What are your biggest health challenges at Christmas?
Here are some tips to help you better manage any stress, sleep and sugar overload challenges during the festive season.
It’s meant to be a time of good cheer, relaxation and celebration with family and friends, but for many of us, Christmas is stressful.
Focus on the things that make you happy.
I hear lots of people saying this time of year, "I should do this" or "I have to do that." Spend a few moments reflecting on what’s important to you. Do you have to spend more than an afternoon around people that don’t make you happy? Do you need to cook a certain way to please everyone else, when in fact you could show people your way of eating?
We cannot underestimate how stress makes you not only crave all the wrong foods, but also the hormones that are released when you are stressed can really affect:
- how you store weight
- how you put weight on and
- how you don’t let go of that weight
When you’re stressed your blood sugar is more imbalanced and when that happens you’re not only more likely to crave the wrong foods, you’re releasing more insulin which drives you to store weight around your tummy and not let go of it.
You also release more cortisol, which is another hormone that affects how you store fat, and where you store it – particularly around the tummy. Cortisol can also stop your thyroid hormones from being so effective, so may slow your metabolism even more. This is why you really need to find ways to get on top of your stress, and it's also why you don't want to completely sacrifice your exercise regime.
If you feel your stress levels rising take a short break from what you're doing, or the social situation you're in. Move to another room, or step outside and take some deep breaths before returning with a calmer mind.
Christmas is a time of indulgence of the sugary kind whether it’s sweet treats, sugar-releasing carbs or alcohol.
Try to avoid eating anything with refined sugar in or unhealthy carbs like crisps before lunchtime. Doing so will help to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the morning, reducing cravings and potentially sugar overload later on.
Where desserts are concerned eat enough of your main course to feel full enough to want just a small portion of Christmas pudding, a mince pie or whatever you fancy.
If you have a sweet tooth, unless you’re too full for anything else don’t go without a dessert. Going without usually results in making up for it later. Aim to have a sweet course following your lunch and tea or dinner, so that you’re not consuming sugary foods between meals. This will help to reduce insulin surges and digestive distress.
To optimise your sleep quality during the festive period, manage your social schedule so that you can squeeze in extra sleep on your night’s off.
If you have a packed social calendar with a constant stream of late nights allow your body to adjust to what’s effectively a “different time zone” for the duration of the Christmas break. This means sticking with a later bedtime and waking up time to make sure your body gets sufficient rest, rather than rising at your normal time.
Try to also have meals around the same time each day, even if it is later than you would normally.
The circadian rhythm (your internal biological clock) works best when you have regular sleep habits, like going to bed at night and waking up in the morning around the same time everyday (including weekends). When things get in the way, like festive celebrations it can disrupt your circadian rhythm, which makes you feel out of sorts.
To support your circadian rhythm, get outside in natural daylight soon after rising and make exercise a morning activity rather than an evening one.
The circadian rhythm controls everything including your body temperature, hormonal secretions, sleep pattern and other biological functions.
For most of us, the biggest dip in energy happens in the middle of the night (somewhere between 2:00am and 4:00am, when you’re usually fast asleep), so try and get to bed before then. And the other biggest dip is just after lunchtime (around 1:00pm to 3:00pm, when we tend to crave a post-lunch nap). Those times can be different if you’re naturally a night owl or a morning person.
You also won’t feel the dips and rises of your circadian rhythm as strongly if you’re all caught up on sleep. It’s when you’re sleep-deprived that you’ll notice bigger swings of sleepiness and alertness.
Finally don't stress or lose sleep if you do indulge in a food and drink frenzy over the two day holiday period. Just get yourself back on track afterwards.
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