Christmas is by far my favourite time of the year. I enjoy it so much because I love spending time with family, friends and I relish the atmosphere of happiness and harmony that you can feel everywhere. Unfortunately, for many people, it can become a stressful season where the pressure to "avoid gaining weight at all cost" becomes exacerbated. This is why I have put together my top recommendations for enjoying the holidays without the pressures of diet culture.
Food is at the top of the things I enjoy the most about Christmas. Much of what was prepared in my house when I was growing up was rarely cooked at another time of the year. Now that I live overseas, I enjoy the food even more, every time I visit Mexico. I have also learned to enjoy the food prepared in Australia and share some of the Mexican cuisine by cooking the family stuffing recipe. Apparently, I have turned it into a tradition over here too.
This is why I promise you none of my tips will result in a look of terror from your nanna when you suggest she makes a sugar-free pudding.
This pandemic has shown us how important it is to value what we have. Take the time to be with your loved ones and enjoy their company by being present in the moment. Stressing about how many calories you're eating or how much weight you think you're going to gain will only distract you from the things that matter like the company of those around you and the hands that prepared the delicious food in front of you.
Skipping meals or not eating enough during the day to "save calories" will only make you hungrier at dinner, end up eating more than you need, and enjoy less than you should.
Sometimes this is unintentional. We get so busy chatting, cooking or travelling during the day and we forget to eat. Try to listen to your body and eat if you're hungry, preferably choose foods that you know will make you feel good and that will keep you satisfied for longer.
Filling your plate with vegetables or salad isn't going to stop you from finding room for the casserole or the things you like. It is better to fill your plate with what you love the most from the start and give yourself the time to enjoy it. By the way, if vegetables or salad are on the list of things you enjoy most... go ahead! But this applies to the rest of the food too.
You don't have to try absolutely everything there is, especially if you are already full; remember, there's usually enough for leftovers.
What's done is done. Hating yourself for everything you ate and how "bad you behaved" doesn't help at all.
Staying active has countless benefits; however, "burning dinner calories" does not belong on this list. Killing yourself by exercising the next day to compensate for everything you ate is neither necessary nor healthy.
If you're going to exercise, do it because you enjoy it, don't use it as a punishment or as a way to justify everything you're going to eat afterwards.
Thinking about January as the month you're going to "behave yourself", start your diet and finally "be good" only causes you to feel guilty during December. It's impossible to enjoy something when it's done with guilt. "I'll be good in January" practically translates into "what I'm doing right now is wrong, but I will fix it later". This prevents you from following everything I just recommended and enjoying the things that matter the most during this season: family, friends, health and all the good stuff.
Thank you for reading! I wish you a merry Christmas and hope you and your loved ones enjoy good health.
I’ve been a dietitian for more than nine years. During this time, I’ve been a strong advocate for nutrition and how this can make a significant positive impact on endurance athletes’ sports performance and health. In addition, being a triathlete has helped me understand the main struggles endurance athletes face when it comes to improving their nutrition.
Information overload. Everybody seems to have an opinion on the best diet to follow, the new magical supplement and the #1 food you should avoid.
Constant body battle. Your body refuses to change despite how much you train or look after what you eat.
You are going nowhere. It feels like you are barely improving. You are often cranky, lacking energy and unable to bring out your best self.
Understanding how to use nutrition to your advantage is fundamental to unlocking your true potential. The following are key principles I have identified as paramount to maximise your performance and move your results from average to outstanding.
Fad diets are not sports nutrition
A common mistake I see is thinking that nutrition is a quick fix. Unfortunately, I know many people wasting time and energy finding that ‘magical supplement’ or following a trendy diet hoping it will be the solution to all their problems.
As much as we all would love a quick fix, unfortunately, that is not the case. Fuelling your core is all about getting your foundations right. Ensuring your diet has all essential nutrients that you are consistently fuelling throughout the day and paying attention to hunger and fullness cues.
Your nutrition needs to include all essential nutrients in your diet, so your body has the vital tools it needs to work as efficiently as possible and put up with the endurance demands. Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients your body needs daily. When one of these nutrients lacks, the body needs to make adjustments that can ultimately create imbalances.
Diets advising against consuming any of these nutrients are likely to be unsustainable and to put both your health and performance at risk.
Burning calories is part of the activity, not the purpose
The ultimate purpose of your training sessions is to provoke a physiological adaptation that eventually will lead to improved performance. This is because your systems receive different stimuli depending on the type of training, and your body adapts in different ways. Ultimately, the idea is that you can perform the same effort faster, better or easier next time.
It turns out that nutrients and energy are critical for each step along the path. Your body needs the energy to complete that training session, but it also needs nutrients for those adaptations to occur.
Fuelling your endurance means ensuring that you can commence your training sessions feeling energised, maintain your energy levels throughout the session and optimise your recovery and performance adaptations afterwards.
A frequent error I see athletes making is underestimating their training sessions. They often think the session won’t be as hard or long, so eating before or during is unnecessary. However, even if you can complete your sessions in a fasted state, many athletes would likely benefit from consuming energy beforehand.
Another essential thing to keep in mind is the importance of prioritising post-workout recovery. Right after your training session, your body becomes very efficient at absorbing essential nutrients that will replenish your fuel stores and repair your muscles. So in the first hour after your training session, remember the following: Refuel, repair and rehydrate.
“Do not try anything new on race day” is a saying known by most athletes. As important as I think this is, I believe most people do not adequately implement this phrase. Just because you ate an energy gel while running and nothing happened, it doesn’t mean that having five while running a marathon will go as smoothly. Therefore, it is important to try things the way you intend to do them during the event.
Doing this will help you decide if what you are planning is truly going to work or if some adjustments need to get made BEFORE completely ruining a race and months of preparation for it.
Fuelling your performance is all about feeling confident at the start line, knowing you have a successful plan to ensure you will feel energised during the event. As a result, the likelihood of gut issues is low and you will be crossing that finish line feeling strong.
This principle took me the longest to understand, mainly because they don’t teach this at uni. Nutrition and sports units teach you about nutrients, pathways and systems for endurance athletes but rarely about the influence food has on mood and its cultural and social implications. All this seems secondary and irrelevant.
I thought that what was pulling me towards eating certain foods was weakness and lack of willpower. I used to think that maybe I didn’t want it bad enough. Today I understand that food is more than energy and fuel; food is connection, family, joy. Having a truly healthy and balanced diet also means embracing and accepting these other components of food.