Monday 11 December 2017

The health experts' guide to Christmas: How to stay healthy and avoid the blues

Season of excess can prove too much for many of us but there are ways to avoid festive misery, writes Tanya Sweeney

Couch potatoes: Cast members of The Royle Family kicking back after Christmas dinner
Couch potatoes: Cast members of The Royle Family kicking back after Christmas dinner
Siobhan Byrne
Pat Henry
Brian Lee

'Tis the season to scoff, guzzle, gobble, imbibe and then lie down dizzily on the sofa afterwards. It's all but written into the constitution that December 25 (and the few weeks on either side of it) is the one time that we can be deliciously gluttonous without impunity.

Yet there is always, always a moment of reckoning (normally, at the gym, in the first week of January), and a slight niggling feeling that, if the wheels of time could be reversed, we might have made one or two tiny tweaks. So we decided to ask the experts the pressing question: is there such a thing as a 'healthy' Christmas? And how do we avoid feeling blue?

Stephen Ward, trainer at ISI Personal Training

(Artane and Lower Hatch Street, Dublin). For info see or call 01 444 3535

"I look after my own health and fitness by having a realistic approach to everything. It needs to be manageable and fit into my hectic day. Planning and preparation is a big factor in achieving this. I aim to workout four times per week in the gym for about 40 minutes each time. Short but intense exercise is the best option for most people. My own weak spots over Christmas are obviously the cold weather and, of course, mince pies. I aim to go and work out in a warm environment as I just can't handle being cold. I have to be mentally strong and I ask my wife not to buy mince pies. If they're not in the house then it's not an issue. I do allow myself to switch off on Christmas week though. In winter I ramp up my supplements for everyone in our home. I aim to take more vitamin D3, and vitamin C in conjunction with everything else I take: multi vitamin, fish oil, magnesium and zinc. I also gravitate towards produce that's in season locally."

Siobhan Byrne, trainer at Bodybyrne Fitness in Clarendon Street Dublin

Siobhan Byrne

For more info see or call 01 677 9182

"I will pretty much train every day apart from Christmas and St Stephen's Day, but Paul (Byrne, her husband and fellow BodyByrne trainer) and I will have 'Carby Christmas'. I'm not doing traditional food, but instead I'll be making everything we avoid throughout the year like lasagne, garlic bread, etc. During the year, I try to eat a clean diet on Monday to Friday, meaning high lean protein, lots of vegetables, small amounts of fruit like berries and essential fats like avocado and nuts. So at Christmas, it's okay for me to relax a bit."

Jackie O'Kelly, cognitive behavioural psychotherapist

For more information or call 045 870 423

"While Christmas is a happy time for many, for others it can be difficult and even painful. Christmas can highlight issues that many of us are struggling with. Remember, you are certainly not the only person struggling. Behind the happy faces and images of close families all over the TV adverts, are the normal, real people and families for whom Christmas is hard. Think about how you want to spend your time and who you want to spend it with. It's important to allow yourself to say 'no'! Christmas can become such hard work that it is almost impossible to cope with, let alone enjoy. Saying 'no' is not the same as letting people down. You can choose and make changes. While you don't have to explain your choice to others, it may be a good opportunity to let people know that you are having trouble coping. Taking some quality time out or having space is okay but don't isolate yourself. Don't completely hide away from family, friends and those you are close to. Start a routine of going for a daily walk or taking some exercise. Start some mindfulness training. There are many apps that you can get on your phone to get started, like Headspace. Use some good quality self-help materials. 'The Happiness Trap' by Russ Harris is a great book to help you understand what you are experiencing."

Pat Henry, owner/trainer at the Pat and Karl Henry Fitness Centre, Dublin

Pat Henry

See or call 01 661 6195

"If you do prefer to train at home there are a few useful tips which may help. Exercise bikes are the easiest machines to master and offer a great aerobic and lower body workout, but don't use the bike as the only form of exercise as you will be neglecting your upper body. A rowing machine is a great way to ensure an extensive all over body workout.

Elliptical trainers are a revolution in home gym equipment. A cross between an exercise bike and a stair climber, it gives the same overall workout as running without the impact on your joints.

If I had a wish for Christmas it would be to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. Why not phone up someone you may have fallen out with and just say 'sorry, I may have been wrong, and if so I apologise'? It doesn't really matter if the other party doesn't accept it. You clear your mind of all the excess baggage and start anew."

Erika Doolan, nutritionist at Nutrition Ireland

For more information see or call 086 301 9305

"When diet goes out the window, this will quickly burden your immune system and you may be feeling bloated, lacking energy and you may even have a minor sore throat. To deal with this give your immune system a boost and eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin C and zinc such as fruits and veggies.

The healthy snacks to keep to hand are: home-made dips like guacamole or hummus, vegetable sticks (carrots, cucumber, celery); seasonal fruit - berries, plums, peaches, apples, pear, kiwi, oranges, prunes; unsulphured dried apricots/figs, live natural yoghurt; dark chocolate rice cakes with almond butter; apple slices with hazelnut butter, or raw food energy power balls."

Brian Lee, co-founder/MD of Chopped ( and FIT Studios (

Brian Lee

"The holiday period can be extremely busy, so it's really handy to have a few quick, healthy recipes to give you an energy boost, allowing you to spend more time with your family rather than being cooped up in the kitchen. One good rule of thumb is to ensure your food is as colourful as possible. Make sure you have reds, yellows, and other bright colours on your plate. One excellent recipe is the Atomic Crunch salad, which is extremely popular with Chopped customers, made with turkey escalope, roast sweet potato, brown rice, grated carrot and spring onion and is paired with a sweet chili dressing. This is a great option for the days after Christmas dinner.

There's also no reason we can't fit some exercise into our day.

Ireland is beautiful at this time of year so wrapping up warm and getting out for a run or a walk with your friends or family can be one of the most rewarding experiences of the season.

When it comes to food, my number one priority is sourcing high quality locally produced ingredients. Our core philosophy has always centered on guaranteeing that the produce we get from our suppliers is at the highest level and that is exactly what I will be bringing to my Christmas dinner table: clean and healthy food, with no compromise on taste."

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Life