How to be a healthy hedonist this Christmas

'Tis the season to be merry and indulge, but how can you limit some of the festive damage?
'Tis the season to be merry and indulge, but how can you limit some of the festive damage? Photo: Shutterstock

December. The month of too many office parties, late nights and Quality Street. A recent study found the average person consumes 6000 calories on Christmas Day alone, and an extra 4000 calories in alcohol between now and New Year's Eve.

But rather than succumbing to festive excess, why not try "healthy hedonism"? "You can have a really fun December while limiting some of the damage with a few simple tweaks," says Rosemary Ferguson, the supermodel turned nutritionist, who once graced the cover of Vogue with fellow model and friend Kate Moss, before qualifying as a nutritionist in 2009.

"First, don't be too hard on yourself. If you spend December in a cycle of indulgence and guilt, you'll get a double whammy of unhealthy food and alcohol, plus the stress hormone cortisol. You can be a healthy hedonist and enjoy the month, while protecting yourself from the excess."

Here's how...

Be a better drinker

"You don't have to avoid alcohol altogether, but you can drink smarter and cleaner," says personal trainer Lee Mullins, who has worked with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Cressida Bonas. "I tell my clients to choose alcohol with the fewest toxins to improve their hangovers and overall health. Go for high-quality vodka or tequila, with fresh lime and soda water. Steer clear of sweetened mixers like cola, which just up the sugar content further (remember, alcohol is incredibly high in sugar). And choose better quality, cleaner wine, with fewer chemicals."

"Clean wine" is causing something of a buzz this party season. Simply, it's wine without (or with fewer) chemicals and additives that can exacerbate hangovers. US brand Thrive Market has just launched a range, but in Britain and Australia look for wines labelled "organic", containing fewer or no sulphates, or "spontaneously fermented", which means no added yeasts and a more natural fermentation process.

When you're at a Christmas buffet, or serving up Christmas dinner, limit the beige and load up on the colour.

Recover well

"The morning before a big night out, make a jug of sparkling water, add some mint and lemon and put it in the fridge," Ferguson says. "When you wake up hungover, you often crave a cold, fizzy drink that tastes slightly sugary. But, rather than a cola, which is packed with sugar and leads to an energy slump 20 minutes later, this will perk you up."

She also advises ditching the grease. "Forgo a bacon sandwich and repair some of the damage with a breakfast full of protein and healthy fat instead, like poached or scrambled eggs on sourdough toast, or a big bowl of porridge with nut butter and cacao powder."

Avoid a stress hangover

"Forget food and alcohol, stress can be the unhealthiest thing about the festive season," says chef and food writer Melissa Hemsley. "I avoid tiredness crutches like coffee, which can make my anxiety worse. Instead, I take a big saucepan, chop some ginger and let it bubble away for an hour or so. I then put it in the fridge, with some lemon and lime wedges, and the next day fill a water bottle with it before leaving the house.

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"If you do drink coffee, always make sure you hydrate before you caffeinate.

"The other thing I've started doing is going to parties early and leaving early: you make better choices at the start of the night, you can make your way around a room and then head off feeling like you've chatted to everybody, but protecting yourself from a hangover and poor sleep."

And if you're hosting? "Make it easy for yourself," Hemsley says. "I have a huge chopping board, which I top with lots of little deli-bought things like olives, good quality hummus, breads and truffle honey, all displayed beautifully. Then I put the booze out, a massive jug of water, and let everybody get on with it.

"Fiddly festive hosting can be overwhelming and the stress hangover - where you come down from the adrenalin high of rushing around - can cause you to crave alcohol and sugar. Take the pressure off and the cravings will disperse."

Support your gut

Eating and drinking more than usual can put a strain on your digestive system, so it is important to support your gut bacteria. "This helps reduce bloating and research shows a healthy gut bacteria can influence whether your body uses food as fuel, or stores it as fat," says nutritionist Henrietta Norton. Boost your gut health by cutting down on sugar, refined foods and alcohol - tricky in December, but Norton recommends avoiding them on the days in between parties.

"Eat fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi [spicy fermented vegetables], which are naturally rich in beneficial bacteria and enzymes."

Ban blowouts

"I tell clients to pick their poison," says Lee Mullins. "So what's it going to be at the office lunch? Will you drink a little more than usual? Or relax your sugar rules? Or indulge in the cheese plate? Just pick one thing."

Melissa Hemsley recommends upping your greens throughout the whole of December to counter festive damage: "Have spinach with your eggs in the morning, a courgette frittata with lots of green herbs, lots of mint tea and green soups. Just eat green whenever possible."

Ferguson also advises keeping your meals colourful: "When you're at a Christmas buffet, or serving up Christmas dinner, limit the beige and load up on the colour. Pile your plate with dark green vegetables and bright squashes. Lastly, go into winter with a good vitamin D supplement for energy. If you're highly stressed, take a vitamin B complex, and vitamin C is good for countering late nights and keeping your immune system strong, which will ward off a cold."

Exercise right

"Getting outside every single day, even for a 15-minute walk at lunchtime, helps boost your mood and energy," Ferguson says.

However, you might want to give the HIIT class a miss: "If you're hungover or tired, your body is chronically inflamed," Mullins says. "So doing anything too strenuous will only add more inflammation. Being tired or hungover can also make you more prone to injury and dehydration, so don't go spinning, or running the morning after to 'sweat off' the night before.

"If you belong to a gym, head to the sauna a couple of times a week, or go to a few hot yoga classes, which will increase your body's ability to detoxify all the excess," she adds. "However, don't go if you're hungover, as it will dehydrate you further."

Mullins also suggests a walk after your office Christmas lunch, or on Christmas Day: "A study published in the health journal Diabetes Care showed a 10-minute walk after a rich meal can lower your blood sugar levels and improve your body's insulin sensitivity."

Lastly, don't lose hope: "Two weeks of no exercise and overindulging won't really have much of an impact," Mullins says. "You'll feel sluggish, but the emotional break and benefit of enjoying yourself makes up for it. And anyway, there's always January to get back on track."

The Daily Telegraph