In times where social distancing, lockdowns, and Zoom hangs have become the new normal, typical holiday and Christmas activities and gatherings may look different.
What mightn’t change is the mountain of sugar you find yourself exposed to.
While a little added sugar is okay, it can be easy to go overboard!
Here are a few ways to manage the intake of added sugar and support your overall health, in order to avoid the post-festivity crash that so often accompanies these celebratory, yet typically busy, times.
Don’t drink sugar
Whether on it’s own or as an alcoholic mixer, sugar-sweetened beverages provide a quick hit of free, added sugar to the body but no nutritional value.
Instead, choose plain, soda, or sparkling water. If you wish, infuse it with slices of fresh fruit and herbs. If drinking alcohol, low or no sugar options include dry wine or white spirits.
As with added sugar, too much alcohol can be damaging to health, so drink wisely.
Be prepared with healthy options
If you anticipate a sugar-feast at an upcoming event, then have a few whole food snacks before. By filling the belly with nourishing foods, you are unlikely to overdo the not-so-healthy offerings. Think a handful of plain nuts and seeds, some hummus and carrot sticks, or a hard-boiled egg.
If you are contributing to a shared feast, take a no added sugar, real food dish so your and other guests can partake in a deliciously wholesome option. A rolled turkey breast with hazelnut and sage stuffing, fennel and citrus salad, or festive nut loaf would do the trick!
Fill your plate with whole foods
Whether eating at home or an event, opt for loads of veggies, filling half your plate with these plant foods brimming with health-supportive nutrients.
Then, choose mostly whole or minimally processed foods that are also good quality sources of fibre, quality protein, or healthy fats. This will stabilize blood glucose levels, sustain energy, and keep you fuller for longer, and you will be less likely to fill up later on the sweet stuff. Think nuts, eggs, salads or roast veg with meat, fish or legumes, olives, fruit, and cheese.
Having something sweet? Choose well
If you wish to partake in a little of the sweet stuff on offer around the festive season, choose to enjoy a bit of good quality food over the cheap and nasty. A piece of homemade cake or dark chocolate will satisfy far sooner than the stuff out of a box of Cadbury Favourites.
Say thanks, but no thanks (politely)
We have all been there. Someone is insisting on dishing you another helping of pudding, but you are sugared up!
In situations such as these, politely say thank you, but no. Let them know that you are satisfied and do not need another serving, though it was totally delicious!
Connect and eat mindfully by slowing down
For any number of reasons, this time of year can be frantic and stressful. To find more enjoyment, it could be a good opportunity to practice slowing down.
Slowing down at this time sounds counterintuitive! But you needn’t do much to have a noticeable impact – regularly pausing for five minutes can make a difference.
For example, taking several deep, diaphragmatic breaths has been shown to be a great way to calm the nervous system, slowing the racing mind, and tempering feelings of overwhelm.
By practicing slowing down – even a little, you may benefit in myriad ways, such as:
- Improving digestion and not overeating by eating slowly and mindfully. This means chewing food properly, not eating when distracted (e.g. in front of screens), and putting down the cutlery between each mouthful. This also gives your body a chance to tell you when it is satisfied.
- Feel more calm when you’d typically feel stressed, so less likely to reach for and overeat high sugar ‘comfort’ foods, collapse into a food coma, to then reach for a sugary ‘pick-me-up‘.
- Find yourself connecting and appreciating the company of others more, cultivating connection by actively listening and being present when in conversation.
Sustain energy with self-care
Avoid Christmas burnout by making good choices to maintain self-care between the festivities. This is equally important as the choices you make at the events themselves.
Consider practicing the following:
- Eating well
- Getting good quality sleep
- Moving your body daily
- Seek out supportive social connections
- Spending time outdoors.
Each of these factors can affect another, impacting your overall mental and physical wellbeing, and also influence how likely you are to turn to sugary foods for comfort or a pick-me-up.
Be kind to yourself
It is important to understand your own limits and balance when it comes to choosing what you do in busy times, including what to eat. If you go overboard on the sweet stuff, don’t go down the road of guilt and beat yourself up. Your health can survive an unhealthy meal! Enjoy it for what it was, and know that the next meal, whenever that may be, can be full of healthy, nourishing, no added sugar foods!
If you find you have gone overboard on the sweet stuff, check out our tips for getting past the sugar hangover.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)