It has been remarked by some that 2020 feels like several years rolled into one. With so much happening, it is no surprise that the festive season is suddenly upon us!
In a year 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, there is no need to go overboard!
Here are a few ways to manage the intake of added sugar, and support your health overall, in order to avoid the post-festivity sugar (and energy) crash that so often accompanies these celebratory 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, and 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.
Keep in mind that too much alcohol can be just as, if not more, detrimental than added sugar – 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 reduce the risk for overdoing 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 fennel and citrus salad or festive nut loaf would do the trick!
Fill your plate with whole foods
At an event it is time to eat and you are presented with a selection of foodstuffs. First, opt for loads of veggies, filling half your plate with these plant foods brimming with health-supportive nutrients.
Then, choose mostly unprocessed or minimally processed foods that are also good quality sources of fibre, protein or healthy fats. This will sustain energy and keep you fuller for longer, meaning you are 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. Therefore, in order to find more enjoyment, it could be a good opportunity to practice slowing down.
Yes, slowing down at this time sounds counterintuitive! But you needn’t do much to have a noticeable impact. 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 the feeling of overwhelm.
Then by slowing down, you can practice eating with awareness.
By eating slowly and mindfully, such as chewing your food properly, not eating when distracted (e.g. in front of screens), and putting down the cutlery between each mouthful, you not only improve digestion, but also give your body a chance to tell you when it is satisfied. This means you are less likely to stuff yourself silly, and more likely to stop eating before you collapse into a food coma and reach for a sugary ‘pick-me-up‘.
Another opportunity that arises from slowing down is you may find yourself more easily able to connect and appreciate the company of others. (This may feel especially important in 2020 considering the year we have had of social distancing.) Cultivate connection to others by actively listening and being present when in conversation.
So, regularly take five and pause for a moment.
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.
The two key factors to focus on are eating well and getting good quality sleep.
By eating real, whole food packed with fibre, quality protein and healthy fats, we can stabilize blood glucose levels and avoid the sugar crash one gets after a gorging on cheap sweets. This crash is good to avoid as it leads to low energy and brain function, resulting in us reaching for a quick energy hit often in the form of more sugar.
Good quality sleep is also important to maintain energy, manage blood glucose levels, and limit the desire to reach for something sugary (or foods that are equally unhealthy). When the festive season is in full swing, it is important to get as zzz’s much as you can!
Be kind to yourself
It is important to understand your own limits and balance when it comes to choosing 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)