7 simple ways to beat Christmas excesses

Eat, drink and be merry at Christmas without the side effects
Ian Locke
Ian Locke
Nov 30, 2020

If you typically put on a few pounds over the Christmas period or end up starting the New Year feeling crap, then read on!

In any other year, we’d be heading full-on into the festive party season; a time when we allow ourselves to relax, socialise, drink more and eat more mince pies than are strictly necessary. This year, we may be limited in venue and group sizes due to Covid-19, but that doesn’t mean we’re limited on what we eat and drink.

Here are our top tips to help you get to 2021 feeling bright and energetic, without having to avoid indulging in all that Christmas has to offer.

Christmas lunch table


How to beat the excesses of Christmas

Be prepared

Nothing you want happens unless you plan for it, particularly over the Christmas period. Acknowledge and accept that you are going to eat and drink more and exercise less, and plan around it.

Take 5 minutes at the beginning of each week to work out when you’ll exercise, when you’ll shop for food, when you’ll rest up, etc. If you end up missing an exercise session, then move it, rather than deleting it. Get it done later in the week.

Good days don’t happen by chance. Start on the right foot by eating a great breakfast (perhaps the only meal you’re in full control of) and keep healthy snacks to hand.

The best plans can go to pot, but remember that just because you’ve got a flat tyre doesn’t mean you should slash the other three. Each decision is separate and you’re in control of making better ones.

Drinks have calories too

We’re not suggesting you stick to drinking water, but remember that most drinks have calories, certainly all alcoholic drinks. A bottle of wine has 5-600 calories; a pint of beer has about 200 calories; a gin and tonic has 1-200 calories (depending on tonic choice and whether it’s a bar serving or your generous friend).

Minimise the aftereffects of alcohol by picking your drink with a little extra care, for example:

  • Red wine is better than beer as there are fewer calories per serving and you’ll avoid the bloating effects of beer. For men particularly, beer can trigger an increase in oestrogen-like chemicals which cause you to store fat on your chest and as far as I’m aware, moobs aren’t making a fashion comeback any time soon.
  • Think twice about the mixers you add to drinks as most are packed with sugar. Here’s a list of the most common mixers together with calories and grams of sugar for a 200ml serving:

  • Cranberry juice (99 calories, 24g sugar)
  • Lemonade (94 calories, 23g sugar)
  • Red Bull (90 calories, 22g sugar)
  • Orange juice (90 calories, 20g sugar)

  • Cola (84 calories, 21g sugar)
  • Tonic water (44 calories, 10g sugar)
  • Soda water (0 calories, no sugar)

To slow your drinking down, don’t drink before you eat. It should also help avoid the late-night munchies. Be aware that drinking alcohol encourages people to make poor food choices.

It’s not just alcoholic drinks to watch out for. Fruit smoothies, flavoured coffee, hot chocolate with all the Christmas trimmings and soft drinks can all pack a calorie punch.

Train smarter, not harder

All the extra socialising is going to take time and you need to make it up somewhere. Don’t be tempted to skip your training session as when it comes to exercise, the worst workout is the one you didn’t do.

Just because you don’t have time to get changed, get to the gym, exercise, shower, etc. doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise at all. Even a 20-minute brisk walk has been shown to have health benefits. In fact, short bursts of high-intensity exercise can be more effective at reducing body fat, improving endurance, and helping your body process carbohydrate than longer periods of exercise.

Next time you have less than half an hour spare, try one of the following (after warming up properly):

  • 20 seconds each of star jumps, bodyweight squats, press-ups and box jumps with 10 seconds rest between each exercise. That’s just 4 minutes of exercise. If you’re feeling more energetic, add other exercises and go around again.
  • Try skipping with a rope as fast and as long as you can. Take a short rest to recover, then repeat until you’re out of time. Skipping ropes are cheap to buy and easy to pack if you’re travelling.
  • Get on your bike or start running, but try 30 seconds as fast as you can, then two minutes slow. Repeat for 8 times in total, giving you 20 minutes that should leave you wondering why you didn’t find more time to go to the gym.
  • If it snows, it’s time to be the star of your street and clear the pavements and driveways of neighbours. Just remember to lift through your knees and not your back.

Show your liver some love

Whichever way you over-indulge, your body has to deal with the consequences and your liver takes the brunt. If you help it do its job, you’ll be back up and running faster.

Your liver needs protein and antioxidants to detoxify your body – too little of either and the process is not completed fully. The very toxins you need to get rid of can be released back into your body.

Give your liver a head start by eating plenty of protein-rich foods together with fruit and vegetables packed with vitamins and minerals (particularly the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E). If you can’t manage to eat the fruit and veg, then blitz them in a smoothie or take a good multi-vitamin and a fibre supplement.

Be aware that drinking alcohol rarely has a positive effect on your health. What you are trying to do here is limit the damage and speed up recovery.

It’s Christmas – treat your liver with protein and vegetables!

Sleep it off

Don’t try to do too much without proper rest and sleep. On a normal day, you should aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep. When your body is trying to sort through the damage of the day before, it’s going to need more time. Unfortunately, alcohol, eating late and caffeine all reduce the quality of our sleep.

If you have a smartwatch, you can see this for yourself. Sleep with your watch monitoring your heart rate and look at the graph in the morning. For days when you’ve been drinking, your heart rate whilst sleeping will be higher as your body has to work harder to reset itself. Your waking heart rate will also be noticeable higher, perhaps by 15-20%.

Maximise your chance of quality sleep by making sure your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet; avoid TV, e-mails & computer games before sleeping; and drink water to reduce dehydration before you drop off.

If you don’t need to get up at a certain time, don’t set an alarm. If you still wake feeling under par, then we recommend going for a jog for half an hour before breakfast. It may be the last thing that you feel like doing, but the combination of fresh air and firing up your body really does make a difference to your recovery.

Keep hydrated

Being dehydrated is probably the fastest way to feeling ill the next day. Your body is 60-70% water and you need to keep hydrated to function properly. Just being 3% dehydrated will give you a headache, reduce blood volume and impact your kidneys. 5% dehydration requires medical attention. 10% can lead to heatstroke and circulatory collapse.

Drink more water (putting ice in your drinks isn’t enough) to help offset alcohol, coffee and tea with caffeine encouraging your body to pass more water. Before you go out, put water by your bed and drink it when you get home – it’s better to get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet than wake up with a worse headache.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

We all just want to have a good time. Some things will go well; some will not. Enjoy it, don’t fight it. Go with the flow. Even if someone forgot to buy a Christmas pudding.

Stress has many bad effects on the human body and we encourage you to find ways to de-stress your Christmas and keep things simple. A few years back, my wife and I decided not to buy each other presents and now both our families have pretty much stopped too. My Christmas shopping takes 5 minutes, leaving more time for everything else.

And finally…

You don’t have to write off December from a health and fitness perspective. It’s not too late to start your fitness campaign now and get a little ahead for 2021. Who knows, you may not need so many virtuous New Year’s resolutions this time.

The leaner you are, the easier your body will deal with Christmas excesses. Re-read tip number 1 and start preparing for a fitter and healthier you in 2021. If you want to get ahead fast, let Thrive help you with our online training programme – exercise, nutrition and lifestyle programmes unified for your health. If you’re struggling to see what the future may look like for you, then The Change Agent (aka Shirley Hensher) has some goal setting tips for you.

Are you ready to thrive?

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