It’s hard to say ‘no’ to anything during December: the chocolates being passed around at work, that extra mince pie after dinner, your fifth mulled wine of the night.
And while we love the excuse to eat, drink and be merry in the extreme, if you don’t pace yourself, you spend the month feeling permanently full and nursing a headache thanks to all that sugar, alcohol – or both.
To avoid Christmas fatigue setting in before the Queen’s speech, we asked health and fitness experts for their top tips on how you to enjoy the festive season, without going overboard or missing out.
Be Mindful About Balance With Food.
Nutrition consultant Charlotte Stirling-Reed recommends giving yourself a break on 25 December and indulging in mince pie/Quality Street/pigs in blankets glory – “after all, Christmas is only one day”. But to avoid feeling sluggish throughout the month, she advises trying to maintain some semblance of normality.
“I always encourage people to stick with their usual breakfast, if they have one, which can help make sure you’re not super hungry mid-morning and just reaching for the chocolates that are often surrounding us around the Christmas period,” she says.
To further avoid unhealthy snacks, without feeling like you’re missing out, Stirling-Reed recommends keeping some seasonal favourites nearby, such as satsumas, nuts and cranberries.
“Also remember that Christmas dinner is all about the veggies, so make plenty and enjoy snacking on them in the following days after Christmas too,” she says. “But avoid overly restricting yourself – there is no need to feel guilty about food. Food should be enjoyable. Instead, just be mindful about balance and getting some of your staple nutrient-rich foods in too.”
Don’t Wait Until January To Get Fit.
When it comes to fitness throughout December, it’s easy to adopt the attitude “I may as well wait until January”, says personal trainer Dom Thorpe. But making time for exercise this month will improve your physical and mental health and make workouts feel easier come the new.
“Try and ensure that you’re training at least once a week to keep yourself at least a bit active,” he says. “Focus on training types which will benefit from an increased calorie intake, like strength or muscle growth. Weight loss is tough during December, so shifting your goals may make you feel better about things.”
If your calendar is jam-packed with social events, Thorpe recommends setting your alarm early to squeeze in a workout before work. He also suggest getting your kit ready the night before to help with motivation.
“I like to hang my clothes on the radiator so they’re warm when I get out of bed,” he says. “Use a friend to be your accountability buddy and arrange workouts with them. You’re less likely to cancel if there’s someone else who’s expecting you to be there with them.”
Try Not To Skip Sleep.
This last one is easier said than done in December, when Christmas socialising can play havoc with our sleep patterns. Lack of routine can make it more difficult to nod off when we do go to bed and all that alcohol consumed also reduces our quality of sleep.
Although the odd late night won’t do you any harm, sleep deprivation can lead to irritability short-term and a number of long-term health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity if you don’t nip it in the bud.
Alasdair Henry PhD, a researcher at Sleepio, recommends sticking to a routine wherever possible and establishing good “sleep hygiene habits” to maximise shut-eye.
“Due to the colder, darker mornings it can be difficult to get out of bed in the morning and many of us will want to have long-lies on our days off,” he says.
“While this is okay, it is important to maintain a relatively consistent sleep schedule that doesn’t deviate significantly from our usual sleeping times, otherwise it can be difficult to change this when having to go back into our regular working hours.”
Exposure to outdoor light is also important for regulating our body clocks and influences sleep timing, he adds. A cool house can also help.
“As winter nights are typically colder, many people believe the bedroom should be warmer,” Henry explains. “However, being too hot can make sleeping difficult as like light temperature is also important for the body clock and sleep.
“Ideally try and keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature, which for most people is between 16 and 19 degrees celsius (60-67 Fahrenheit).”
Trying to stick to the recommended weekly alcohol intake of 14 units will also improve your sleep and overall wellbeing. Try alternating alcoholic drinks with soft drinks while socialising. The odd virgin cocktail won’t do you any harm.