be ready to adapt things if you need to. Don’t worry about needing to stick to a rigid plan – flexibility is the key.

#10 Enjoy and find the joy

It’s a wonderful time of year to connect and reconnect with friends and family – enjoy it, and find the joy in all the things you do this season. Don’t let worries about food and weight overshadow all your activities – cherish the happy moments. Remember it’s okay if you don’t feel in the mood. Reaching out to someone and exercise are the best way to beat the blues.