How to treat yourself and enjoy a healthy diet at Christmas

By Gail Mangan, Durga yoga teacher and nutrition advisor at Embrace Nutrition

Love it or hate it, the silly season is upon us once more! With parties, celebrations, festive snacks and drinks aplenty, it can be challenging to resist temptation throughout the Christmas season and to enjoy a healthy diet.

The good news is that you don’t always have to resist temptation. It is possible to continue to make healthy food and lifestyle choices most of the time, while enjoying some of the delicious foods on offer at this time of year.

Here are 9 tips to help you enjoy a healthy diet during the Christmas season

1. Use the 80/20 approach to food. Eat what you should 80% of the time and eat what you want 20% of the time.  Allowing yourself to indulge in the foods that you enjoy without guilt 20% of the time, means that you are more likely to make healthier choices the other 80% of the time. Look at your social calendar. Note when you have parties, celebrations or family gatherings and decide to eat or drink your 20% on those days.

2. Take control of what you eat.  Instead of eating a whole tin of Roses because you’ve already had five, so you might as well keep going until the box is empty…have a few Roses and eat them mindfully.  Choose your favourite ones and enjoy the sight, smell, texture and taste as you savour every bite. Then, make the conscious decision to stop, knowing that you can have a few more later if you wish. There is no need to deprive yourself of foods you enjoy just as there is no need to scoff them all in one sitting. Pace yourself!

3. Stay hydrated. Drink 2-3 litres of water throughout the day.  Making sure that you are not thirsty can help to prevent mindless snacking and grazing as well as ease hangovers. Start the day with hot water and the juice of half a lemon. This will flush out the liver and encourage toxins to leave the body as well as help to prepare your stomach for digestion.

4. Eat protein with every meal and snack.  Protein slows the breakdown of carbohydrates and the release of sugars into the blood stream. This will help you to avoid sugar rushes, crashes and cravings.

5. Eat plenty of vegetables to keep you full and increase your vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake, enabling your body to deal with overindulgence if it happens. On days when you don’t eat 5-7 portions (handfuls) of veg, try a Supergreen or spirulina supplement.

6. Get enough rest and sleep. Have some early nights or take a nap the day after a late night.  Rest is a necessity. It restores, revives and re-energises the mind and the body.

7. Keep moving. Exercise improves the efficiency of your metabolism and increases feel-good endorphins. Stick to your usual exercise routine as much as possible. If your regular class isn’t running over the Christmas period, go for a walk or a jog, find a class on Youtube or ask your trainer for a plan that you can follow at home.

8. Don’t wait to get back on track. After indulging in festive foods and drinks, start to eat healthy foods again at your next meal. Don’t wait until tomorrow, Monday or January.  If you stray away from your healthy eating plan, think about why it happened? Is there anything you can do to avoid this pitfall in the future? Then let it go and move on without judgement or guilt.

9. Choose two healthy habits that are already part of your lifestyle and decide to do them every single day, no matter what else is going on. You might choose to take a multivitamin or eating a healthy breakfast.

You're likely to also be eating out as you catch up with friends and family.

Here are my nine tips for eating out during the festive season

1. Eat healthy balanced meals throughout the day. If you fast throughout the day in an attempt to reduce calorie intake because you are eating out that evening, you are more likely to overindulge when you go out.

2. If you are going for drinks only, make sure you are full when you go out to prevent snacking on unhealthy nibbles or a late night visit to the chipper!

3. Drink water regularly throughout the night. It’s not cool but it’s worth doing as it prevents dehydration which is one of the causes of a hangover!  Aim for one glass of water for every alcoholic drink.

4. Starters: Share a starter, skip the starter or have a salad with the dressing on the side. Beware, dressings can turn a healthy, low calorie salad into an unhealthy, high calorie dish so use sparingly.

5. Order sides of vegetables and salads to accompany your main course. This will increase your vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake, enabling your body to deal better with any  overindulgences.

6. Eat until you are satisfied, then, stop. You do not need to eat everything on our plate if you are already full.  Restaurants may not always exercise portion control, but you can.

7. Consider sharing a dessert if you decide to have one.

8. Choose lower calorie alcoholic drinks:  dry red or white wine, vodka, gin, whiskey or scotch. Cut spirits with soda water, sparkling water or slim-line tonic. Avoid sugary mixes, fruit juices and syrups as they contain a lot of empty calories from sugars.

Remember that just as eating healthy for one day will not make you fit, slim and healthy, eating unhealthy foods now and again will not make you unfit, overweight and unhealthy. It’s what you do most of the time that counts. It is possible to enjoy a healthy diet and treat yourself at Christmas!

Gail Mangan is a yoga teacher and nutrition advisor from Co. Kildare. She teaches Vinyasa yoga in Durga Yoga and Antenatal on Monday and Thursday evenings. Check out her nutrition consultancy, Embrace Nutrition, on