The London Nutritionist – Jo Travers
No-one needs to be told what a crazy year this has been. But somehow we have made it this far and with an end in sight to the pandemic, I feel much better about looking back on the year. So many of the struggles this year have been around food. From supermarket shelves being empty; the rise in food bank use; the all-day grazing and comfort-eating during lockdown. But there have been some truly inspiring food related things too. Food has brought people together even when social restrictions kept us apart. Community food projects; people remembering what it’s like to have the time to cook again; recipe sharing; and reconnecting with nature, which provides us with the things that sustain us. And less inspiring but still an achievement for me, I finally managed to use those dried chickpeas at the back of the cupboard!
And now, in a year which both seems to have flown by while dragging on mercilessly, we approach Christmas. Traditionally Christmas is defined by feasting and socialising but this year is likely to be somewhat different. For those whom the excesses of December are followed by a January of social and dietary austerity, this may be a welcome change, but for most, the lack of breaking bread with the people we love will be hard to stomach. However, as I mentioned, there is light visible at the end of the tunnel and we need only defer, rather than cancel festivities. And there is still plenty that can be celebrated. So how can we enjoy Christmas and all the trimmings this year?
I highly recommend a Christmas dinner if you like it. And despite the quantities usually eaten, roast dinners are actually fairly high up on the healthy meal scale. There’s protein from the turkey, carbohydrate from the roast potatoes, and plenty of vegetables. Because it’s likely to be a more intimate affair this year, it gives us the chance to avoid making far too much!
If you are a person (and plenty are!) who thinks indulging over Christmas means eating so much you feel uncomfortably full, then I would like to suggest a different way to indulge this year. By all means eat all the food and drink all the drink you like, but I’d like to give you a little trick to keep up your sleeve.
Instead of “treating yourself” with food, instead treat yourself well. That one little word on the end changes the whole perspective of the idea and allows room for genuinely eating things that are good for your overall wellbeing. And this definitely doesn’t mean cutting out mince pies and stilton, (both of which are good for the soul)! But it means checking in with yourself to make sure you are actually going to feel better after eating them. If you will feel uncomfortably full or even sick then you aren’t going to feel better. If you are going to feel nourished – nutritionally or otherwise – then go ahead.
Here are 5 tips to see you through
1. Get some variety in your diet
In order for your body to really feel good and thrive, you need variety in your diet, especially when it comes to fruit and vegetables. The bacteria in our gut, which are responsible for so many functions of health, like training the immune system, digesting food, and are even linked to mood, need plenty of different plant foods to survive.
2. Look after your hydration
This is a basic one for everybody. Blood volume, transport of nutrients, temperature control, excretion of waste all rely on good hydration so aim for 2-2.5l of sugar-free fluids every day.
3. Mindful eating
Eating mindfully not only helps us to feel connected to food and our bodies, it also helps us to get back in touch with our hunger and satiety – meaning we eat the right amount, when we need it. As an extension of the “treat yourself well” idea, when eating, ask yourself the question, “will the next mouthful be as good?” You will find it a lot easier to eat the right amount of mince pies – not too many, but also not too few!
4. Don’t worry so much
Food, especially at Christmas is associated with celebration, but at the same time, it can often be a stressor. Am I eating enough vitamins, am I eating too much, has my child had enough vegetables? My advice is: relax. Using your hands which are the right size for you, aim to fill your plate at mealtimes with a fist-size portion of carbs (bread, rice, potatoes, pasta etc), a palm-size portion of protein (beans, lentils, meat , fish, eggs) and two cupped-handfuls of vegetables. If you do this, the chances you are getting everything you need and not too much of what you don’t are really high.
5. Plan your meals
And to help you relax about food, make a rough plan of what you are going to eat over the next few days. That way you can think about what you are going to eat at a time you decide, when you are least stressed, rather than in the moment when you are really hungry and have nothing in the fridge!