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From Christmas chocolates to fizz-filled festive gatherings, December is a month that can make healthy eating feel like something of a struggle. However, according to experts, this doesn’t need to be the case.
Dr Naresh Kanumilli, medical director at Liva Healthcare and Arj Thiruchelvam founder of fitness and nutrition Performance Physique spoke with Express.co.uk to share their top tips for maintaining a healthy, balanced diet over the festive season.
“Plan” your weight gain
Reframing the way you think about diet and weight loss can work wonders in maintaining a healthy diet.
Diet isn’t just about weight gain, with the food you eat also playing a huge role in helping ward off illness and keeping your body feeling strong and healthy.
Mr Thiruchelvam said: “It sounds odd but an extremely effective strategy to ensure you don’t go too overboard during the party season and Christmas holidays is to actually plan weight gain. That’s right. You spend all year thinking about how much weight you can lose, how to ensure you burn off that takeaway and suddenly, you’re being told to think about gaining weight.”
According to the Performance Physique expert, this can be hugely beneficial for mental health and even reduce the risk of “binging”.
He added: “Despite it usually being reserved for certain types of athletes, by creating a weight gain target you completely change your behaviour and mindset around food.
“Setting expectations of gaining a certain amount can cause a reduction in anxiety of weight gain, reducing the chance of binging and thus falling off the wagon.
“Managing weight gain and roughly tracking calories helps you keep to routine but also allows you to socialise and then return to your usual eating patterns.
“I’ve witnessed this strategy work numerous times and on each occasion, the weight gained has been less than planned. This sense of success rather than guilt then helps propel the next stages of your weight journey.”
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Swap desserts for starters
Christmas is often filled with meals out and family dinners, but if you want to go for more than one course, Dr Naresh recommended opting for a starter rather than dessert.
He said: “When you’re at the restaurant, have a starter instead of a pudding to keep your blood sugar steady.
“Soup is often a good choice as it fills you up.
“If you feel left out while everyone else is eating a pudding, you could have a coffee during that course instead – that will save up to 700 or even 800 calories.”
When planning an evening out, Dr Naresh recommended looking at the menu in advance to identify the “healthier options” available.
He said: “This way you can make the decision quickly and confidently when ordering.
“Doing this will also remind you to have a lighter lunch or breakfast before going out, keeping your overall caloric intake at the right level.”
Increase your protein intake
Numerous studies show that protein foods are the most filling, and offer slow-release energy to keep you feeling satisfied for longer.
This can be particularly helpful on days when you are heading to a Christmas buffet where the temptation of nibbles can soar.
Mr Thiruchelvam said: “Grabbing a protein shake before the meal can make you feel fuller and less likely to snack, thus reducing the high-calorie food consumption that can occur at the buffet table.
“Alternatively, try to opt for foods which are higher in protein content and go for fewer fried foods as these have twice as many calories due to the high-fat ratio.”
Be wary of snacking and drinking
Many alcoholic drinks are renowned for being high in calories. However, an increase in booze may also lead you to snack on more food than usual.
Dr Naresh said: “Remember that snacking while you are drinking alcohol can add up without you noticing.
“Try to get hold of some healthier bar snacks if you can, but otherwise try to avoid the temptation altogether by turning down free nibbles.”
Exercise in any form is beneficial both to weight and health.
According to Dr Naresh, this doesn’t necessarily have to be an intense fitness class or long run.
He said: “Try to plan activities so you won’t be too sedentary over the holidays. This could be as simple as going on a Boxing Day walk with friends, or having a dance to your favourite Christmas songs.”
The NHS recommendation for adults is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week.
Dr Naresh added: “Moderate-intensity activity should get your heart beating faster and includes activities like a brisk walk or dancing.”
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