Overcoming barriers – is it you, or just how you’re seeing it?
What's stopping you from getting healthier? Find ways around the most common barriers with our guide to exercise
Christmas seems to be a time of great temptation; even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, there’s bound to be more food, more drink and more parties all around you. The thought of going through a special time of year without indulging in your favourite treats can be quite daunting, but it IS possible to have a good time without totally derailing any healthy habits you’re working on.
The thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. You don’t need to abstain from everything fun from December to January 1st – but nor do you have to give in to every temptation and overdo it.
It helps to have a plan in mind before the festivities get going – that way, you’re more prepared and in control. Here are a few suggestions that might make the yuletide season a little easier:
Christmas isn’t just about eating limitless mince pies and other treats. There are loads of festive and fun things you can do to get into the spirit while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. You could cosy up in front of a classic Christmas film, get out for a walk in the lovely crisp fresh air, put the decorations up, write your Christmas cards, go to see the lights being switched on. Getting involved doesn’t have to mean indulging.
Aim to have as many alcohol-free days as you can, and set limits for yourself when you do have a drink. Alcohol can affect your blood glucose and it is also full of calories, meaning that it can sabotage any weight-loss efforts while giving you no nutrition at all. There are lots of alcohol-free drinks available; choose carefully though and check the labels as some can be high in sugar. You could alternate alcoholic drinks with sparkling water, sugar-free lime and soda or diet drinks – your friends probably won’t even notice if there’s no gin in your G&T.
Some people are able to eat and drink in moderation – they are the kind of people who really can have a little of what they fancy and leave it at that. But you might be the kind of person who can’t just have one sausage roll/glass of wine/chocolate/whatever, and you find it easier to just cut out the forbidden thing altogether.
If you’re the former type, then work to your strengths and just keep an eye on what you are eating and drinking to make sure it stays in moderation. For you, total abstinence and strict rules might drive you into craving or fixating on whatever it is you’re “not allowed”, making you feel miserable or even rebellious to the point where you end up binging. So if you can do it, plan ahead to have just one or two of the tempting thing, and then stop.
If moderation is not one of your strong points, it might be more effective to say “no” altogether to your particular temptation. For example, if you know that when you open a packet of biscuits you’re likely to eat the whole lot rather than just one or two, it might be easier on your willpower to not open the packet of biscuits at all. Tell yourself you can have a treat another time, or try buying or even making a healthier version of it instead.
You can make super-tasty roast potatoes with less fat than the traditional ones. For example, try par-boiling and then crisping them up in the oven without oil. If you’re having roast turkey, go for the breast meat and avoid the skin to reduce your calorie intake. A vegetarian stuffing will be just as tasty as a sausage meat stuffing, with fewer calories – cook it separately from the roast meat so that it doesn’t soak up fat. For dessert, you could try baking an apple with a sprinkling of sweetener and/or cinnamon instead of having mince pies or Christmas pudding. If you can’t resist, keep your pudding portion small and choose single cream or custard made with skimmed milk to accompany it.
A word of warning. There are increasing numbers of “low fat” or “reduced calorie” versions of favourite cakes, pies and puddings and the like. But beware; often, they are simply smaller portion sizes, or the fat has been replaced by sugar. Just because there’s a stollen cake marked “Guilt free!” or “Now lower in fat” it doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. It’s still got fat, sugar and calories that you probably don’t need.
It’s not all wall-to-wall sweets and booze – there are a few festive favourites that don’t need any changes to make them good for you. Ideas might include:
Going to a do? Make sure you have a balanced, nutritious meal before you go. That way you’ll be better able to resist the high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar stuff on offer, as you won’t be hungry. It also means that if there’s alcohol, you won’t be drinking on an empty stomach. If you’re going out for a full meal, ask to see the menu in advance so that you can plan your choices healthily and remember, you don’t have to eat everything on your plate.
OK, being realistic, you know you should have lots of vegetables, avoid the roasties and not touch a single chocolate. But there may be occasions when you just want to relax and not be thinking about healthy eating all the time. It doesn’t mean you have to go overboard, though – every single thing you eat is a choice, and you have lots of opportunities to make as many of your meals as healthy as possible. If the majority of what you eat is nutritious and balanced, it’s better than not having any healthy food at all. Just remember that you always have a choice.
This is about picking out the few things that you really just can’t face going without, and allowing yourself a little of what you want while letting other things go. For some people it might be chocolates, for others it might be wine for example. Rather than just saying to yourself, “Ah, I’ve gone off the diet plan now, I might as well EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT”, you say to yourself something along the lines of: “It’s just not Christmas without a few mince pies, so I will have a couple of those, and cut down on my visits to the selection tin of chocolates. And that way I can properly enjoy myself without undermining my healthy goals too much”.
A sticky pudding is certainly warming and filling, but it doesn’t do you much good. Why not try having a hot drink instead for a similar effect? Be careful though: a filter coffee with milk, a tea or a low-calorie hot chocolate are all reasonable choices. Cream, syrups, mulled wine, marshmallows and sugar are pretty much as bad as a pudding for your health and your waistline: some types of coffee like latte and cappuccino can have three, four or even five hundred calories.
A lot of us in the UK struggle with portion size. Over the years, average portion sizes have crept up meaning that as a nation we’re eating more than ever before. No-one knows exactly why this has happened, but it seems to be partly to do with increasingly larger portions being offered in packaged food and restaurants – we’ve lost sight of how much a reasonable amount of food actually looks like. Plates have also got bigger in the last half century or so, which makes it even more difficult to judge whether what you’re eating is a sensible amount or not. Try getting or using smaller plates (take a side plate at a buffet, for example, rather than a dinner plate), and working towards enjoying small servings at every meal. You can also pile up your plate with veggies, leaving less room for the calorie-filled carbs.
Special occasions can be stressful for some people. It’s supposed to be fun, but worrying about having people round, finding enough money, being on your own, having too much to organise – these can all make you dread special times of year. Prolonged stress can weaken your immune system and contribute to some heart problems, so it’s a good idea to take some time out when you can, and unwind a little. A gentle walk, some deep breathing, a warm bath or a cuddle up on the sofa (with a partner, pet or pillow – whatever works for you!) can help you relax. Don’t try to use alcohol or food to relax – any hangover or the bloating afterwards will certainly not make you feel at your best!
At Christmas we are busier than usual and mealtimes can tend to vary from the normal routine. You may find that you have higher blood glucose levels than normal due to being less active than usual, overindulging or changing your routine. One or two high readings shouldn’t affect your long-term diabetes control, but be careful to avoid persistently high readings that put your health at risk. Try to keep your mealtimes as regular as possible and maintain your normal blood glucose monitoring schedule.
Having friends and family on-side can be a massive help if you’re struggling to stick to healthy lifestyle advice. But some people may not know that you’re trying to improve your health, or may not take it seriously. You may hear things like, “Oh, one won’t hurt”, “You’ve got to live a little,” and of course, “Oh go on – it’s Christmas/Easter/Eid/Diwali/Passover/New Year’s/Friday/Beryl’s birthday”. People usually mean well, and want you to enjoy yourself – they’re not likely to be deliberately sabotaging your efforts. A friendly, “No ta – I’m watching the old waistline” should be enough for most, or “Not at the moment – I might do later”.
People who persist are more difficult to deal with. They may just be trying to be nice, though, or they may take it personally that you’re not “joining in”. It might help to explain WHY you’re trying to improve your health – a little understanding goes a long way. Good friends will ultimately want you to be well and want to support you.