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Top five health tips for surviving Christmas

Tips to help you get through December stress-free and in tip-top shape

A smiling couple heading into a Christmas party carrying supplies
A smiling couple heading into a Christmas party carrying supplies

Nothing puts your mind, wallet or waistline under pressure quite like Christmas. So if the thought of December 25 makes you feel more frazzled than festive, listen up!

To help you get through December stress-free and in tip-top shape, we’ve asked the experts for their best advice on how to have a healthy and happy Christmas (without giving up everything you love).

1. Eat with your stomach (not your eyes)

Christmas ham, roast chicken, potato salad, pavlova and seafood as far as the eye can see – it’s an expectation you’re going to pile your plate sky high over the silly season. This begs the question, is it even possible to eat healthily over Christmas?

According to nib accredited practising dietitian Michelle Allchin, the answer is yes. Overeating is one of the biggest challenges people face at Christmas time, but the good news is you don’t have to give up the foods you love to keep on top of your health.

“I always tell people to enjoy themselves but to remember that it’s Christmas Day, not a week-long festivity,” Michelle says.

“My advice for Christmas lunch or dinner is to load up your plate with salads and veggies first then try a little bit of everything else you want to eat. If you finish eating your meal and still feel hungry or want to go back for seconds, put your fork down and wait 20 minutes for your stomach to catch up with your brain. If you still feel like eating more after that time, then go for it.”

Need some help watching what you eat? Learn simple tips to eating healthy for overall health and wellbeing

2. Be conscious of booze

Food isn’t the only thing we overindulge in during summer. In Australia, our weekly average alcohol intake increases during the festive season, and while it’s OK to relax and enjoy a bevvy, it’s also possible to reduce the amount of alcohol you’re drinking without losing your social life.

Michelle’s top tip for cutting back is to choose a light version of your drink of choice, focusing on low alcohol rather than low carbs. “By having a glass of water or soda in between your alcoholic drinks, you’ll also be able to pace yourself and keep hydrated,” Michelle says.

To keep track of the number of drinks you’re having, make sure you’re pouring your own (rather than accepting endless top-ups from Uncle Tom).

Surviving the Australian Christmas heat is hard enough without a hangover, so for more tips on how to reduce your alcohol intake, check out nib foundation partner Hello Sunday Morning.

3. Keep on moving

It can be hard to burn off the extra Christmas calories when your calendar resembles a game of Tetris. If you’re struggling to fit in exercise over the silly season, it’s best to tackle it early in the morning to quash any excuses and beat the heat. Need some inspiration? Check out this 10-minutes do-anywhere workout by fitness expert Cassey Maynard.

“Christmas is such a busy time of year. It is a good idea to get your exercise in first thing in the morning before things get busy and the excuses start creeping in,” Michelle says.

If hitting the gym isn’t your thing, no worries! From bushwalks to beach cricket and bike riding, there are plenty of different ways you can keep active over summer. Plus, it’s great for your mind and body.

According to nib mental health nurse Jo Baja, exercise is one of the most effective ways of improving your overall mental wellbeing. “If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, the best thing you can do is get outside and work up a sweat to release some feel-good hormones,” she says.

If you’re feeling like the most wonderful time of the year isn’t so wonderful, you’re not alone

4. ‘Tis the season to stress less

Cooking lunch for a cast of thousands? In-laws camping out in your spare room? Struggling to afford the present Santa promised? Research shows Christmas is considered one of the six most stressful life events, along with divorce, moving house and changing jobs.

Some of Jo’s top tips for reducing silly season stress include planning for all Christmas expenses beforehand, making a list (and checking it twice) to jot down everything you need to do to and then delegating tasks to your family and friends.

"If people offer to lend you a hand, let them. If they don’t, ask for help,” Jo says.

5. Seek extra support

If you’re feeling like the most wonderful time of the year isn’t so wonderful, you’re not alone. Anxiety and depression can be triggered over the festive season, but there are always ways to get help.

According to Jo, it’s OK to prioritise yourself over the Christmas period. “We often wait until things are really bad before we seek help, which you can avoid by prioritising your mental wellbeing – especially if you know Christmas is normally a tough time of year,” she says.

“Keep active, lower your expectations, focus on one thing at a time and slow down. If you’re overwhelmed by the consistent presence of family and friends, schedule time for yourself. If you’re feeling lonely, turn to someone you trust to chat through how you’re feeling.”

If you could use a bit of extra support over Christmas or into the new year with your weight or mental wellbeing, nib offers a range of health programs to help.

Or, if you or someone you know needs help, please call:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14

  • Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

  • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800