How to survive the festive season

Well it will soon be that time of year where we throw caution to the wind and risk everything, health, weight, all those hard hours in the gym, to join our friends, colleagues or family in celebrating the Christmas season with a party or two (or more) and this usually involving more than a couple of festive drinks and far too much food.

Whether we like it or not, Christmas will force us to spend, gorge, stuff, bloat, stress, argue and booze your way through an entire month which, if we survive it and are still speaking to our loved ones when it’s over, will be more by sheer fluke than anything.

How can we avoid the January aftermath when we need to exercise like mad and detox to get our bodies functioning again. It’s bad enough dealing with the budget account that reminds you that you overspent in December without the stress of our over indulged bodies to deal with.

Start as you mean to go on. Before going out to the party, plan ways to minimise your alcohol intake and the effect it will have on your body. If that doesn’t feel festive, imagine the headache, nausea and general misery you feel when you overindulge. This should help you stick to your plan.

Alcohol is packed with empty calories and research shows alcohol not only increases our appetite but can weaken our willpower, meaning we’re even more likely to overindulge on festive nibbles. Adding ice to alcoholic drinks will dilute them, choosing lower-alcohol drinks such as spritzers and punch will cut the calorie count.

Try to make your first drink water – or something soft – if you can. It will help if you’re really thirsty. Drink your drinks slowly. Make every second drink non-alcoholic or just water.

There’s only one way sure way to avoid a hangover – don’t drink too much alcohol. But if you do drink a little too much, drinking more water before you go to bed is also recommended and make sure you have water on hand to drink when you wake during the night. Avoiding dark coloured drinks, such as red wine, brandy or whisky, can also help. Limit fizzy alcoholic drinks – it’s true these really do go straight to your head. The bubbles they contain speeds up your absorption of alcohol, so limit the number of glasses of sparkling wine, fizzy cocktails and champagne. Avoid a nightcap – darker drinks especially spirits like brandy or whisky have a higher level of compounds called congeners, which are formed during the fermentation and distilling process. These compounds are thought to make your hangover worse – so if you must have a nightcap try a white spirit instead.

Remember your body is happy for you to have alcohol, but it will wash out the nutrients your body needs to work properly. This is why when you’re hungover you crave junk food, which will only work in the short-term and later will make you feel worse. Now you need more than just water – coconut water, a sports drink or a rehydration drink will help restore your hydration levels. You can make your own rehydration drink by dissolving a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt in a pint of water and sip throughout the morning.

Limit caffeine – you may be desperate for that caffeine pick-me-up but drinking too many cups of tea or coffee will only aggravate hydration levels – so stick to one cup until you’re feeling yourself again. Tuck in to a nourishing breakfast – it’s the best way to replace the vitamins and minerals that your body will have lost as it worked hard to process the alcohol. If you can’t face food, even a bowl of breakfast cereal fortified with folate and iron should help to redress some of the damage and lift your energy levels. Alternatively try B-rich wholegrains like a piece of wholemeal toast with a poached or scrambled egg, some grilled tomatoes and mushrooms and finish with a glass of orange juice.

If you’re going to a party straight after work, missing lunch for fear of overdoing your daily calorie intake will only leave you feeling hungry and hungry people make bad food decisions. Eat a light lunch and then shortly before you head out have a snack such as a yogurt or a couple of pieces of fresh fruit to take the edge off your hunger and stop you gorging. You should never drink on an empty stomach – dairy including milk and yogurt are excellent stomach liners, so if you’re not going to be eating with the alcohol enjoy a small carton of plain yogurt with a banana, a bowl of cereal with milk or some cheese and biscuits before you venture out.

Faced with a buffet, resist the temptation to start filling your plate at one end of the table and continuing to add to it until you reach the other. Portion control at a buffet can be difficult for even the most determined healthy eater. So before you pick up a plate, pause to look at all that’s on offer. Decide on three things you’re going to enjoy most and then help yourself to these and only these.

Once you’ve selected your food from the buffet, step away. When food is within easy reach we’re prone to graze mindlessly, endless crisps, nuts canapés will be your ruination. The saltiness of the crisps and nuts will also have you drinking more, it’s a vicious circle.

Dinner with family and friends often means we spend longer sitting around the table. But the longer we linger, the more the temptation to keep eating even if we’ve had enough, so clear the table when everyone has finished eating and move into another room to continue the conversation.

Listen to your body and give it a chance to feel hungry before you eat, try to make sure you really savour the indulgent things and eat them slowly and mindfully.

Even Christmas shopping doesn’t help with the healthy diet, unless pre-armed with a couple of healthy snacks in your bag – fresh fruit or a small packet of unsalted nuts and seeds, you’ll find yourself heading towards the fat-laden coffee shop options when you need a mid-shop energy boost.

There’s only one thing worse than a bad hangover after a party and that’s a bad hangover with food poisoning thrown in. Beware some party foods are especially risky once they’ve been out of the fridge a few hours – these include soft cheeses (hard cheeses are less risky), meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, salami, ham, seafood, cooked rice, cooked pasta and prepared salads such as coleslaw, pasta salads, and rice salads.

And don’t forget the exercise. Even if you can’t keep your usual exercise routine – which will probably be quite hard, exercise of some sort will help you to maintain your weight during the season of excess. Instead of sitting in front of the TV go for a walk with the family, hit the golfing range with friends, go for a swim or if it snows build a snowman.

Happy partying!