Finding the Christmas sweet spot: indulging without overindulging


I love everything about Christmas: the music, the movies, the decorations, and, of course, the food. But it’s a dangerous time with many unhealthy temptations that I’m not normally faced with and, in years past, I’ve struggled to not overdo it.

This year, I am determined to find the sweet spot and indulge without overindulging. Like most people, I’m pretty unlikely to end up in the sweet spot by chance. If I just passively go through the Christmas holidays without a plan, I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll end up on the side of overindulgence. However, I’m confident that with a bit of strategizing and deliberate action, I’ll be able to moderate my indulgence, but – and this is the critical part – without feeling like I’m depriving myself.

In addition to the general risk of Christmas excess, I’m up against some particular challenges:

First of all, my family does a few (OK, quite a few) traditional homemade Christmas treats that I love to the point where not eating them is not an option. We make a lot of different Christmas cookies, peppermint marshmallows, gingerbread pancakes, a chocolate yule log – you get the picture. I’m not going to forgo any of these things, so I’ll have to find ways to cut back on the excess elsewhere.

Second of all, we are also hosting visitors from out of town for the week of Christmas, and I am not going to allow my quest for the sweet spot to be an imposition on them. We are going to eat wherever and whenever they want to.

And, finally, there will be an unavoidable drop in my activity level. I am normally highly active: I walk about 5 miles a day (most of which is my commute to work) and exercise intensely about 3 times per week, usually either squash or basketball. The walking is likely to be cut back significantly during the Christmas week as I won’t be going to work, and the intense exercise will be eliminated completely. (A good strategy might be to try to sneak in a few early morning runs or something like that, but, unfortunately, I hate running. I could force myself to do it, but that would decrease my enjoyment of the whole Christmas week. I think I’ll be better off just trying to be strategic about my overindulgence and sneaking in some walking whenever I can).

Well, here we go …


December 22

The plan

Our visitors arrive this afternoon and we’re planning to have dinner with them at a burger place. I don’t feel the need to do anything out of the ordinary before they arrive: I’m just going to eat my normal breakfast, walk to work (~3 miles), eat my normal lunch, and eat a light afternoon snack. The burger place that we are going to for dinner is pretty good (BRGR.CO in SoHo), so I’ll want to actually have a burger and fries, but I plan to compensate somewhat for the low dietary quality of the meal by eating a relatively small amount.

Reality check

Everything went according to plan in the morning and afternoon. I had a very tasty and reasonably-sized burger for dinner along with a half portion of fries, a beer, and a side of spinach. I can see that one of the great challenges over the week is going to be keeping up my fiber intake. Christmas is no excuse for starving one’s gut bacteria! As I general rule, I’m going to substitute fiber for starch (i.e. non-potatoes for potatoes) whenever possible. Also, the end of the day brought an activity bonus: I walked home from dinner (~3 miles). So far, so good, but the challenges begin in earnest tomorrow.


December 23

The plan

Today we are making a full-day sightseeing excursion to Leeds Castle. I’m going to eat a normal breakfast at home and then walk to Victoria station (~3 miles) to catch the train to the castle. The options for lunch at the castle are likely to be dire and I plan to use that to my advantage: since I know that I won’t get much enjoyment from eating anything at the castle, I’m just going to pick something relatively harmless and eat very little of it. That will leave me well-positioned for an afternoon snack and dinner. There is not yet a fixed plan for dinner as we are unsure about when we will return from the castle …

Reality check

Breakfast and the walk to Victoria went according to plan. The visit to the castle involved a fair amount of walking, which was a nice bonus. There was a pop-up Christmas market at the castle and, thus, the food options were more enticing than I’d imagined. But there wasn’t anything that I was that excited about, so I stuck to the original plan and had a half portion of a chickpea curry. I had two of our homemade Christmas cookies for an afternoon snack. We arrived home in time for a proper dinner and made a booking at a Georgian restaurant (Little Georgia in Angel). This was a real winner: our guests were treated to something slightly exotic but still accessible, while I enjoyed all manner of tasty vegetables. And I walked home from the restaurant (~3 miles). I had a celebratory rum before bed. Right now, confidence is high.


December 24

The plan

Today we are going to a matinee showing of Rogue One and then eating lunch at a typical dim sum restaurant in Chinatown. Our afternoon plans are up in the air, but we will cook dinner in the evening at home. I’m going to eat a normal breakfast at home and then do a bit of shopping and walk to the movie (~3 miles). I plan to eat a normal amount at lunch, with the hope of sneaking in some greens with my dim sum. Dinner will be pork belly, bacon, and potatoes, with wine, cheese and sweets. I know that I’m going to enjoy the food at dinner a lot and I don’t want to miss out on any of it, but I do plan to limit myself to one large serving of everything.

Reality check

Breakfast, shopping, and the walk to the movies went according to plan. Lunch was tasty and I didn’t overdo it too badly. I did get my greens, and also some very tasty black sesame dumplings for dessert. I also had a few of our homemade marshmallows for an afternoon snack. Dinner also went according to plan: I had enough of everything to really enjoy the meal, but not so much as to feel like I overdid it. So heading into Christmas day, I’m right where I want to be: I’ve enjoyed myself so far without really overdoing it, and I’ve kept my activity level relatively high. But Christmas day is going to be a different story.


December 25

The plan

Today I am not planning to leave the house. My eating will be ‘limited’ to two meals and an afternoon snack. The first meal will be a brunch full of various unhealthy, traditional foods that I love. The afternoon snack will be some of our homemade cookies. Dinner will be beef with a number of different sides – some healthy, some not – as well as wine, cheese, and sweets. My general plan is again to limit myself to one large serving of everything.

Reality check

I did indeed manage to avoid leaving the house. I handled breakfast well: it was certainly much more food (and much more sugar and starch) than I would normally eat, but I really enjoyed it. I had three cookies for an afternoon snack. I pigged out at dinner, but, again, not too badly. I did go back for seconds of the final chocolate yule log, but, hey, it’s Christmas. Viewed in a vacuum, today was a very unhealthy day: I overate unhealthy food and did absolutely nothing active. It’s the kind of day that I would normally feel badly at the end of. But when I consider it together with the preceding days as part of my larger Christmas plan for moderate overindulgence, I’m left with just the enjoyment and no regrets. My plan is working. And tomorrow is already boxing day: I’m over the hump.


December 26

The plan

Today we are going to meet our visitors for lunch somewhere near their hotel, go to an exhibition in the afternoon, and then go out for dinner, hopefully for Lebanese (assuming we can find something that is open on Boxing Day). I plan to eat an almost-normal breakfast (there are a few leftover sugars and starches from the Christmas breakfast that I plan to finish off) and then walk to lunch (~3 miles). My lunch strategy will depend on where we eat. I’m planning a small afternoon snack. And I’ll eat Lebanese as I always do: heavy on the veg mezze.

Reality check

Breakfast and the walk went according to plan. We ate lunch at a not-so-great restaurant (no reason to name and shame). I knew I wouldn’t really enjoy the food there, so I took the opportunity to pick at a salad and offset a bit of the previous day’s overindulgence. I had a few marshmallows for an afternoon snack. I ate a bit more than I intended at dinner (Al Masar, our local Lebanese), since there were so many different dishes on the table to try, but I didn’t overdo it too badly. Overall, it was a good follow-up day for Christmas. Only one more day before things get back to normal.


December 27

The plan

Today we are planning another full-day outing to Bletchley Park. I plan to have a normal breakfast and walk to Euston station (~ 3 miles). As with the castle, I assume the lunch options at Bletchley will be dire, so I plan to eat very little. We have a booking for afternoon tea back in London and we have not yet made any plans for dinner. Inasmuch as afternoon tea is going to be largish meal, then this is going to be very awkward: I love the traditional sweets that come with tea, but if I eat a lot of them I certainly won’t want to eat dinner afterward. I’m not sure how this is going to play out …

Reality check

Breakfast and the walk went according to plan. Actually, we stopped for a hot chocolate at Hotel Chocolat on the walk to the station, which was unintended, but very, very good. Fortune smiled upon us at Bletchley: they had an afternoon tea of their own served in their mansion, so we opted for that around lunch time and canceled the tea booking back in London. I ate quite a few of the sweets and left the sandwiches. We went for fish and chips for dinner. I had a half an order of cod and chips with the usual sauces, a few grilled sardines, and a beer. And a chacha at home before bed.


The final reckoning

I think that I succeeded in finding the sweet spot, and it wasn’t all that hard in the end. I really didn’t have to do anything that felt forced: it was enough to just keep it in mind as an explicit goal to guide my decisions throughout the week. But there is no question that having visitors was a big help. Because we had so many activities planned, it gave me a lot of excuses to get some walking in. It also gave me an excuse to forgo enjoyment at certain meals without feeling like I was depriving myself. Next year, if we don’t have visitors, it will be harder. But I’ll be ready.