You can have your (Christmas) cake and eat it too -- all it takes is planning, says dietitian Elaine McGowan
You can have your (Christmas) cake and eat it, says dietician Elaine McGowan. With a little planning, you can enjoy all the festive trimmings without piling on the pounds
On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me… not a partridge in a pear tree but a rich and sumptuous meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, all the trimmings, topped off with an enormous bowl of pudding with lashings of brandy sauce.
Over the next 12 days, there might be a few lords a-leaping all right but rather than drummers drumming or milkmaids milking, we’re likely to see an endless parade of food: mince pies with cream, Christmas cake, biscuits, chocolates, beer, wine… and whatever sinful treat you feel like having yourself.
Of course, a little of what you fancy is a great thing, but remember that having a lot of what you fancy comes with a price. After Christmas, I see many people suffering from stomach problems. They have overindulged in December and are feeling overweight, unhealthy, lacking in energy and guilty – that is not a good way to start the New Year.
However, if you take a little care over the festive season, you can enjoy all the festive trimmings without piling on the pounds. It’s all a question of balance and awareness. And the first thing to remember is that Christmas shouldn’t last for weeks on end. We really shouldn’t be thinking of tucking into the treats until Christmas Eve and then we should think about returning to normal after three days at the most.
If you can, leave buying goodies until the last minute, otherwise, you’ll have them eaten six times over before the holiday even begins. When the festivities do begin, bring in a limited number of sweet things and apply some portion control. For four people, think in terms of eight mince pies, a small Christmas cake, a medium pudding and one large box of chocolates (820g).
Here are some tips to take you through the 12 days of Christmas – and beyond.
Start your day with a breakfast rich in protein. Something like scrambled eggs and salmon on a wholemeal bagel or brown bread would set you up for the day. Then, when it comes to the big lunch, relax and tuck in. Have your turkey and ham and lots of roast, seasonal vegetables like Brussel sprouts, carrots and parsnips. Have the stuffing, gravy, roast and mashed potato too. Eat plenty of your dinner leaving less room for the goodies.
You can treat yourself to pudding or mince pies, and maybe, later on, some Christmas cake and tea. Spare the cream and ice cream, though. In the evening, have a wholemeal sandwich with fish or turkey or ham and remember to drink plenty of water, at least three pints. Limit the sugary drinks – such as juices and minerals – and if you are having alcohol, try to have one glass of water for every glass of wine or beer.
Have something filling for breakfast like a bowl of porridge and top it with cinnamon or dried fruit to give it a seasonal twist. You can have your treats today, too, but remember you don’t have to eat everything that is on offer. Exercise a little discretion; it’s not a competition to see how much you can keep down. Your body is a temple not a dustbin.
Use the turkey carcass for stock and make a nourishing winter soup with all the leftover vegetables. Use a variation of the following ingredients – garlic, 3 carrots, 9 mushrooms, 9 Brussel spouts, 1 medium sweet potato cubed, half a pint of stock, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste – to have as a low-calorie snack or as a warming lunch. It is full of immune-boosting antioxidants.
You should be thinking about regrouping today and locking all the sweet things away. You can have the odd treat, say a finger of Christmas cake, but remember that it contains about 250 calories which takes one hour to walk off.
It’s a good time to start thinking about exercise too. Over the festive season, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a person will consume between 3,000 and 5,000 calories a day, up to twice the recommended intake. People gain, on average, between three and six kilos (a half stone to a stone) at this time of year because the season of excess has extended by several days. So, take yourself in hand, and get out and walk for an hour.
If you find you are craving sweet things, have two satsumas before you dip into the tin of chocolates. The fruit has only 25 calories and its sweetness might take the edge off your chocolate craving. You mightn’t feel like keeping count but remember five chocolates add up to 200 calories – that’s nearly an hour pounding the pavement if you want to undo the indulgence.
So, another big night out is on the cards and you don’t want to be the one ordering the sparkling water. Everyone struggles making healthy choices and it’s especially hard when it comes to alcohol. Not only is it full of empty calories but it stimulates the appetite by causing blood sugar to drop, which explains why we often get the munchies at the end of an evening.
Eating before you go out on the town is a great idea. Have something like cheese or peanut butter on wholegrain bread, or hummus on oatcakes with half a glass of low-fat milk. If you can, eat while you drink. You could think about diluting your drinks too, or pacing yourself by sipping on a glass of water between. Start slowly, choose wisely and don’t mix your drinks.
Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. That is especially important when consuming alcohol but we often tend to get very dehydrated sitting around in the balmy temperatures of centrally heated homes. Caffeine can dehydrate too so try to limit tea, coffee and minerals. Drink lots of water and try peppermint and camomile tea to ease the gut.
No sugary treats today.
It’s New Year’s Eve and everyone is letting their hair down. Go out and enjoy it. If you are going to drink, make sure to go out with something in your stomach. If you are having a meal, enjoy that too but bear in mind that there some very simple adjustments can make a big difference. Drink a glass of water and/or eat a piece of fruit before you go to the restaurant, so that you won’t be ravenous when you arrive. Try not to dig into the bread basket before the food arrives. Choose soup as a starter and choose main dishes that are grilled, boiled, poached, stir-fried. Instead of having a full dessert, share one or have a few squares of dark chocolate in your bag to satisfy that sweet tooth.
You can indulge a little today and maybe start the day with a fry for breakfast. You could allow yourself maybe two full Irish breakfasts over the 12 days of Christmas. Other mornings, when you might have more time, have a cooked breakfast but reduce the fat content. Have an omelette, or beans on toast, or grilled bacon with mushrooms and tomatoes.
Start the day with a protein breakfast or a smoothie. Protein can be very satisfying and smoothies made with bananas and berries are high in antioxidants, which is good after the festive splurge. They are also full of Vitamin C, which can help prevent colds and flus and boosts the immune system. Go for a healthy dinner, filling up on veg.
Gather up all the sugary treats left in the house and plan to give them away – there are lots of charities who would be delighted to get them.
Alcohol and treats should be completely limited. If you are out and about shopping, beware of the liquid calories in that well-earned cuppa. A frappuccino or a hot chocolate could top 440 calories and if you add a little muffin because you think you deserve it after all that traipsing around, you could be consuming more than half your recommended daily allowance.
It’s time to think fruit. Eat lots of it and eat it in its entirety as that way it’s more filling. It’s a good time to think about the year ahead and the dietary changes you might need to make to give you more energy. Never skip meals, though. Instead, plan in advance and try to eat what is in season – as well as tasting better, it is often cheaper. If you do want to have a treat, just control the portion.
Well done on making it through the 12 days of Christmas. It’s time to weigh yourself. If you have stayed the same weight, that is a real result. Congratulations. If you haven’t, don’t beat yourself up. Fifty pc of Irish adults are overweight and some 300,000 children. If you have gained a few pounds, you will be joining most Irish people but do try to lose it as quickly as possible.
One of the best ways to do that is to keep a food diary. Studies show that people reduce what they eat by up to 20pc when they write everything down. For the new year, resolve to weigh yourself once a week, in the same spot, wearing the same clothes, to keep track of your progress. The very best of luck with it. Here’s to a happy, healthy and energetic new year.
Elaine McGowan specialises in diets for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, stomach problems and weight loss. www.emgdc.ie Tel: 01- 6459617.
When I attended the Clinic last Saturday, I was shocked, firstly at the amount of weight have lost, as this time last year I weighed 143kg, BMI 42 (22.5 stone) with my waist size at 51 inches, this year I am now 111kg, BMI 33 (17.5 stone) with a waist size of thirty eight inches, I know I have another two stone or so to go but I know now that I can achieve it. I was further shocked when Elaine asked if I would tell my story, as I could not believe that anyone would be interested in my achievement. So this is my story:
Even as a child I was taller and bigger built than average, because of this I have always been shy and a person of few words, as I headed into my 20’s and 30’s the weight seemed to slowly creep up on me. However, unfortunately in January 2008 I lost my father through tragic circumstances, and only a few days later became a Dad myself for the first time, after waiting thirteen years for our miracle to arrive.
Due to the loss of my Dad and all that goes with such a tragedy, I had to go on anti depressants which unfortunately made my weight balloon more. It didn’t help that during that period in my life, I had to deal with sleepless nights, the feelings of grief and negativity, I just seemed to be barely getting by each day, because of which it seemed I was unable to help myself and didn’t want to take on board that people were concerned about my growing weight.
In January, 2012 my wife asked me to go to my Doctor and see if there was anything that could be done about my weight, as we had a very happy and active four year old to consider. To my own amazement I agreed when my GP referred me to the Dietetic Clinic. My shyness had always held me back, and when I attended the Clinic Elaine made me feel very comfortable as she went through everything with me. I have to date, taken on board, all of Elaine’s advice, and at this juncture would like to thank her for her support, as Elaine helped me build a confidence in myself that I could achieve this.
I was finding it difficult recently especially after the Christmas, but since going back to Elaine, last Saturday I feel that I can achieve it. The only regret I have is that I did not contact the Clinic before now. It is fantastic to be able to fit back into clothes that have been waiting in my wardrobe for me to lose weight. Because of my weight loss I have new energy, and a new lease of life. I would encourage anyone who is struggling with weight to keep trying because the feeling I have these days is worth all the struggles to get there.