Christmas Day is not exactly a time associated with dietary restraint.
Festive foods are full of sugar and spice and all things nice. Then there are multiple courses (even multiple meals, by the time you've made it to every family permutation geography allows), and, despite most of us having shifted towards lifestyles with larger evening meals, the whole thing occurs in the middle of the day.
What to do before and after the big feast.Credit:Shutterstock
So, how should you help your body to deal with the caloric anomaly it is about to encounter?
Go in prepared
Sydney accredited practising dietitian Kara Landau says we should really start preparing our body for the lunchtime guzzle before the turkey hits the table.
"Often people skip breakfast on days such as Christmas when they know they are going to have a big main meal later in the day," she says.
"However, if you are someone who knows your appetite creeps up and you are likely not going to eat until much later in the day, I would suggest having a smaller, more filling breakfast or snack that offers some protein, healthy fats and fibre to hold off hunger pangs and prevent any overeating."
Nutritionist and Good Chef Bad Chef star Zoe Bingley-Pullen says it is crucial to remain hydrated over the course of your festivities.
"Dehydration is often mistaken for hunger and can also make you feel fatigued, causing us to turn to sugar as a quick source of energy," she says, adding this is even more important if you plan to consume alcohol during the day.
But, if this is the point where you admit to spending Christmas morning eating shortbread for breakfast (and morning tea … and brunch), Landau says it is also important to keep some perspective: there's nothing wrong with enjoying your food.
"I would not want people to start stressing about consuming a larger meal on one day of the year," she says. "Christmas can be a time to enjoy the company of family and friends or whomever you spend the day with, and doesn't need to be a cause of concern based on some additional calories being consumed."
Nap vs walk
It is very normal to feel sleepy after a big meal, explains University of Newcastle molecular nutritionist Dr Emma Beckett.
There are a number of reasons why this feeling – known as postprandial somnolence or, colloquially, a "food coma" – might occur.
"Eating releases gut hormones, some of those can directly make us sleepy," she says. "Your gastrointestinal tract also uses extra blood to digest food, diverting it from other places like you muscles [and] this can leave you feeling a little worn out."
So, should you sit on your bum with all that yum in your tum? Or engage in a post-feast walk?
Dr Beckett says it really depends on you: although exercising too soon after a big meal can lead to nausea, reflux and hiccups, it is "unlikely to hurt you long term".
"There’s a truckload of research about when the 'best' time to exercise and eat is, but results vary and, for most people, it’s a matter of doing what suits you and listening to your body."
Sydney personal trainer Ben Lucas "definitely" recommends going for a walk after Christmas lunch, no matter how big it was, noting it can provide a welcome break and mood boost during a long family celebration.
"Ideally at a brisk pace for around 30 minutes however if you experience any abdominal pain or discomfort when walking either wait a while for your food to digest or speak to your GP if symptoms persist."
Personal trainer and former Bachelor star Sam Wood agrees, suggesting you make a little bit of physical activity part of the family's celebrations.
"I would advise giving yourself a break and not jumping into anything too intense until your food has digested but burning off those Christmas calories with a walk, little workout or game of backyard cricket with family is a good idea," he says.
And the leftovers…
As for the food waiting for you when you come back. What you should do with it really depends on you.
"If you know that you are someone who can happily have leftovers in the kitchen and spread them out over the coming days to fit within your energy and nutrient requirements, then there is no reason to not have this food on hand," says Landau.
"Moderation is key which means its better to avoid bingeing on treats over a short period and then going cold turkey vs eating a small portion mindfully as part of a healthy balanced diet over weeks or months," says Bingley-Pullen.
"Understand that the food will be there tomorrow and you don’t have to consume it all today."
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