Christmas daze: What it really takes to have a healthier festive season

Stick to one, mate. By the time you've had three cookies, you'll be sick of them.

Stick to one, mate. By the time you've had three cookies, you'll be sick of them. Photo: Getty

Let’s face facts, my fellow Australians: over the Christmas period you will, on average, gain about half a kilo. Think of an extra packet of butter.

Spread thin over your entirety, it’s not so bad is it?

Chances are you’ll take that handful of butter to the grave, a souvenir of Christmas past.

Of course, a few of you will avoid this weight gain. But that’s only because you’ve already established healthy food and exercise habits and will not countenance swapping your buns of steel for cream buns.

Good for you.

As for the rest of us

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to keep the calories down during the party season.

It’s not bad advice – but it’s not going to resonate with Joe and Janine Average.

If managing weight and keeping fit during the working year is a battle, how can we expect to be successful when every drinks evening with friends or colleagues is decorated with bowls of chips and dips?

Successful restraint at Christmas time, for most of us, is responsibly sticking to two drinks and making it home without the police inviting us into the booze bus.

Ponder these tips while eating your chips

If you want to feel you’re at least trying, go to the always science-based, for ’20 Tips to Avoid Weight Gain During the Holidays’.

These include:

Be active with family and friends. In other words, go for a stroll together instead of collapsing in a food coma in front of the TV.

Snack wisely. “When treats are easy to access, you’re more likely to snack unnecessarily. At home, this problem can be solved by keeping treats out of sight.”

The buddy system at work when dealing with chips and dips. Photo: Getty

Use the buddy system. “Many people report success with their weight goals when they have a partner to pursue them with.” This suggests you approach the buffet with a friend, both wearing scuba masks.

There’s also ‘bring a healthy plate’, ‘watch your portion sizes’, and ‘focus on fibre’.

It’s all good honest advice, but none of it really sings, does it?

What’s important and doable

The most useful tips from, because they’re doable and don’t actually talk about food, and speak to the heart of Christmas’s greatest vulnerability, are:

Get plenty of sleep. “Those who do not sleep enough tend to be hungrier, consume more calories, and exercise less.”

Also, you’re more likely to be a in a daze and vulnerable to niggling and bickering and otherwise making yourself miserable in the midst of your loved one.

Surviving the social challenges of Christmas are just as important for your health as skipping that second mince pie.

Control your stress levels. “Keeping up with the demands of the holidays can be stressful.

“Stressed individuals commonly have high levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s released in response to stress. Chronically high cortisol levels may cause weight gain, as they have been linked to greater food intake.

“Additionally, a stressful lifestyle may cause more cravings for junk food.”

All true, but …

Again, what really causes stress at Christmas is other people. As I reported in 2019, the chances of you having a heart attack spikes on Christmas Day – up to nearly 40 per cent – a few hours into the celebrations.

It’s not the mountain or food or the cocktails to blame – although they don’t help.

Try and celebrate the kooky crew you’re related to. Photo: Getty

They don’t help. But researchers, in a 2018 European study, concluded the main driver was heightened emotional stress – with older and sicker people being most vulnerable.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, built on previous research that found “a peak in heart attacks across the Western world during Christmas and New Year festivities, and during Islamic holidays in countries where the religion predominates”.

The awkward truth is that the people we love the most – or at least own up to as being family – are the prime cause behind us clutching our chests and falling to the floor.

How to train for a family reunion

A lifetime of therapy might be helpful … but time isn’t on your side.

Healthline rightly advises you reduce stress by doing some exercise, exercise, meditation, yoga (if you’re already an enthusiast), and deep breathing.

Going for a walk each day to clear your head – and not with some lofty goal of becoming an athlete – is a good way to clear your head.

Meanwhile, shrug off all the old grudges and grievances, reasonable or not, seek out the company you enjoy, make a private internal seasonal peace with whoever annoys you, and feel good about it.

Easier said than done – but it’s the biggest favour you’ll do for your health in the silly season.

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