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Christmas calories – how to navigate the madness

The tree at City Hall is a sure sign that Christmas is on its way (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Here we go. The tree is up outside City Hall. The Rat Pack is on the radio, it is floor-to- ceiling Quality Street in Phoenix … Christmas is on its way.

This is without a doubt, my favourite time of year. But I am also, without a doubt, absolutely not ready. I was not even ready for January. How did this happen?

A whole year has flown by and the kids are bigger — they have literally grown several inches and then there is this whole new level of sass. I have no idea where they get it from …. ha ha.

I really hope I have paused long enough to take in some of the moments. We got bunnies, the girls were bridesmaids, Chloe made the netball team, Belle set fire to a drawer in the kitchen (everyone lived, don’t worry …) Hmmm, what else has happened?

There were picnics on the beach after school, adventures to Canada. The kids saw snow for the first time, they didn’t see any bears. Chloe dressed up as a horse for Halloween and Belle continued to be hilarious every day.

Nobody did quite enough homework or ate as many vegetables as they should but that’s what resolutions are for, right?

No one begins a new year perfectly, there is always something we can improve on and staying open to self-improvement and growth is awesome for being an amazing human.

But, ideally, we will not be doing so much growth around the waist area. It is completely normal to put on two pounds a year at Christmas and to never lose it. Two pounds does not sound all that bad but, cumulatively, over a ten-year period that’s probably not something you want!

It’s especially worrying if you gain that weight around your middle (rather than as an even layer), indicating that you are gaining visceral fat.

Visceral fat is metabolically active and contributes to chronic disease via a variety of depressing mechanisms, such as interfering with the function of insulin and preventing the uptake of good fats. That’s a bad news bear, right there.

Obviously, one approach is to throw caution to the wind at Christmas and then just get serious in the gym in January.

If this is your plan, just remember that 80 per cent of weight loss results will come from your nutritional strategy (as good as the exercise is).

To help motivate you, I would book in for an InBody scan over at the Court House gym.

It has amazing technology that not only measures your body fat percentage, but tells you exactly where it is and gives you a separate marker for visceral fat as opposed to just total fat.

You will also get a reading for muscle mass and recommendations for adjustments in that area.

To be honest, most people get results that indicate they just need to lose weight and body fat percentage (some of which should be visceral). Occasionally, people need to gain some extra muscle, too.

But the results are given in a highly readable, measurable way so you can see exactly what your goals are and you can track your progress as you go.

I find it super helpful when clients come to me armed with these results as it helps us get one step ahead of the process.

Making dietary changes is a lot easier when you have a really clear picture of what’s going on inside your body. It makes cause and effect a lot easier to grasp!

However, as much as I want you to get into the Christmas spirit, it’s a whole lot easier to be a bit moderate than it is to undo a mother load of damage!

I have got some great hangover prevention tips, which I will put up on social media over the weekend (as a refresher, because we have done it before) but try these easy strategies, too.

I promise it will not ruin all the fun and you will feel way better in January.

1, In my family we have a lot of traditional gifts and a lot of them are sugary (chocolate oranges, chocolate money, childhood favourites), popping up in stockings, on our pillows when we arrive home or as gifts under the tree.

If it is the same for you, and if you are really trying to avoid that sugary, slippery slope, then maybe give your friends and family the nicest heads-up possible.

Just explain you are trying to keep it healthy-ish and that you would love their help not going overboard. But you’re gonna have to brace yourself for socks instead!

2, If you love Christmas baking, just share the love. Keep only what you really need and then share the rest with neighbours, co-workers, family and friends.

This backfires if people try to offload their excess on to you too of course, but just keep passing the extras along!

There are always shelters and churches that are grateful for contributions, too. I have a great Christmas Morning Muffin recipe, which is pretty low-sugar. I will pop that on social media, too.

3, Pick your parties in advance. By now you will already have an idea of what big events you have lined up. Choose which ones you are going to treat as a “treat”, and then participate in the others as normal days.

If you’re going to eat and drink in a healthy way at a Christmas function, then a) don’t turn up thirsty or starving (have a healthy snack and lots of water before you go) and b) be the designated driver.

It’s much easier to stay on track if other people are relying on you to get them home safely. Choose the healthier options — veg and hummus over a meatball (you know this)!

4, If it’s a potluck party, then take something healthy. You won’t be a party pooper; to be honest, most other people will probably be relieved there is something healthy there, too!

5, No matter what you eat, half your plate should be green leafy veg or other non-starchy veg (note that this rules out things such as carrots, corn, squash and pumpkin which are all carbs).

Crowd out the bad stuff with the good stuff. There is only so much cassava pie you can fit in if you are stuffed full of vegetables!

6, If you know you’re going to end up headfirst in dessert, then skip the carbs with your main meal. Just go for lean protein and lots and lots of green veg. Then dessert can be your carbs and you don’t need to worry about it too much.

Do not apply this rule every day as it would be too much sugar, but it will definitely help with damage limitation.

7, What you drink matters just as much as what you eat. Avoid the sugary mixers and things like mulled wine and eggnog.

Your best options for alcohol are red wine, champagne or a clear spirit (gin/vodka) with soda water. If you are alcohol-free, avoid the temptation to drink juices and soda. They are a disaster for your blood sugar and your waistline, so go with something such as La Croix sparkling water instead (which has a hint of flavour but is sugar/sweetener free).

Catherine Burns is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. For details: www.natural.bm, 236-7511 or, on Facebook, Natural Nutrition Bermuda