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A nutritionist's top tips for a happy, healthy Christmas

Rob Hobson
Article written by Rob Hobson

Date published 23 October 2023

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It's easy to overdo it at Christmas, but there are plenty of ways to have fun without going overboard, says nutritionist Rob Hobson.

🕒 4 min read

Christmas can be an indulgent time, with people eating and drinking more than they normally do, and this can take its toll on our health.

However, a little forward planning can help to take the pressure off the festive period, and developing strategies to manage the amount of food and drink you consume, particularly at parties, will keep your waistline in check.

Watch how much (and what) you drink

It's hard not to drink over the festive season, and often we get carried away with the festivities, which can leave us feeling a little worse for wear.

To help you to manage the amount you drink:

  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach, as this can be a recipe for disaster. Try and plan your day's food so you eat shortly before you leave home or the office.
  • Alternate between water and alcohol. Focus on this at the start of the evening, because as the night goes on this tends to get more difficult.
  • Avoid darker coloured drinks. Red wine and brown spirits contain a high level of compounds called congeners, which can lead to worse hangovers.
  • Try watered-down drinks, such as spritzers or single shots with plenty of mixer.
  • If you don't want to drink night after night, try low-alcohol beers, wines or spirits substitutes. Friends can often give you a hard time when you're not drinking, so try pouring low-alcohol beers into a glass.
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Manage your weight

Putting on weight during the festive season is not uncommon, as people tend to eat and drink more than they usually do, and may also be exercising less.

It is easy to overeat, especially when you have been drinking. To manage your eating when you are at events:

  • Eat before you go to help quell the desire to gorge on the beige offerings.
  • Fill up on the buffet foods that are vegetable-based.
  • Finish eating before you start drinking, as the effect alcohol has on appetite can be overwhelming.
  • Stand further away from the buffet. Take what you want and then move away; it's all too easy to keep reaching for more food as you're chatting.

Watch the rich food

In addition, overly rich food can lead to heartburn, as can too much alcohol. If you're at an evening event, this will undoubtedly affect your sleep, so try these tips to make things a little lighter on the dining table.

  • Reduce the 'richness' of your meal by partnering rich meats and sauces with light accompaniments, such as steamed vegetables.
  • If your meal is a big sit-down event with lots of courses, opt for a light starter and light pudding with your rich main course, to lessen the load of heavy fatty foods that can put a strain on your digestive system.
  • If you suffer with heartburn, avoid too much alcohol and other triggers such as citrus fruits, spicy foods, chocolate and caffeine, which can increase the production of stomach acid.
  • Choosing to eat a lighter meal with a good balance of starchy foods, vegetables and lean proteins can help stave off heartburn (lean proteins can help to stimulate the gall bladder to produce more bile to help with digestion).
  • Don't go straight to bed after eating, as lying down can encourage reflux.
  • Eat slowly to help to stimulate digestive enzymes.
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Maintain good immunity

Burning the candle at both ends during the festive period can leave you more susceptible to sickness – and COVID-19 is still an issue.

Boost your immunity by:

  • Including plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet, as these are a good source of vitamin C, which has been shown to reduce the duration of a common cold.
  • Making sure you are taking a vitamin D supplement, as achieving adequate levels of this nutrient is difficult with the lack of sunshine during the winter. Research has shown that those with lower levels of vitamin D are three times more likely to develop a common cold.
  • Getting outdoors for a brisk walk. It's easy to get locked indoors during the festive season, but moderate exercise has been shown to help reduce inflammation and help your immune cells regenerate regularly.
  • Don't forget to keep washing your hands and maintain social distancing where possible.
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Rob Hobson

About Rob Hobson

Rob Hobson MSc RNutr is an award-winning registered nutritionist (AFN) and sports nutritionist (SENR) with over 15 years of experience. He founded London-based consultancy RH Nutrition, and has degrees in nutrition, public health nutrition and sports nutrition.