The 12 days of Christmas Eat, drink and be merry – without gaining an ounce


You can have your (Christmas) cake and eat it too -- all it takes is planning, says dietitian Elaine McGowan

You can have your (Christmas) cake and eat it, says dietician Elaine McGowan. With a little planning, you can enjoy all the festive trimmings without piling on the pounds

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me… not a partridge in a pear tree but a rich and sumptuous meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, all the trimmings, topped off with an enormous bowl of pudding with lashings of brandy sauce.

Over the next 12 days, there might be a few lords a-leaping all right but rather than drummers drumming or milkmaids milking, we’re likely to see an endless parade of food: mince pies with cream, Christmas cake, biscuits, chocolates, beer, wine… and whatever sinful treat you feel like having yourself.

Of course, a little of what you fancy is a great thing, but remember that having a lot of what you fancy comes with a price. After Christmas, I see many people suffering from stomach problems. They have overindulged in December and are feeling overweight, unhealthy, lacking in energy and guilty – that is not a good way to start the New Year.

However, if you take a little care over the festive season, you can enjoy all the festive trimmings without piling on the pounds. It’s all a question of balance and awareness. And the first thing to remember is that Christmas shouldn’t last for weeks on end. We really shouldn’t be thinking of tucking into the treats until Christmas Eve and then we should think about returning to normal after three days at the most.

If you can, leave buying goodies until the last minute, otherwise, you’ll have them eaten six times over before the holiday even begins. When the festivities do begin, bring in a limited number of sweet things and apply some portion control. For four people, think in terms of eight mince pies, a small Christmas cake, a medium pudding and one large box of chocolates (820g).
Here are some tips to take you through the 12 days of Christmas – and beyond.

Day One
December 25th

Start your day with a breakfast rich in protein. Something like scrambled eggs and salmon on a wholemeal bagel or brown bread would set you up for the day. Then, when it comes to the big lunch, relax and tuck in. Have your turkey and ham and lots of roast, seasonal vegetables like Brussel sprouts, carrots and parsnips. Have the stuffing, gravy, roast and mashed potato too. Eat plenty of your dinner leaving less room for the goodies.
You can treat yourself to pudding or mince pies, and maybe, later on, some Christmas cake and tea. Spare the cream and ice cream, though. In the evening, have a wholemeal sandwich with fish or turkey or ham and remember to drink plenty of water, at least three pints. Limit the sugary drinks – such as juices and minerals – and if you are having alcohol, try to have one glass of water for every glass of wine or beer.

Day Two
December 26th

Have something filling for breakfast like a bowl of porridge and top it with cinnamon or dried fruit to give it a seasonal twist. You can have your treats today, too, but remember you don’t have to eat everything that is on offer. Exercise a little discretion; it’s not a competition to see how much you can keep down. Your body is a temple not a dustbin.

Use the turkey carcass for stock and make a nourishing winter soup with all the leftover vegetables. Use a variation of the following ingredients – garlic, 3 carrots, 9 mushrooms, 9 Brussel spouts, 1 medium sweet potato cubed, half a pint of stock, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste – to have as a low-calorie snack or as a warming lunch. It is full of immune-boosting antioxidants.

Day Three
December 27th,

You should be thinking about regrouping today and locking all the sweet things away. You can have the odd treat, say a finger of Christmas cake, but remember that it contains about 250 calories which takes one hour to walk off.

It’s a good time to start thinking about exercise too. Over the festive season, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a person will consume between 3,000 and 5,000 calories a day, up to twice the recommended intake. People gain, on average, between three and six kilos (a half stone to a stone) at this time of year because the season of excess has extended by several days. So, take yourself in hand, and get out and walk for an hour.

Day Four,
December 28th

If you find you are craving sweet things, have two satsumas before you dip into the tin of chocolates. The fruit has only 25 calories and its sweetness might take the edge off your chocolate craving. You mightn’t feel like keeping count but remember five chocolates add up to 200 calories – that’s nearly an hour pounding the pavement if you want to undo the indulgence.

Day Five,
December 29th

So, another big night out is on the cards and you don’t want to be the one ordering the sparkling water. Everyone struggles making healthy choices and it’s especially hard when it comes to alcohol. Not only is it full of empty calories but it stimulates the appetite by causing blood sugar to drop, which explains why we often get the munchies at the end of an evening.

Eating before you go out on the town is a great idea. Have something like cheese or peanut butter on wholegrain bread, or hummus on oatcakes with half a glass of low-fat milk. If you can, eat while you drink. You could think about diluting your drinks too, or pacing yourself by sipping on a glass of water between. Start slowly, choose wisely and don’t mix your drinks.

Day Six,
December 30th

Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. That is especially important when consuming alcohol but we often tend to get very dehydrated sitting around in the balmy temperatures of centrally heated homes. Caffeine can dehydrate too so try to limit tea, coffee and minerals. Drink lots of water and try peppermint and camomile tea to ease the gut.

No sugary treats today.

Day Seven
December 31st

It’s New Year’s Eve and everyone is letting their hair down. Go out and enjoy it. If you are going to drink, make sure to go out with something in your stomach. If you are having a meal, enjoy that too but bear in mind that there some very simple adjustments can make a big difference. Drink a glass of water and/or eat a piece of fruit before you go to the restaurant, so that you won’t be ravenous when you arrive. Try not to dig into the bread basket before the food arrives. Choose soup as a starter and choose main dishes that are grilled, boiled, poached, stir-fried. Instead of having a full dessert, share one or have a few squares of dark chocolate in your bag to satisfy that sweet tooth.

January 1st
Day Eight

You can indulge a little today and maybe start the day with a fry for breakfast. You could allow yourself maybe two full Irish breakfasts over the 12 days of Christmas. Other mornings, when you might have more time, have a cooked breakfast but reduce the fat content. Have an omelette, or beans on toast, or grilled bacon with mushrooms and tomatoes.

Day Nine
January 2nd

Start the day with a protein breakfast or a smoothie. Protein can be very satisfying and smoothies made with bananas and berries are high in antioxidants, which is good after the festive splurge. They are also full of Vitamin C, which can help prevent colds and flus and boosts the immune system. Go for a healthy dinner, filling up on veg.
Gather up all the sugary treats left in the house and plan to give them away – there are lots of charities who would be delighted to get them.

Day Ten
January 3rd

Alcohol and treats should be completely limited. If you are out and about shopping, beware of the liquid calories in that well-earned cuppa. A frappuccino or a hot chocolate could top 440 calories and if you add a little muffin because you think you deserve it after all that traipsing around, you could be consuming more than half your recommended daily allowance.

Day Eleven
January 4th

It’s time to think fruit. Eat lots of it and eat it in its entirety as that way it’s more filling. It’s a good time to think about the year ahead and the dietary changes you might need to make to give you more energy. Never skip meals, though. Instead, plan in advance and try to eat what is in season – as well as tasting better, it is often cheaper. If you do want to have a treat, just control the portion.

Day Twelve
January 5th

Well done on making it through the 12 days of Christmas. It’s time to weigh yourself. If you have stayed the same weight, that is a real result. Congratulations. If you haven’t, don’t beat yourself up. Fifty pc of Irish adults are overweight and some 300,000 children. If you have gained a few pounds, you will be joining most Irish people but do try to lose it as quickly as possible.
One of the best ways to do that is to keep a food diary. Studies show that people reduce what they eat by up to 20pc when they write everything down. For the new year, resolve to weigh yourself once a week, in the same spot, wearing the same clothes, to keep track of your progress. The very best of luck with it. Here’s to a happy, healthy and energetic new year.

Elaine McGowan specialises in diets for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, stomach problems and weight loss. Tel: 01- 6459617.

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About Elaine

Elaine graduated from Trinity College with a B.Sc., (Hons) in Human Nutrition and Dietetics. She gained wide experience working as clinical nutritionist in several hospitals prior to establishing her first private dietetic clinic in 1992.

Private Practice Experience
Elaine has gained vast experience specialising in providing private individual dietetic consultations for her clients in her clinics for the past 17 years. In recent years, her main areas of interest are weight management, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and nutrition and gastro-enterology.

Elaine is an active member of the INDI and was chairperson of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic weight management interest group from 2005 to 2007.

Dietetic and Nutrition Consultancy
Elaine has provided dietetic consultancy to a wide range of industries including private hospitals, hotels and catering companies. She has designed, piloted, implemented and coordinated workplace wellbeing programmes for several prominent companies and large international corporations.