The Virgin Mary wouldn’t have even started her maternity leave and, yet, before the end of November many of us will have entered the ever-lengthening holiday season with a glass of bubbles in hand.
Once you factor in multiple work events, friend catch-ups, New Years, your family Christmas two weeks out from Christmas so people can make it and the family Christmas you will inevitably have to have on Christmas because, well, it’s Christmas, it is now possible to spend about 10 per cent of the year in end-of-year mode.
So, how can you be health conscious during the party month, when work looms on Monday and you have two more celebrations the next week? This is what the experts advise.
Accredited practising dietitian Shivaun Conn says there are strategies to maintain dietary discipline during party season. You’ve probably heard it before, but filling half your plate with vegetables and salad before adding anything else will force you to limit how much of the other stuff makes it into your mouth.
At cocktail events, canapés are easy to overeat because they are so small and come out of the kitchen continuously over a long period. “Before you attend a stand-up event think about how many canapés would make up a normal plate of food,” Conn suggests. “[Then] choose canapés that include vegetables, salad, wholegrains, are grilled, and limit the fried, oily, creamy options.”
If you’re worried about spending a whole month drinking, Conn recommends driving to events if possible. Make your first drink a water or sparkling water (even if it means asking the person holding the tray of booze on entry where on earth you can find that) and alternate alcohol with glasses of water.
Ultimately, Conn says you can set yourself up for success by getting enough sleep, hanging around others who are making healthy choices and keeping some perspective: you can probably still have your treats but, if you’re on Christmas Party four of seven, maybe this isn’t really “occasional” eating.
“Consider how much will satisfy your needs both in this moment, and long term. Could you have a taste and really savour it, then choose a healthier option?”
Balance and preparation is key for Ben Lucas, personal trainer and founder of Sydney Flow Athletic fitness studio
“If your Christmas is chock-a-block with festivities and social events, then I suggest that at any mealtimes outside of those festivities, try to be healthy,” he says. “Even have one quick healthy dish on stand by because when we have lots on, we tend to not prepare and therefore, when we have a lunch or dinner off, we may end up making unhealthy food choices just out of convenience.”
Make time for physical activity every day, Lucas says, even if it means changing your regular routine to make it fit around an increased number of nighttime engagements.
“You may not have time to make it to the gym, but try to still move every day. Even if it is a brisk walk, a run, some burpees, 15 minutes of skipping.”
As for your mental wellbeing, if the thought of attending so many social events, particularly in a professional context, leaves you feeling anxious, executive coach Dr Louise Mahler says focusing on the party as little tasks can help you make it through.
“Find activities to keep you moving,” she advises. “Pass things around, help with the dishes, get drinks for others. You will look useful and movement will keep you breathing.”
Remember small talk is exactly that: small. “Try using fillers like ‘okay’, ‘um’, ‘ah, right’ in response to other peoples’ conversations,” Mahler says. “Again, it makes you look interested, but it also keeps your breath flowing.”
Mary Ward is Deputy Lifestyle Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.