Yummy food, drinks, festivities and chilling all sound super enticing. But, overindulging for full two weeks or more can leave some damage on your body. How to enjoy yourself while avoiding or at least minimising the health and fitness carnage? We have a Christmas strategy for you.
1. Take a break, aka FAST.
No matter how much of a health nut you are, I bet you eat a little more and have a few more treats over the Christmas holidays. It’s impossible not to. Eating different foods, indulging in treats daily or even just eating larger meals than what you are used to can wreak havoc on your gut. Besides the obvious physical symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps, heartburn, sluggishness and fat gain, you can also experience sleep disturbances, changes in mood and motivation, inability to concentrate, inflammation and aching joints to name a few nasty symptoms of gut dysbiosis.
The same as any other organ, your gut needs to rest, and if you work it around the clock, you will end up feeling bad. One of the best ways to avoid nasty gut symptoms during the festive period is intermittent fasting.
I recommend abstaining from any food or calorie-containing drinks for 16 hours each day over the holidays. You don’t have to stick to it precisely if that’s too stressful - use common sense. If you had a big dinner, don’t eat until lunch the next day. If you had a big lunch, skip dinner and so on. You can drink water, herbal teas, black coffee or decaf while fasting.
I'm originally from the Czech Republic, where the tradition is to fast from 23rd December dinner until 24th December dinner, which is our main Christmas event. It feels great to be hungry for dinner, and it’s also hard to overeat after fasting for 24 hours. Everyone in the Czech Republic does it, including children. They used to entice us to stick to it by telling us we’ll see a golden pig at the end of the fast.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive, 16 hours might be too long. Cut it to 12-14 hours. A 12-hour fast is generally acceptable for anyone unless you suffer from a severe health condition. Discuss it with your doctor before experimenting.
2. Cut the crap, aka EAT FRESH.
Christmas meals are usually fresh and desserts are homemade. Keep it that way! Eating fresh food from good produce is great for your overall health, and you are unlikely to get sick from it even if you overindulge a little. If you have a sweet tooth, eat a proper homemade cake and good quality chocolate instead of cheap supermarket versions of everything. Make it yourself. It’s more rewarding, tastier and better for you.
Artificial additives in commercial cakes and confectionery are more gut damaging than a bit of sugar. If you can’t avoid it, find products with no hydrogenated vegetable oils, emulsifiers, artificial thickeners and sweeteners, artificial colouring and flavouring, and any numbered ingredients. Good luck!
Last Christmas, I made a cake using all healthy ingredients and Chief Collagen bars instead of a crumble, and everyone loved it, including the biggest sugar-addicted foodies!
CHIEF QUARK CHEESECAKE RECIPE
- 50g grass-fed butter
- 150g almond meal (or you can use crushed biscuits)
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- Stevia or monk fruit- as much or as little as you like (check your stevia or monk fruit for erythritol as many brands are a blend)
- 2x 500g quark cheese (if you can’t find that, try with thick creamy cottage cheese or labneh)
- 3 eggs separated
- Stevia or monk fruit- as much or as little as you like
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 1 tbsp gluten-free custard powder
- Finely grated rind of 2 lemons
- 4 tbsp low-fat sour cream
- Grease a cake tin
- Melt butter and stir in the almond meal, add cinnamon and stevia
- Press mixture into the bottom of the tin
- Blend until smooth: quark with egg yolks, stevia, cornflour, custard powder, lemon rind and sour cream.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff, fold through the cheese mixture, and pour into the tin over the base.
- Bake in a cool oven at 150 Celsius for 1 hour. Turn off heat, open the door a little and leave in the oven for a further 30 min.
- Let it cool before topping with crumbled Chief collagen bars.
3. Drink smart, aka DON’T BINGE.
Alcohol is a part of festivities, and even though I’m not a big drinker, I love a good wine over Christmas. When it comes to drinking, there are a few basic things about alcohol to keep in mind
- Alcohol has more calories than protein and carbohydrates
- Alcoholic drinks are full of sugar; yes, even the unsweetened ones
- It gets processed in the liver, and when the liver is busy with alcohol, your fat burning is completely shut down
- It lowers testosterone
- It removes your inhibitions, and you are likely to overeat during and after a drinking session
- It depletes magnesium, zinc and B vitamins and irritates your nerves
Instead of telling you to not drink over Christmas, here's my top five strategies on how to drink smart and minimise the damage.
- Avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Only drink alcohol with meals and if you can't have a meal, have some biltong or beef bars.
- Sip slowly, savour it, enjoy it. If you feel like sculling something, scull a big glass of water in between drinks. Jokes aside, having regular water while drinking alcohol is one of the best strategies to minimise dehydration and splitting headaches.
- Replenish your zinc, magnesium and vitamin B stores before you hit the sack. I say drop a double recommended dose for all three plus a massive glass of water. Our liver capsules are a great source of zinc and vitamin B.
- Avoid greasy, heavy and processed foods the day after, especially when hangover. Such foods are very hard on your liver, which is already busy processing alcohol (toxin). Eat lean protein (you can have eggs but no frying and bacon), fruits, veggies, soups and drink lots of water.
- Have breaks from drinking. When I say breaks, I mean 24 hours. If you are a big drinker, try to alternate one day on, one day off. Intermittent drinking.
4. Don’t be a sloth, aka EXERCISE.
Daily physical activity is one of the primary keys to being healthy and feeling good. Humans were not made to sit around. We are genetically hunters and gatherers, and sitting around while overindulging on food and alcohol for two weeks straight can have a catastrophic effect on your health and fitness. I’m not exaggerating!
Did you know that VO2Max (an indicator of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance) and lactate threshold declines just after two to four weeks of inactivity? Decline can be as significant as 14%! Muscle strength starts declining gradually after just two weeks of inactivity.
Physical activity also affects your gut microbiome! While regular physical activity positively affects your gut microbial diversity and digestion, inactivity will do the opposite and cause gut dysbiosis, digestive issues, and constipation.
Most of us are unlikely to train like athletes during the holidays, but regular physical activity is a must. And it’s fun! Get off your butt every day and do something you enjoy: swimming, hiking, cycling, kayaking, playing sports and games, or just walking around and exploring. I like to try new things on holidays. Last year we played spike-ball, this year we are all about abseiling and canyoning. We also love group training sessions. It’s a great bonding activity, and it feels good to be hungry and a little bit tired for dinner instead of feeling full and sluggish all day long.
So there you go! I guarantee it works as I tested it on myself and my family and friends. Come back from your holiday the same way you left or even in a better shape without starvation and deprivation!
Co-founder and Chief Nutritionist