Christmas time can become a little over-whelming in all areas of our lives. There seems to be a constant flow of delicious, and often ‘free’ food around which can cause a lot of feelings – excitement, joy, guilt and regret to name a few.

I am writing this to try and offer some helpful advice around making decisions in regard to food but also, and most importantly, learning to manage your feelings around food.

FOOD.

We are already in the swing of work do’s, free food in the staff room, chocolate available readily at any given moment and perhaps in the habit of saying either, “It’s Christmas” or “I’ll start next year”. What we want to work towards is managing ourselves effectively around food and most importantly, the feelings of guilt that may pop up for you during this time.

Start with Breakfast
Starting your day out with a nutritious and delicious breakfast, that you enjoy, is a great way to stay in control of your day. Some ideas are: an egg on toast, some oats and blueberries, an omelette, egg/spinach/tomato, smoothie with added avocado with nuts or nut butter, cereal and yoghurt or yoghurt and fruit. Skipping breakfast is really unhelpful, as you start your day off by playing ‘catch-up’ and it adds to the chaos of an already potentially, chaotic time.

Remember to eat
Make sure you remember to eat during the day, but also keeping in mind what might be on offer later in the day. For example, if you know there is an event on in the evening where all of your favourite food is going to be, perhaps opt for a salad with some protein, or maybe you just saying no to the piece of cake at lunch and opting to rather have dessert at the event in the evening.

Forgetting to eat lowers mood, encourages binge behaviour and makes us cope less with what is going on around us. But remembering to eat regularly keeps your body fuelled with nutrients and helps you have a wonderful day.

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Here are some simple top tips on how to deal with food on Christmas Day:
(or any day where there are mounds of food available)

  • Firstly, step back and look at what is on offer and then choose small helpings of the most appealing foods, remember you can always go back if you are still hungry.
  • Don’t eat things you don’t want to. Even if you start to eat it and you don’t like it, you don’t have to finish it.
  • Politely say no to things you don’t want to eat. If others are offended, then that is their choice.
  • Notice when you are getting full. Think, ‘Am I full now?’ between mouthfuls. Engage your senses to do so: smell, touch, taste & sight.
  • Understand that waste on your plate, is still waste in your stomach. So, don’t feel bad if you have to put the leftovers in the bin or perhaps save it for tomorrow’s meal instead? Or feed it to an animal if it is safe to do so.
  • Think, ‘How do I want to feel after lunch’?
  • If you have allergies, and are worried about what you can eat, (or worried that you won’t have the ability to turn down that gluten and dairy filled dessert that your stomach can’t handle), maybe take time to make yourself to make your favourite meal to take, so you know that you have delicious food to enjoy too.

It’s not all about will-power, it’s about teaching yourself resilience & patience and developing good habits, and these do not develop overnight.

Most importantly, if you do over-indulge, eat slowly and enjoy every mouthful. Feeling guilty afterwards doesn’t do anything except make you feel guilty. Remember that you are human, and that your next meal is a chance to create a good habit. Instead of, ‘I’ll start again tomorrow’, think, ‘I’m going to practice my new habit at my next meal’.

STRESS.

Family and Friends
At this time of year, it may feel like you have to spend a lot of time with people who don’t necessarily nurture you, but instead are draining on you and your energy. Although this time is meant to be about spending time with family and friends, you ultimately have the choice of who that is and how much time you want to spend with them. You are in control of your own decisions.

Criticising ourselves
Leading into this time, we can all become rather critical of our bodies. That we ‘didn’t lose the extra 5 kilos’ that we had hoped to “by Christmas”. Why do you care of what someone thinks of your body? If a person is truly thinking what you think they are, are they someone you would like to impress? What do your true friends’ value most about you? It is probably not your weight.

Be proud of who you are and what you managed to achieve this year. It can be absolutely nothing to do with your weight. It might be that you have raised a beautiful child or nurtured your relationship with your other half, or maybe you went on an awesome adventure and created some amazing memories.

Outfits
Wear clothes you feel comfortable in, and make you feel good.

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Spread the load
Christmas Day can be stressful for so many reasons, but a big one is the pressure we put on ourselves. Spreading the load is a nice way to ensure everyone has a relaxing day. Have you asked your partner, friend, mum to help out? More often than not, people love to help and feel that they are adding value.

If you are feeling the pressure, maybe instead of baking that cake that requires perfect accuracy and 5 hours in the kitchen, opt for berries and ice-cream? Let go of being perfect, instead be in the moment and enjoy the day. Memories of your kids or friends making salads and desserts in a ‘non-perfect’ way, are more special that the salad having the perfect number of croutons.

Gifts
Have you got some people left to buy for, but are running out of your Christmas budget? Why not write out a ‘voucher’ for a night of free babysitting, help in the garden, an hour of ironing or a coffee date in the New Year? These things can be much more valuable to people.

Breathing
When you are experiencing stressful emotions, your heart rhythm goes out of sync unbeknown to you. Research shows that just 5 minutes of slow breathing helps the heart get its rhythm into a smooth cycle. This can help aid your stress and anxiety that you are feeling at that time. Try incorporating slow breathing into your busy day.

Driving
A lot of us will be driving on the roads which can result in being stuck in traffic or behind slow-moving vehicles. You won’t get to your destination any quicker by being angry. Instead, put on some upbeat or relaxing music, listen to podcasts and notice your surroundings and where you are. Try and focus on slowing down your breathing, noticing your posture and relaxing your shoulders. Not only is it important to arrive at the destination in one piece, but also to arrive there feeling calm.

Exercise
Take time to exercise. Our routines are often out the window during the next few weeks, but exercise increases your serotonin levels, so it is important to keep it up. Perhaps it’s walking the kids down to the park or taking a leisurely walk down the beach. Exercise can be fun, so why not find the closest waterfall or go for a family bike ride? If you don’t manage to incorporate exercise, remember that there is no need to feel guilty for this. Feeling guilty is not helpful.

Kindness
Kindness goes a long way at this time of year. Is there someone that you know that doesn’t have anywhere to go for Christmas? If inviting them to your place won’t add stress to your day, perhaps have them around for afternoon tea? Not only will it make their day, but it will make yours too.

Customer service jobs are so hard at this time of year. So rather than snapping at the person at the checkout, why not ask them how their day is and offer empathy to their sore feet and busy head.

Take time for yourself
Finally, make sure you take time out for yourself; this is most important. Try and make a list of things that you love and make sure you do one each day. Sometimes spending 10 minutes organising our day ahead of us, can save us hours of frustration or stress. During this wee planning session, add some time that is “me-time”. Maybe the kids are always around, so it could be an idea to try and get out of bed before them to enjoy peace and quiet for 10 minutes, whilst drinking your morning coffee.

Make sure you enjoy the next few weeks. For me, I love Christmas time, as it is a time to be with special people, a time to start winding down and most important, a time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

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I will leave you with one of my new favourite recipes – a gluten and dairy free Chocolate tart. Enjoy!

Chocolate Avocado Tart | Dairy and Gluten Free
Serves 12

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1 & 1/2 cups pitted dried dates
  • 2 cups of shredded coconut

Filling

  • 2 cups of pitted dried dates
  • 3 medium avocados, (perfectly ripe)
  • 1/2 cup of cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup of virgin coconut oil (melted)
  • 2 tablespoons of maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (I used Himalayan pink salt)
  • 2-4 tablespoons coconut cream (refrigerate a can of coconut milk overnight then scoop the coconut cream off the top)

Drizzle (optional)

  • 100 grams of dark chocolate
  • Coconut cream

Directions

  1. Soak the two lots of dates in hot water, in separate bowls, for 20 minutes.
  2. Drape a sheet of plastic wrap inside a 10-inch tart pan ideally with a removable bottom.
  3. Drain the dates for the crust and put them in a food processor with the coconut. Pulse until finely chopped and starting to clump into a large mass.
  4. Press the mixture into the tart pan and up 1 and a 1/2 inches up the side
  5. Rinse the food processor and shake dry
  6. Drain the dates for the filling and put them in the food processor
  7. Add the scooped out avocado flesh, cocoa powder, coconut oil, maple syrup, salt, and coconut cream
  8. Pulse until the mixture is pureed, scraping down the bowl a few times (don’t worry if there are little bits of date left, as they will continue to hydrate and disappear later)
  9. Spread the filling in the crust and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, (preferably overnight). Cover the tart pan with a big plate or lid
  10. When ready to serve, remove the tart from the pan, carefully peel away the plastic wrap, and slice into 12 pieces
  11. Break the bar of chocolate into pieces and place in a small bowl
  12. Bring a small pan of water to a simmer and then remove from the heat
  13. Put the bowl of chocolate into the pan and be careful that no water gets inside the bowl
  14. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then whisk until smooth and melted
  15. Drizzle the melted chocolate over each slice
  16. Pipe coconut cream over each slice and serve – yum!

The tart will keep in the refrigerator, airtight, for up to 5 days. It also freezes and defrosts well.

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