Eating and guilt seem to be permanently intertwined in our culture these days, and never more so than at Christmas. It starts in the autumn with Little Black Dress Diets (the winter version of the dreaded summer Bikini Diets), then in December it moves on to making people feel bad about eating festive food. The latest thing seems to be exercising like a maniac every time you have a mince pie in order to ‘work it off’. Enough already!
To remove the guilt from Christmas eating, let’s take it back to basics. In days of yore, when Christmas was more about Christ than consumerism, 25th December was still a feast; but it’s important to remember that back then most people didn’t pig out for the other 364 days of the year. There were no takeaways or ready meals. The folk of yesteryear ate natural, seasonal, unprocessed food, had the occasional sugary treat on high days or holidays and for the most part didn’t drink themselves stupid at regular intervals. And – importantly – they didn’t own cars so walked a lot. In other words, they deserved a feast once in a while! But these days some people feast all year round and go everywhere by car.
Now I’m not necessarily saying we should all adopt the diet or lifestyle our ancestors had hundreds of years ago (although it would probably do us no harm). The point I’m making is that it’s fine to have a bit of a blowout at Christmas if you’re pretty healthy the rest of the time, i.e. eating good, healthy food most days, exercising regularly and having the occasional treat. If you do that you won’t need to go on a diet to fit into your LBD and shouldn’t feel bad about having a bit of Christmas pudding. Eat and enjoy all those lovely festive foodie treats without guilt! A turkey dinner is actually a pretty healthy meal. Sure, you might put on a couple of pounds over the holidays, but it will soon come off in January when you return to your normal habits. And if healthy eating and exercise aren’t your normal habits, make them your new ones!
My mother-in-law makes the best pastry in the world, so there’s no way I’m going through Christmas without a few of her mince pies. I know her pastry is so fab because she uses lard, but IT’S ONLY ONCE A YEAR. I also buy a really good quality locally-made Voakes pork pie as a Christmas treat too. Yes, pork pie – so shoot me! However, I do also try to make a few gestures towards health to try and offset some of the overindulgence. You might like to take them on board too if you’re being made to feel guilty.
Keep exercising! There’s no reason not to, especially as you’ll probably have more free time than usual. You’ll feel loads better for a bit of fresh air after days of sitting in overheated rooms stuffing yourself like the proverbial turkey. I’ll keep running because I’m training for a half marathon in mid-January. This focuses the mind a bit when the After Eights come out.
Don’t buy those giant tubs of poor quality chocolates, they just lead to mindless chomping of empty calories. Someone will probably buy you some chocolates for Christmas anyway. I ask family members to give me dark chocolate, medjool dates (which I love as much as choccie) or Jelly Babies (i.e. running fuel) if they want to buy me edible treats.
Instead of a bucket of Quality Street, get some nuts and satsumas in and put them out on display to encourage healthy grazing. They’re traditionally Christmassy and offer some nutritional value amongst all the sugary rubbish.
You don’t have to get drunk every single night of the holidays. Step away from the Bailey’s and have a couple of days off at least to give your liver a break.
If you’re off to a party have something healthy to eat before you go. Buffet food is often just a sea of pastry, batter and bad meat – having a lining on your stomach will mean you eat less of it.
Most of all enjoy yourself without guilt. And remember that having a few treats doesn’t mean you have to give up on healthy eating completely for the whole of the Christmas holidays – it’s all about balance. Food is a great pleasure that’s always best when shared with family and friends and there’s no better time to do that than Christmas.