How to 'eat, drink and be merry' without the guilt trip later

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The term 'eat, drink and be merry' couldn’t be more relevant than at this time of year, with social events filling our calendars from now through the summer holidays.

And let’s be honest: despite our best intentions, one thing is sure for most of us. During all the festivities we will eat and drink way too much.

So what's your strategy to remain fit, lean and healthy, while also letting let your hair down and enjoying yourself? Here are a few simple ideas...

Keep your appetite in check

Research shows that if you continue eating after you’re full, ignoring your body’s natural signals that you’ve had enough, your brain can become leptin resistant which drives you further down the gluttony spiral.

Leptin is a hormone that is released by fat cells in our body to regulate appetite and metabolism. This hormone plays a key role in how much energy (food) we take in and how much energy we expend.

The more leptin resistant you are, the bigger appetite you will have. The bigger your appetite, the more food you need to feel satisfied. The more food you eat (over and above what your body needs to maintain itself) the more body fat you accumulate. See where this is going? How many times have you stuffed yourself full at Christmas lunch, only to polish off the last bit of Christmas pudding half an hour later?

Over-indulging on the odd occasion won’t make a difference to your leptin levels, but over a period of several weeks it certainly can.

Here are some simple strategies:

  • Keep your blowouts to a minimum. If you have two work dinners this week, a school break-up picnic on Saturday and a big family get together on Sunday, choose one event where you'll let yourself over-indulge. For all the others, stick to healthier choices and smaller portions.
  • Exercise more: Increase your structured exercise sessions and general activity levels to compensate for any extra calories. Plan an extra class or two at the gym each week. Or, if you’re struggling to make it to the gym, invest in some good workout DVDs you can do at home. You can also hire a treadmill, rower or spin bike from a fitness store for a couple of months (or buy one) so you can keep up the exercise and save precious time driving to and from a gym. Walk more, work more, play more. It’s always a better Christmas day with a hit of backyard cricket or throwing the frisbee around after lunch!
  • Eat 'clean' the day after a food fest. Avoid sugar, alcohol, grains and dairy, and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially in juices and smoothies.  This will give your digestive system a rest after the hammering it endured the day before, and allow your body to process all that excess energy.

Better boozing

Many of us have good intentions when it comes to keeping our alcohol consumption within respectable limits on a night out. But when the drinks start flowing and we’re having the time of our lives, even those with unyielding resolve can end up worse for wear. So before the party even starts, plan ways to minimise your alcohol intake:

  • Have something to eat before you drink, and eat throughout the night too.
  • Make your first drink water or something non-alcoholic. It will help to quench your thirst and stop you throwing back that fateful first drink.
  • Drink slowly.
  • Choose low-alcohol varieties of beer or wine, or dilute your alcoholic drinks (try wine and soda to make a spritzer or beer and lemonade to make a shandy).
  • Avoid dark-coloured drinks, such as red wine, brandy or whisky. Darker drinks contain substances called congeners, which make a hangover worse.
  • Make every second drink non-alcoholic.

Damage control

If you do find yourself a little worse for wear the morning after the night before, try these tips to minimise feeling horrendous with a hangover:

  • Drink a couple of glasses of water before you go to bed. And be sure to have water on hand to drink if you wake during the night. It’s often being dehydrated that hurts the most!
  • Sports drinks are a popular morning-after hangover fix and can be helpful in replacing lost electrolytes if you are very dehydrated. If you do try a sports drink, make sure it doesn't contain caffeine as that's likely to make your dehydration worse.
  • Try vitamin B: Although there isn’t much science backing it’s effectiveness, many people find taking either a vitamin B complex or in effervescent form, like Berroca, alleviates the pain of a hangover.
  • Avoid coffee because the caffeine will contribute to the dehydration you are already suffering.
  • Get some exercise! It takes willpower to move when standing seems like a challenge, but going outside in the fresh air to run, swim, cycle or whatever you enjoy doing will be refreshing and make your body and mind feel better.

It’s the holiday season, so stop worrying about the food you did or didn’t eat, and the exercise you did or didn’t do! Unless you go absolutely nuts for weeks, you aren’t going to undo all the good you have done throughout the year. So give yourself a break. Go about your life as usual. Eat how you usually eat. Exercise how you normally exercise. Sleep how you normally sleep. On Christmas Day, celebrate with your loved ones. Enjoy the food that has been lovingly prepared. Eat what you want, and savour it. No stress, no guilt. By employing some of the above strategies you can have your cake and eat it too!

I wish you a healthful and joyous holiday season, and look forward to guiding and supporting you towards realising your goals health and fitness in the New Year!

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Mareike Bout is a qualified and registered personal trainer who specialises in holistic fitness and lifestyle coaching. She is a recognised leader in the industry, receiving the peer-voted South Australia Personal Trainer of the Year award in 2008. She is also a regular guest on Adelaide’s top-rating radio station FIVEaa. Mareike runs her personal training business, One Life Live Well, both online and from a private studio in Adelaide. Services include one-on-one training, outdoor group fitness, lifestyle coaching and weight-loss programs. Individually tailored programs encompass aspects of exercise, nutrition, relaxation, positive thinking, life balance, and goal setting. Her approach is to guide, support and educate her clients so that they posses the tools required to live a life of health, strength and vitality!