Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Don’t Eat An Elephant This Christmas

The average person chomps their way through 12 elephant’s worth of food in a lifetime, around 65 tons and by the time you wake on Boxing Day morning, you’ll probably feel as if you’ve eaten at least one elephant’s worth in the previous 24 hours. Now, with the best will in the world, that isn’t a nice feeling, so I’m going to show you how you can survive Christmas Day without gaining half a stone, without feeling sick and bloated, and most importantly, without behaving like a party-pooping Scrooge.

First you have to know your enemy and on Christmas Day you’ll be fighting a battle on two fronts – by trying to avoid the obscene quantities of food that most of us get through, but also waging war on the high fat calories which are doubly unhealthy as they put on weight and clog up your arteries.

To check on your Christmas Calories and learn a few easy tricks to control the Big Binge, READ ON...

Believe it or not, this really is a very typical Xmas Day. How does yours measure up?

a quick bacon buttie; 370 calories, 18 g fat

During the morning:
4 oz mixed nuts; 730 calories, 68 g fat
2 mince pies; 460 calories, 22 g fat
2 handsful of crisps; 160 calories, 10 g fat
2 cocktail sausage rolls; 560 calories, 44 g fat
2 small glasses of sherry; 120 calories, no fat

Christmas Dinner:
Small portion smoked salmon with brown bread and butter; 310 calories, 11 g fat
2 glasses of Champagne; 200 calories, no fat

Turkey; 150 calories, 6 g fat
Stuffing; 230 calories, 15 g fat
2 Chipolata sausages; 120 calories, 10 g fat
Streaky bacon rolls; 200 calories, 18 g fat
Roast potatoes; 120 calories, 4 g fat
Roast parsnips; 100 calories, 6 g fat
Brussel sprouts cooked with chestnuts; 70 calories, 1 g fat
Boiled carrots; 14 calories, no fat
Boiled new potatoes; 75 calories, no fat
Butter on vegetables; 200 calories, 24 g fat
Gravy; 90 calories, 8 g fat
Cranberry sauce; 50 calories, no fat
Bread sauce; 100 calories, 4 g fat
3 glasses red wine; 250 calories, no fat

Christmas pudding; 300 calories, 10 g fat
brandy sauce; 150 calories, 6 g fat
cream; 150 calories, 15 g fat
glass of dessert wine; 120 calories, no fat

Stilton; 280 calories, 25 g fat
Cheese biscuits; 60 calories, 1 g fat
2 glasses of port; 160 calories, no fat

2 After dinner chocolates; 80 calories, 4 g fat
2 coffees with cream; 140 calories, 28 g fat
brandy; 50 calories, no fat
a few more nuts; 260 calories, 27 g fat

Christmas cake; 380 calories, 15 g fat
Cup of tea,

During Morecambe and Wise:
2 mince pies; 460 calories, 22 g fat
another handful of nuts; 730 calories, 68 g fat
3 chunks Turkish Delight; 150 calories, 1 g fat

Late night snack:
Cold turkey; 150 calories, 6 g fat
Stuffing; 230 calories, 15 g fat
Cranberry sauce; 50 calories, no fat
2 glasses wine; 165 calories, no fat

GRAND TOTAL: 8744 calories, 512 g fat

You may look at this list in disbelief but I’ve been asking my patients what they eat on Christmas Day for years, and believe me this is a pretty good average, which adds up to more than four day’s worth of calories and a week’s worth of fat for the average woman!! So how do you cope?

First of all you junk the bacon butties for breakfast. A carton of low fat live natural yoghurt and a tiny pot of Yakult poured over a slice of fresh pineapple is all you need for breakfast. The yoghurt and the Yakult will provide plenty of good bacteria that your digestion is going to need later in the day, and the pineapple is full of bromelaine – a natural enzyme which also helps digestion. 100 calories and less than a gram of fat.

During the morning drink a white wine spritzer (half wine, half fizzy water), have a few fresh nuts rather than the roasted and salted variety, and nibble on olives and crudités with dips of low fat yoghurt, cucumber and garlic, or hot tomato salsa. Altogether 150 calories and less than 2 g fat.

When it comes to the main meal, enjoy the smoked salmon and champagne, but have plain wholewheat crackers instead of the bread and butter and save 160 calories and 7 g fat.

There’s a huge saving in both calories and fat to be made by cooking the turkey on it’s own and roasting the vegetables in a separate pan lightly sprayed with a mixture of olive oil and water. You need an indoor plant sprayer which contains one quarter olive and three quarters water, shake vigorously before use, lightly spray the inside of the baking tray, put in all the vegetables and lightly spray over the surface. To help the digestion and add flavour, sprinkle with rosemary and sage.

Cook the stuffing in a separate dish which prevents it absorbing fat from the bird. It’s also much safer as it removes the risk of bacteria getting into the stuffing and multiplying while it sits inside the turkey for the rest of the afternoon. Grilling the chipolatas just before you serve the meal also makes sure that most of the fat in the sausages drains through the rack and can be thrown away.

These simple changes will reduce the fat and calorie content of these delicious additions by more than a third. When you make the gravy remove all the fat from the pan with a large spoon or bulb baster and use the cooking water from the sprouts to add valuable nutrients. Scrape up all the burnt bits on the bottom of the pan which provides wonderful flavour without having to use the very salty stock cubes or gravy granules.

You can bin another 200 calories and 24 g fat by skipping the butter on the vegetables – who needs it when you’ve got delicious bread sauce and wonderful home made gravy.

To me one of the great mysteries of Christmas is the Christmas pudding. Everyone has it because it’s traditional - very few people want it or even like it. After all the rest of the food it’s heavy, it oozes calories and even a small portion has got 10 g of fat, and by the time you add the brandy sauce and cream this unpopular dessert provides more than half a day’s total fat intake.

Why not make a statement this year – forget the plum duff and have a wonderful exotic fruit salad of mangoes, paw paws, the pineapple left from breakfast, and kiwi fruit, and serve it with a sauce made of low fat yoghurt, honey, cinnamon and fresh mint leaves. The combination of the exotic fruits and the mint will do wonders for your digestion and you’ll enjoy the cheese with a much clearer conscience, and more comfortable stomach.

Talking of cheese, why do we always eat Stilton on this day – Brits spend £11 million on 300 tons of it over the festive period. Of course it’s the king of cheeses but after all the other food why pick the one that’s highest in fat and calories. Just for a change try a really ripe camembert – I know it’s French but it is Christmas – and you’ll save 80 calories and 6 g fat. And it really is true that you burn more calories chewing that stick of celery than it contains.

Take your coffee black and have two succulent fresh figs instead of the chocolates, to bin another 180 calories and 32 g fat. Enjoy the brandy but do you really need those extra 260 calories and 27 g fat from more nuts? Save the Christmas cake and give everybody a treat on New Year’s Day and that gets rid of another 380 calories and 15 g fat.

If you’ve really got the room, just stick to the Turkish Delight and turn your back on more mince pies and nuts when you’re watching the telly, and when everybody wants to eat again around 10 o’clock, make thick doorstep turkey sandwiches – the bread is very filling and contains far fewer calories and no fat, compared with the leftover stuffing and a few cold roast potatoes.

At some point during the day get the whole family out for a brisk walk in the fresh air, even if it is raining. This helps to avoid the rumbling, grumbling ‘telly belly’ which is inevitable if you plonk yourself in the armchair for the Queen’s speech and don’t move till midnight.

Finally, before bed have a large mug of peppermint or ginger tea to guarantee and indigestion free night.

It’s one thing to be in charge of your own kitchen at Christmas so that you can make more sensible choices, but it’s not so easy if you have to go to friends or mother-in-law or out to a restaurant for a set meal. But there are simple ways which help you to take care of your waistline, indigestion and your arteries. It’s really important that you eat three regular meals a day and you never miss breakfast. This will help to stop you picking and snacking at all the high fat, high calorie nibbles that are stuck under your nose wherever you go during the Christmas holidays, and it also means that you will not feel ravenous when you go out for lunch or dinner.

If you’re going to a party where there are going to be the worst sort of nibbles, make sure you eat before you go and drink several glasses of water. This will help control your appetite and as a bonus make sure you don’t get drunk in the first half hour. During the holiday season, especially if you’ve got a week or ten days off work, try to exercise for half an hour twice a day – a brisk walk, bicycle ride, half an hour in front of an exercise video, an exercise bike, or even a good old fashioned skipping rope, will all help to burn off a couple of hundred calories. If you are eating in a restaurant it’s much easier to say no to the mayonnaise or cream dressing on your salad and just ask for some lemon juice, and to refuse the thick creamy sauces that might come with your main course.

Even if you’re in someone’s home you could insist on smaller portions, say no to the really high fat foods, keep your sticky fingers out of the dish of chocolates, and remember that there’s no law that says you have to clean your plate. When you feel you’ve had enough – stop.

No-one wants to get to New Year’s Eve half a stone heavier, feeling bloated, uncomfortable and lethargic. A few simple substitutions and a little willpower will mean you don’t start 2009 with yet another resolution to go on diet.


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