Tips for Surviving Christmas

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Christmas is just around the corner, and for many of us, it’s a special time to get together with our loved ones that brightens up the darkest time of the year. Unfortunately, ‘the season to be jolly’ is often fraught with pressure to produce the perfect celebration, family tensions and the temptation of too much food and alcohol.

So how can you survive Christmas?

Be Prepared
Start adding a few Christmas items to each shopping list now, saving you the stress of that massive shopping expedition when shops are busiest. Only the freshest of items need to be purchased just before the big day. Bake, prepare and freeze as much as possible in advance and get others to help you, so that everyone has more time to relax together on the day.

Go Easy on the Alcohol
Alcohol is a calorie-heavy appetite stimulant increasingly linked to serious health conditions. It also lowers our inhibitions and affects our judgment, so beware: Christmas Day isn’t the best time to voice long-standing gripes. If you can’t resist a tipple, consider the festive occasions coming up and decide on your limits for each one, ensuring you don’t exceed the recommended weekly maximum of 14 units (now applicable to men and women).

Never drink on an empty stomach and aim to have a soft drink (preferably water) for each alcoholic drink to help your body cope with alcohol’s toxins and its dehydrating effects, which cause hangover symptoms.

Alcohol absorption depends on speed of intake and your size, age, weight, metabolism and what else you’ve consumed, so no set amount guarantees you’re under the legal drink-drive limit (and Scotland’s limit is considerably lower than the rest of the UK’s). Any amount of alcohol affects your judgement and reactions.

Be Shrewd with Food
Keep a few quick-to-prepare items in stock to feed unexpected visitors, but don’t buy huge quantities of food. You can always top up, if necessary, after Christmas Day; the shops will be open.

Food poisoning isn’t festive, so ensure all cooks wash and dry their hands. Germs love damp. Frozen foods should be properly defrosted and either cooked thoroughly, or refrigerated, immediately (particularly large poultry or joints of meat). Keep raw foods separate from cooked, and chilled items in the fridge right up until they’re required.
Remember to leave enough room in the fridge for cold air to circulate. Chill leftovers rapidly and eat them within two days (reheating thoroughly when necessary).
Don’t leave buffet foods out for more than 4 hours.

Healthy festive food swaps:
Remove the skin and avoid butter basting your turkey (removing around a third of its calories and half its fat). Skim off fat from meat juices before adding them to the gravy.Choose low-salt gravy mixes and keep the saltshaker off the table.

Swap:

  • sausage meat for vegetarian sausage mix
  • goose fat for healthy oils
  • traditional mince pies for lattice, filo or open-top versions
  • brandy butter or cream for low-fat custard or crème fraiche
  • breaded or battered snacks for homemade, marinated savouries
  • high-fat dips for homemade ones with yogurt or crème fraiche
  • crisps, salted nuts and chocolate for plain popcorn, rice cakes, pretzels, unsalted nuts and homemade chocolate-covered fruit (preferably using dark chocolate)

Stay Festive Fit
Include some normal meals, at normal times, to avoid stomach problems (and weight gain) caused by too much rich food, sugar and salt. An alarming amount of people are admitted to hospital over the festive season because of the sheer quantity or unhealthy nature of what they’ve eaten. Keep portion size sensible and stop eating just as you start to feel full. It takes time for your stomach to tell your brain it’s full.
Ensure you get a good night’s sleep whenever possible, and keep moving; a walk will burn calories and provide the daylight and fresh air necessary to keep you feeling good, physically and mentally.

Finally… Keep It in Proportion
Christmas Day is only one day; most festivities are centred on just one week out of 52. If the turkey’s burnt, try to laugh about it; it’s not what matters most. Keep celebrations simple, focusing on what makes you and your nearest and dearest happy, and ignoring traditions that none of you enjoy. It’s your Christmas. Relax and enjoy it!

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