The end of the year can be a rocky time for many, physically, mentally and emotionally. This, compounded with the availability and temptation of excess food and alcohol, can make for a period that quickly turns into a downward health spiral.
This is particularly true for those of us on a particular dietary plan, such as The Fast 800 – when avoiding certain foods (or foods altogether, for intermittent fasting) is part of your plan, the holidays can certainly put a spanner in the works.
That’s why we sat down with Gabrielle Newman, a Nutritionist at The Fast 800, to find out some tips on how to stick to your guns.
While it’s unreasonable to expect yourself to cruise through fasting days across the festive season without batting an eyelid, here are some strategies Gabrielle recommends for supporting your body without going backwards… or compromising festive celebrations.
Where possible, choose foods that fit the principles of a moderately low-carb, Mediterranean-style diet most of the time.
Fill your plate with protein and non-starchy vegetables first, which helps to crowd out available space for that extra Yorkshire pudding or serving of roast potatoes.
Opt for wholefoods first – vegetables, proteins, full-fat dairy, beans and legumes, hard fruits, and berries.
Focus on satisfying meals, rather than snacking or grazing, which can quickly lead to eating much more throughout the day than you intended to.
Plan your festive period in advance to have a better understanding of when you might be indulging, and when it would be more sensible to stick to your meal plan. Consider incorporating a shake or perhaps have a fasting day to stop one day of “off-plan” eating from turning into one month… or longer!
Be realistic in what is going to be most sustainable for you.
Use the festive season to hone in on time-restricted eating, if you fast daily for 12, 14 or 16 hours. This means finishing your evening meal earlier and/or having “breakfast” a little later in the day. Not only can this support good metabolic health, but it provides book-ends to your eating window – boundaries to reduce the likelihood of an all-day graze.
On non-fasting days, it’s okay to enjoy a glass of our preferred alcohol – red wine. While it’s not exactly a health tonic, red wine has slightly more health benefits when compared to other alcoholic beverages.
The key things to avoid are mixers like tonic water, juice, and soft drinks, which provide an unnecessary blood sugar spike. Sugar-free and “diet” alternatives aren’t much better if they’re reliant on artificial sweeteners, so opt for soda water and some fresh berries or citrus as an alternative.
If you’re someone who enjoys an alcoholic beverage, it’s unreasonable to put yourself on a “booze ban” for the festive season if you know you’re setting yourself up for failure. Instead, drink mindfully and in moderation. We don’t recommend drinking alcohol on fasting days!
It’s advice you’ve likely heard before, but that’s because it’s quite good advice – space your drinks with water. Alcohol often results in increased thirst, so it’s easy to keep drinking without realising the extent of your sugar and calorie intake. Having a glass of water between drinks will help quench your thirst to avoid dehydration and slow down your overall alcohol intake.
Don’t use exercise as a punishment for over-indulging or going “off plan”. Instead, grab a loved one and do a quick HIIT workout together to remind yourself of how good it feels to move your body.
If the festive season for you means a little more time to do things you wouldn’t normally get to do, use the opportunity to go on some long walks. Walking is great if you are exploring a new area or want to show visitors around and just as beneficial to do alone to recharge during what can be a chaotic period.
First and foremost, be kind to yourself.
Practising mindfulness can help to reduce stress, keep you focused, and give you some much-needed respite during an often-overwhelming time. A short morning meditation is a wonderful addition to your routine at any time of year, but particularly now.
Communicate your intentions to your loved ones and ask that they be supportive during times you’re choosing not to indulge, while reminding them it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a “fun-free” festive season.
Focus on one day – or even one meal – at a time. If things go a bit pear-shaped, take it as a learning experience and move on. Health is a long-term game, so rather than giving up if you go backwards, remember that every subsequent small step forwards is one in the right direction.
For more healthy lifestyle tips and recipes, head to the Fast 800 website here.
Gabrielle Newman is the Nutritionist and Recipe Developer for The Fast 800, an online programme devoted to helping people live healthier, better-quality lives by offering healthy recipes, meal plans, organisational resources and a science-based framework for a healthy lifestyle.