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For most of us, food is a big deal at Christmas. So much so, in fact, that it’s one of the major sources of stress and anxiety at this time of year. While preparing the festive feast of turkey and all the trimmings, we often put so much pressure on ourselves, thinking, “THIS HAS GOT TO BE PERFECT!”

So for many, instead of Christmas time being a wonderful, restful break, it becomes fraught with the prospect of the family sitting down and “breaking bread” together. Lob in any difficult relationships and a drink or two, and you feel like you’re sitting on a ticking time-bomb!

If we can put aside our perfectionist tendencies and expectations, and keep our sense of humour, the Christmas meal is a wonderful opportunity to bring your family closer. Of course, this can be difficult – you don’t have any control over Auntie Mary’s out-bursts which, in the past, has meant you’ve spent the entire day on edge. But a sense of humour and acceptance about the situation, could go a long way to help you have a much merrier Christmas.

Rediscover the joys of food at Christmas

Food can be a wonderful experience – indulging in the aromas, the sights, the flavours. But throughout the year, many of us eat alone in front of the TV or multi-task while eating with texting and iPads. So Christmas and all its festivities is a chance to connect with members of your immediate family who you might have been co-existing with rather than living with.  Eating is such a fundamental part of what it is to be human, yet much of the time this vital part of our lives is relegated to function.

Eating together, or at least eating sitting down and solely focusing on eating, also serves a vital part of our biochemical connection with food. Digestion is a process. It starts with thinking about food and imagining what it is we are going to eat.

Then we start asking ourselves, “How?” How are we going to prepare the food? When will we cutting the onions ready to sizzle them in the pan? What tools will we need to use? All this is part of the process that prepares our body’s receptiveness to food. Our imaginations and sense of smell have an important part to play in kick-starting our digestive juices and enzymes.

Cooking also can have a meditative role to play. When we’re mindful of the process – of cutting and chopping – we benefit from a real connection with what it is to be human. This is in sharp contrast with the pre-packaged, industrialised sandwiches we live on at work in front of our computer screens.

Stress, food and your wellbeing

While you’re busy stressing about making the perfect Christmas dinner, spare a thought for how this could affect the way your body responds to the food you’ve spend hours preparing.

Our systems are programmed to digest best when we’re resting, rather than in when we’re stressing out. In fact, during stressful episodes, the Hydrogen Chloride (HCl) production in our stomachs can actually shut-down. HCl is the acid which breaks down food in our stomachs. This means your stress-levels determine how well you are actually able to process your food.

Of course, as well as getting dinner perfect and making sure the family are on their best behaviour, there’s one more big source of stress at Christmas. Many of us worry about the potentially huge calorie intake. Here, mindfulness is important again. It’s important to see Christmas dinner in context and be aware that this event only comes once a year.

A good way to counter the effects of your Christmas dinner is to take it easy the next day. Followers of the 5:2 regime, which promotes periodic fasting as an effective weight-loss strategy, can testify that this is a good idea! If we use the whole period of Christmas (from mid-November onwards these days it seems!) as an excuse to just go mad, then of course the impact on weight-gain can be quite impressive.

One final pitfall of the Christmas season can be the amount of alcohol we consume – there are just many more opportunities and excuses for people to offer us a drink. It’s just worth bearing in mind that always saying “yes” can mean you’ll be going back to work after the holidays feeling worse than when you left.

The bloating, weight-gain and the general feeling under-par is the down-side of wellying the booze. The old hydration trick works – but no one does it! Taking a bit of milk thistle (herb) helps the liver in its hours of need over the Christmas season (I like organic one by Viridian, easily available from health food stores).

Christmas is therefore a time to reconnect, not only with our families, but with the very nature of food itself, and the ways it can make us feel wonderful. It’s even better if you can extend that to buying local food where your choices have had an impact on your local community and farms. By making wise choices, a small pebble of influence is dropped in our food pond.

Quick-fire tips for Christmas survival

It doesn’t have to be perfect – keep your sense of humour.

Put your ego aside and embrace your long lost relatives!

Eat together. It’s good for your digestion and your health.

Eat local – organic if possible – this positively impacts your health and your community.

Christmas is just one meal! Enjoy it but don’t go nuts on the booze (as if!)

 

Happy Holidays everyone!