With three months to go, the countdown to Christmas has well and truly begun. Some of us are planning for the festive season already; writing shopping lists and arranging family get-togethers and parties with colleagues. With the certainty of overindulgence at Christmas, It is also common for many of us to prepare by depriving ourselves of food and alcohol in a bid to counteract any negative health implications we might experience as a result, such as weight gain.
Throughout Christmas we attend late night parties, enjoy just a bit too much mulled wine and eat like the three kings, leaving us a bit worse for wear when January 1st arrives and we launch into gruelling detox programmes and drinking bans, in a hope to feel better about ourselves by February.
However, by randomly depriving and overindulging our bodies over the space of three to four months, we put ourselves through an extended period of imbalance, which can do more harm than good. A metabolic roller coaster occurs, leading to unhealthy fluctuations in weight, bloating, tiredness and lethargy, bad moods and trouble sleeping. However, with a successful Christmas Pretox, designed to reset your body, you could enter the New Year feeling more refreshed and revitalised than ever before.
There are 3 essential parts to a successful Pretox; good diet and hydration, sufficient exercise and enough sleep.
Take a look at your current diet and record a few days in detail. Include times you have eaten, portion sizes, snacks and extras such as butter on toast, or sugar in your coffee. This will allow you to see where you can make some changes to your diet that will improve your energy levels and help you lose weight if necessary, without depriving yourself.
Look to reduce the amount of sugar you consume, particularly refined sugar found in sweets, cake and pastries. This type of sugar causes a spike in the energy storage hormone Insulin, promoting fat storage and causing slumps in energy levels that can lead to unnecessary snacking.
In addition, aim to lower your wheat consumption in the form of bread and processed foods and cereal. Wheat is difficult for the body to digest and causes inflammation in the body, leading to bloating and other gastrointestinal problems. Try alternative snacks such as fresh fruit or vegetables, which are high in fibre and full of antioxidants. Instead of starting the day with toast, whisk yourself up some scrambled eggs with spinach or a probiotic yoghurt smoothie to start your day. A high protein breakfast will set you up for the day by keeping you satisfied for longer and preventing sugar lows that might cause you to reach for an unhealthy snack in your morning break.
Finally, make an effort to stay away from processed foods in the form of ready meals or jarred sauces as they often contain hidden high levels of sugar and salt. Aim to increase in the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, nuts and seeds in your diet to get as many nutrients as possible.
Hydration is an important part of a Christmas Pretox. Sufficient hydration will lead to you feeling more energised and less likely to over eat. Being properly hydrated will also improve the look of your skin; an added bonus with all of those parties to attend. Aim to drink at least 1 L of water a day to keep you hydrated and less likely to snack in between meals. Make it interesting by adding fresh fruit or vegetables to your water. For example, Cucumber water is highly refreshing, is an excellent source of natural electrolytes and tastes delicious too.
When it comes to your daily beverages, keep to one cup of coffee or tea a day in the morning, if necessary. Caffeine causes the body to release the stress hormone cortisol, responsible for increased abdominal fat. Watch out for milky coffees which can contain higher amounts of dairy and therefore fat and calories. Stick to filter coffee or espresso where necessary. For an extra health kick, swap your regular tea or coffee for a green tea which is metabolism boosting and full of antioxidants, or a herbal tea such as peppermint tea, which is great after a meal as it aids digestion or camomile tea which is calming at the end of a busy day.
Alcohol can be complex when it comes to Pretoxing. Aim to cut your drinking as much as you can, drinking on a maximum of two days a week to maintain a level of alcohol tolerance that will see you through the party season. Stay aware of the fact that most alcoholic drinks and mixers contain high amounts of sugar which are then stored away in the body as fat. Opt for a lower sugar option such as a gin and tonic or vodka lime soda. If you are a wine lover, simply swap your regular glass for a soda spritzer- you will barely notice the difference and you won't spoil your Pretox efforts. Alcohol disturbs your sleep and dehydrates you, so as you cut down you will also find your quality of sleep improves and with it, your productivity at home and work.
Add to the benefits of your healthy eating by taking some exercise. If you hate the gym, begin with something you enjoy such as walking, or start a new hobby like climbing or dancing as a way to get moving without feeling like you are exercising. If you struggle with motivation, then group exercise is a great way to go. Classes at your local gym are a great place to start, but you could also join a local running or swimming club if that's more your style. Alternatively, you could look into personal training. Hiring a professional to help you achieve your goals can make all the difference in the long run and saves you time worrying about what you should be doing to see results.
If you are a regular gym user, get the best results by varying your workouts. Keep your body guessing and avoid a plateau by mixing cardio and weight training for the fastest gains. Cardio such as running or cycling is great for working the heart and lungs and for burning calories in your session. However, weights are a fantastic thing to add into your routine because they build bone and muscle strength, preventing against osteoporosis and helping you tone up. Weight training also cause muscles to burn calories long after your session has finished, so if your main goal is fat loss, weights are definitely the way to go. Aim to do exercises that target large muscle groups such as Squats, Lunges, Press ups and Rows with weight. Start with 3 sets of 12 reps on each exercise, at a resistance that is difficult by the 10th rep. As the weeks pass and the exercises get easier, increase your weight or reps to keep seeing improvement.
Whatever your goal, aim to get in a sweat on 3- 5 days a week, for at least 30 minutes. If you struggle with motivation use the 5 minute rule- do your activity for 5 minutes and if you still don't feel like it then stop. Chances are that you will be into it by then and won't want to stop anyway! If you are fitness mad individual, be sure not to get too carried away and allow yourself sufficient rest, so that your body has time to recover properly. If you don't allow this time, you could end up with injury or burnout which will set you back even further in reaching your goals.
In our busy lifestyles, adequate sleep is often overlooked as an important part of our health. Getting enough sleep improves memory, creativity and performance. It also helps lower stress and therefore prevents depression and anxiety. Interestingly, it has been shown that people who do not get enough sleep are more likely to struggle with their weight as lack of sleep increases hunger hormones making you feel hungry and playing havoc with metabolism. Sleep deprived people have also been shown to lose muscle mass and gain fat, which isn’t great if you are working hard in the gym. In addition, sleep has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging. Research indicates that people who get more sleep—seven or more hours a night—have lower blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get less.
The general recommendation for sleep is 8 hours sleep a night. However, it varies person to person and most people will know what the appropriate amount of sleep is for them. During your Christmas Pretox, aim to get your maximum hours sleep on as many nights as possible, so that you are ready for the late nights ahead during Christmas.
In conclusion, don’t resign yourself to the fact that you are going to put on weight and abuse your health over the festive season. If you can get good habits in place beforehand then you will be less likely to go off track and your body will cope better with the excess when it does hit. Enjoy!