By

A member of the British Dietetic Association, Juliette Kellow has worked in the NHS and for the food industry, and is the former editor of magazines Slimming and Top Santé. She's also the former editorial...

Want to start the new year feeling fit and fabulous rather than flabby and frazzled? The solution is to eat well before the festivities begin

Good eating habits can go out of the window in the run-up to Christmas, as we skip mealtimes and turn to ready meals and takeaways – often the fast track to a high-fat, sugar and salt diet. And all this before the big event itself, when we gain up to 5lb – not that surprising when you consider most of us eat 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone.

4 reasons to pretox before Christmas

A healthy diet will help you deal with stress, so you’ll cope better with whatever the festive season throws at you.

Eating well helps to keep your hair, skin and nails looking their best – and your immune system strong, so you’re less likely to succumb to colds.

Getting into good habits before Christmas means you’ll feel less guilty if you do overindulge during the festivities.

You’ll feel fantastic over the Christmas holidays, so you won’t feel the need to embark on a drastic new year detox.

Essential pretox rules

Don’t skip meals
Missing meals and eating irregularly means you’re more likely to suffer energy slumps, which leave you hungry, tired and irritable. Studies show that people who skip breakfast find it harder to control their weight, mainly because they overcompensate by eating more high-calorie foods later in the day. Plus, people who skip meals often have lower intakes of nutrients needed for good health, such as fibre, calcium, iron and zinc.

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Don’t ditch carbs
Carb-rich foods provide energy, so you’ll feel tired if you cut them out. The key is to choose carbs that produce a slow, steady rise in blood sugar rather than a rapid rise followed by a quick drop. That means ditching sugary and processed carbs like cakes, biscuits, chocolate, fizzy drinks and white bread and rice, and opting for higher-fibre carbs such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice, wholemeal bread, porridge, wholegrain cereals like Shredded Wheat, Weetabix and branflakes, fruit, veg, beans, lentils, and unsalted nuts and seeds.

Eat to stay calm
Protein-rich foods, such as lean red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, reduced-fat cheese, nuts and seeds, contain tryptophan, which boosts serotonin levels in the brain. This chemical can help you sleep better and feel calmer. Carbs help with this conversion, too – giving you another reason not to ditch them. You also need plenty of B vitamins (found in wholegrain cereals, oats, brown rice, low-fat dairy products, lean red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts, seeds and green leafy veg) and vitamin C (in berries, green leafy veg, tomatoes, peppers, kiwi fruit and citrus fruits) as levels of these are often depleted when we’re stressed. Also, fill up on magnesium-rich foods (wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread, brown rice, green veg, nuts, seeds and seafood). This mineral helps to keep us calm, relaxes muscles, prevents an irregular heartbeat and promotes sleep.

Stock up on storecupboard standbys
When you’re late-night Christmas shopping, writing cards or wrapping presents, it’s easy to replace dinner with a takeaway. Instead, stock up on ingredients for speedy suppers – jacket potatoes, frozen veg, fresh pasta, noodles, microwaveable brown rice, beans, lentils, tinned tuna and salmon and low-fat pasta sauces are all good standbys. And when you do have time to cook, make extra and freeze.

Wise up to party food

Use these three strategies to avoid overindulging:

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The one-in-three rule
Only take a canapé once for every three times they’re offered. Or help the host – you can’t eat and serve at the same time.

Hold on to your glass and napkin
It’ll be harder to keep dipping into nuts and crisps.

Browse first, then choose the smallest plate.
When you’ve taken your food, step away from the table. A study from Cornell University found that compared with overweight adults, slimmer people were more likely to choose a smaller plate, took their time to see what was available, faced away from the food once they’d served themselves and were less likely to clear their plate.

Don’t forget drinks count, too
Too much caffeine can make it harder for us to sleep and leave us feeling edgy. So swap coffee, tea and cola for herbal or fruit teas or fruit juice diluted with sparkling water. Bear in mind, too, that coffee-shop lattes and hot chocolate can be loaded with calories, so opt for skinny versions. Alcohol also contains calories but no nutrients, and in large quantities will disrupt sleep (not to mention the hangover). Stick to maximum guidelines of 2–3 units daily (for women) or 3–4 units daily (for men), and aim to have a couple of alcohol-free days each week.

Feed your skin
Poor intakes of iron can lead to anaemia, the symptoms of which include extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, pale skin, hair loss and dry, flaky, spoon-shaped nails. A massive 22% of women aged 19–64 have low intakes of iron, so make sure you’re getting enough by eating lean red meat, oil-rich fish, pulses, nuts, seeds, green leafy veg and fortified wholegrain breakfast cereals. Other nutrients, such as vitamins A, C and E, certain B vitamins, zinc and selenium, all play a role in healthy skin. Following a balanced diet will provide all these nutrients in plentiful amounts, and eating your five-a-day will ensure you’re getting antioxidants to help repair damaged skin cells.

Snack smart on nibbles
Resist chocolates, crisps, over-salty savoury snacks, sweets and rich dips by keeping clementines or satsumas to hand – they have just 25 calories each and are packed with vitamin C. Dried fruits make a healthier alternative to chocs, while vegetable crudités and unsalted nuts and seeds are more nutritious choices than crisps. And if you must have sweets, go for fat-free marshmallows or jelly beans.

Get a quick burst of exercise
As well as burning calories and toning muscles, exercise is a great stress reliever. Organise a pre-Christmas night out with friends at a dance class instead of the pub, and up your daily activity by shopping when it’s quieter so you can speed walk around the mall, and swap the escalators for the stairs. At home, dig out the Wii Fit so it’s on hand for quick sessions, and at parties spend more time on the dance floor – you’ll burn almost 400 calories an hour!

*Weight-loss results will vary and are down to your individual circumstances and the amount of weight you have to lose.