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Top Tips for Managing Food Choices Over Christmas

Christmas and the entire festive season can be a very challenging time for managing food choices. I would really encourage you to try and speak to yourself around this time like you would one of your children. Notice when you ‘mean-girl’ voice starts to kick in. Give yourself the grace that there may be many years of emotional patterning that is underpinning why this time is so challenging. That is is not as simple as ‘just eat better’.

Do not even get me started on the huge hormonal and physiological changes that come with having a baby and/or sleep deprivation that literally alters your metabolic hormones.

Here are just some quick-fire tips to potentially help you through this time.

“It’s Just a Day”
I believe this mentally is very demanding. To start with the festive season is very rarely ‘just a day’. There are a lot of functions, social events and extra gatherings all of which centre around food. Yes Christmas Day is simply one calendar day – however even Christmas alone can be on a few days depending on your tribe.

The reason that this mentally can unpin us is it drives the overconsumption, binging and gorging on food. This subsequently drives the guilt, restriction and punishment that follows. In a food environment that contains a significantly greater amount of ultra-processed foods which drives the dopamine hormone response (and again the consequently down and withdrawal) afterwards even ‘just a day’ of this can result in a lot of physical and emotional damage. The body can take a lot of time to process such overconsumption (way more than a day). In terms of the subsequent low – this is hugely triggering and just continues this cycle. If this is played out over a few weeks, you can see why there is so much struggle beyond this.

You will not be able to ‘fix’ this overnight. It is also not about total restriction either because we know that does not work but keep reading the next tips will be worth a go – but mindset is everything and we need to start here.

Reframe ‘Treats’
Often when we talk about ‘treats’ we are refereeing to ultra-processed foods. Foods that you can often get everyday of the year (not just at Christmas) and a full of ingredients which are potentially not even food – chemicals, additives and huge volumes of refined sugar.

Are your treats really treats?
- Are they something that you only have once a year?
- Are they made with love and care or just grabbed from a packet in a supermarket?
- Do they even taste amazing?

I would also encourage you to think wider about the term treats which often just get associated with sweeter foods.

A ‘treat’ food could be a more expensive vegetable or cut of meat. It could also be NOT cooking! As someone who lives and breaths food and cooks literally EVERY SINGLE DAY both in the home and in a commercial setting – the thought of cooking and feeding for a huge number of people is actually not my idea of a treat at Christmas!

For Christmas Day I am making our usual pancakes (Arjun’s pancakes from Feed the Tribe) for breakie, planning on going to the beach with the boys – so very easy foods including sandwiches (healthy fruit spread on them of course!), roast lamb with some baby carrots (treat vegetable), baby potatoes, shallots (again also a treat) and for dessert my port trifle with everything made from scratch (but also knowing if I am too tired these ingredients can be got from the supermarket). No port of course for the boys and again healthy fruit spread included!

One Mouthful
This may seem like counter-intuitive advice but I would really encourage you to try it. Rather than total restriction (which will play back into that vicious circle) and technique I find really helpful is to simply take one mouthful of the particular food you want. Maybe even break off a small piece and put on your plate so it is not all there for you to ‘try and not eat’.

Really savour this mouthful. One mouthful is not going to tip you over the edge or make very much difference to your sugar or insulin response. It will stop you feeling like you ‘cannot’ have it but also then encourage the opportunity for some mindful practices – was the taste worth it? Are you actually hungry or simply eating because it is there?

I would very rarely get through a full trifle so this very technique is what I use – and you can just put it back in the fridge to reassess later on or have the next night should you really struggle with left overs (another entire topic of conversation).

Some Boundaries
Given the volume of ultra-processed food we have available you may need to put some boundaries in place for yourself. I would do this BEFORE the day or the event. Decide what you are going to or not going to. Do not rely on yourself being able to make sound decisions when food is right in front of you – this is got nothing to do with how strong you are!!

Make sure these boundaries are realistic and you do not feel like you might be missing out – then this is restriction. If possible, tell those around you or who are close to you as it can help to take some pressure off.

I am not a big drinker generally, but I am not drinking until February next year. I will have a dash of port in my trifle because that’s half the fun! I have just had major surgery and right now even a glass of something will impact my immune system, sleep and recovery which I just do not want to mess with. This feels easy to me so it is not about restriction (even for New Years Eve!).

You do not need to have ‘reason’ for your boundaries other than you are respecting your body, mind and what you feel will work for you and give you a sense of control.

Saying No
I could write a whole blog on this! I am not actually referring to saying no to food which of course you can. I am referring to saying no to events and gatherings. Give yourself permission to do this even last minute!! Just pull a ‘sick-kid card’. Your needs, fatigue and mental space count before ANYTHING else. Pushing through and doing something that does not serve your (or your children) will leave you exhausted. Do not think this is a separate issue from your food choices.

When our needs are not honoured, we reach for things to fill that void. When we are exhausted, food choices are harder. If someone is going to write you off or say horrible words simply because you did not come to a certain event that says way more about them. To be very blunt they do not deserve your time or energy as a result – even family members. I am firm about this because I see the other side of this and as someone who has made very hard decisions around the relationships with my own family for the shake of my mental wellbeing and my children’s safety, I understand to my core what this takes and what it takes to hold such boundaries – I also know it is worth it.

Hope this helps a little! I have lots of free Christmas recipes on my website (above recipe is here) and it is not too late to order your Gingerbread People Mixes – created just to help elevate some of the work but still keeping a bit of the fun at this time of year…..heathy is a given!

X Dr Julie

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