Christmas Party Cheer or Party Food Fear?
We’re reaching that time of year when the pressure is on to be sociable. For many people that’s hard enough in itself but factor in people’s growing anxiety around food & you can understand how Christmas party time can be thoroughly miserable for some.
We live in a world where there’s so much emphasis on what we shouldn’t be eating. This comes from the government, food industry & medicine in the form of a latest guideline or study. From the newspaper headlines that scream the latest food-related health scare. From social media by people who promote diet products they’ve been sent for free & are paid a fee to promote & go to great lengths to cultivate a completely unrealistic lifestyle nobody could sustain. From peers who have had great success on their latest diet or who are ‘naturally slim’ & seem to be able to eat everything & never put on weight. From diet clubs who prey on people’s vulnerability & have them counting calories & points without ever taking into account what may be going on in that person’s body metabolically & hormonally. I’ve probably missed a few out, but you get my point that we’ve become a society who are so stressed about food, who are fixated on counting calories, ‘syns’, points, fat content that we’re now a nation of disordered eaters & food phobics.
What happened to embracing the pleasurable experience of eating? Sitting down with friends & family, enjoying the meal you’ve prepared & savouring every mouthful or getting dressed up to go to a lovely restaurant & taking delight in being wined & dined. The days of feeling satisfaction from food seem to be long gone, for some, & replaced instead by feelings of guilt. There’s a whole population of people who’ve spent the past couple of months ‘being good’ so they can look their best at Christmas, those who feel self-conscious & they’re being constantly judged for their food choices & of course those who say they “just can’t resist all the temptation & will deal with it in the New Year”. It is no coincidence we're seeing more people in states of malnourishment as we consume more processed foods, stripped of their natural fats & loaded with artificial flavours & colours in order to be palatable, that then tempt you to reach for more.
Not only is this attitude to eating mentally draining but it is having a hugely detrimental impact on our health because it affects the digestive system by altering the balance between the good & bad bacteria that is the naturally protective ecosystem in our gut. I say it over & over, because it still blows my mind, but the human body is incredibly clever in that it will always strive for survival. So, in times of food depravation it will slow down metabolism to conserve energy & when we are stressed it will divert energy from non-lifesaving body systems like digestion & reproduction. When our bodies are really just trying to keep us alive, we punish them further by unnecessarily restricting food groups or eating processed foods which are full of artificial additives rather than the nutrient-dense whole food diet it craves. The mental chatter we should have around food is, I am supporting my body to thrive rather than negative feelings of guilt & confusion.
When faced with the inevitable of having to attend a Christmas party or organised buffet/meal, there are some very simple steps you can take to reduce the stress & make it easier on yourself, I’ve outlined five below -
1. On the day of your party ensure you have a good breakfast of quality fat, protein & complex carbohydrates which will set you up for the day preventing the blood sugar rollercoaster which affects mood & energy. If you eat in a balanced way over the course of the day it helps maintain energy levels & reduces evening cravings & the temptation to fill up on ‘empty calories’. If you’re unsure of how to get the proportions right on your plate, this is a good graphic to refer to from ANH. Having something to eat before you go out is always a good idea if you’re going to be drinking alcohol as it will help slow down the speed of absorption but if you’re conscious of making food choices that will leave you feeling guilty later or the next day this will help take the pressure off & prevent you from overeating.
2. If you’re eating in a restaurant try to ensure your meal has a good balance of protein, fat, fibre & complex carbohydrates. Again, to slow down the speed you absorb alcohol if you're drinking but to help with blood sugar balance & promote a comfortable feeling of feeling fuller for longer. Balanced blood sugar reduces cravings & the temptation to overeat or make choices that will leave you feeling guilty. If you have trouble digesting your food look for a starter that contains 'bitters', for example radish, rocket or chicory to stimulate & promote your digestive juices & help to breakdown the food you eat. You can always ask for an extra vegetable portion or order a few sides to make your plate half vegetables. Cruciferous (for example broccoli, kale, cauliflower, rocket, watercress) & dark green leafy vegetables will help support the liver in processing & detoxifying the alcohol more efficiently too.
3. If there’s a buffet there’s usually always a token healthy option which is generally sticks of celery, carrot, pepper & hummus so add these to your plate & eat these first. The fibre & protein will help you feel more satisfied than a handful of sausage rolls. Again, if you’re uncomfortable at the thought of having to make food choices from the buffet, eat something before you go then pick at the salads or unsalted nuts when you're there.
4. We digest the food we eat much more efficiently if we’re not stressed when eating which means not only do we absorb more nutrients but it also reduces the risk of bloating, gas & pain/discomfort later. If you can’t step away from the stressful situation taking a few deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth) before your first mouthful can switch your stress response to a calmer state, also aiding the digestive process.
5. Alcohol consumption can bring on or make worse night sweats & disrupts sleep which will make you more likely to make poor choices the following day, so try to alternate alcoholic drinks with water on your night out. A glass of water with ice & a slice of lemon or lime can pass for a G&T if you’re conscious of drinking water in a social setting.
Most importantly, enjoy yourself! This year has really brought home to me how we’re here one minute, gone the next so embrace life & try to focus on being more ‘in the moment’ & having fun rather than worrying about your portion size or blowing your diet.
If you think you’ve fallen into a disordered eating pattern or are confused about how to eat in a balanced way to support your body, then seek professional help by working with a registered Nutritional Therapist. There’s no greater feeling for me than working with clients & helping them have a better understanding of how to make more nutritious food choices & switch off the negative voices in their mind about the very thing that sustains us, eating real food!
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