There’s plenty of guilt associated with Christmas. Guilt for the comment about cousin Bob’s festive sweater. Guilt for snapping at the super slow sales assistant. Guilt for saying the gingerbread men were homemade. (None of these have ever happened to me.)
Anyway, the last thing we need is more guilt about a little extra indulgence.
Here’s how to survive Christmas and avoid the guilt.
1. Expect to go a little overboard
If there’s one day of the year to give yourself dietary leeway, it’s Christmas. Expect to overdo it a bit, and don’t make yourself miserable about it. Relax!
However, this doesn’t apply to the entire Christmas period. You can’t treat every Christmas event as an exception, unless you want to start the new year with an all-track-pant wardrobe.
Choose your special Christmas occasion and save yourself for an enjoyable splurge.
2. Don’t arrive ravenous
It may be tempting to starve yourself in anticipation of a big celebration, but this strategy can backfire.
When we’re ravenous we tend to make poor food choices. We eat mindlessly and too fast, so we don’t enjoy your food and barely register that we’ve eaten – except for the discomfort of feeling overstuﬀed. It’s also hard to enjoy the occasion or the company if the only thing on your mind is when are they going to serve the damn dinner.
A better idea is to have a snack beforehand – a few pieces of cheese and apple or some plain yoghurt with blueberries. You’ll be able to make good choices, take pleasure in your food, and enjoy the company too.
3. Pick your Christmas table battles
No, I’m not talking about fighting Aunt Jo for the centrepiece.
As with life, you can’t have everything, but you can often have what you want most. So pick your favourite Christmas treats and enjoy them – but leave the other indulgences alone.
Maybe you adore Christmas pudding and brandy custard – then step away from the pavlova. Maybe you wait all year for the special gravy – then skip the creamy potato salad.
The more variety on your plate, the easier it is to overeat. Focus on the foods that give you the most pleasure and limit yourself to these.
4. Set alcohol expectations
Alcohol is double trouble – it packs its own calorie punch but also lowers your resistance to other temptations. A good idea is to plan to have say two or three drinks, with a mineral water or lime and soda in between.
If you know this is your plan, you can space out your beverages over the afternoon or evening, savour your drinks with pleasurable sips, and focus on the conversation and company.
You’ll also spare yourself tomorrow’s hangover, a greasy breakfast, and the memory of your rousing rendition of Do They Know it’s Christmas.
5. Be a good guest
If you’re a guest at someone else’s home, be the one to help carry platters and bottles to and from the table. Being active helps you get in some micro-exercise and also stops you from embedding yourself deep in the armchair betwixt the prawns and the bowls of salted nuts.
The combination of overeating and under-moving can destroy even the best intentions and make it almost impossible to break yourself out of the grazing groove.
Instead, help set up and top up and clean up, and keep yourself moving around. You’ll feel lighter and eat better, and there won’t be a you-shaped indentation in the sofa when you leave.
6. Bypass guilt-fuelled resolutions
Many people overdo it at Christmas with the vague plan of undoing the damage from January 1. This just adds more pressure to an already tense time.
But another option is to ease into a little low-key exercise early. Take advantage of warm summer evenings and go for a short walk after dinner. Get into the Christmas spirit and listen to audiobooks of favourite childhood stories while on a stationary bike. Try a new class at the gym before the January hordes descend.
Adding exercise at this time of year could also boost your sense of wellbeing and reduce your Christmas shopping stress.
So maybe this year you won’t snap at the sluggish salesperson. Instead you’ll just smile and take a breath and know that you’ll survive Christmas, without the guilt. But definitely with the Christmas pudding and brandy sauce.