Will you be indulging in your favourite festive treats this Christmas, or are you keeping one eye firmly on your diet and training plan? Hoops Connect ambassador and fitness model Brigita Bonas falls firmly in the latter camp, so we asked her to share her thoughts on how to enjoy a healthy Christmas.
For lots of people Christmas means it’s time to throw diets out of the window and eat everything in sight.
But not everybody wants to waste all the hard work of the previous year.
I still enjoy festive food, but I try my best to keep it healthy and balanced. So I thought I’d share my routine, with a few tips thrown in for good measure, in the hope of helping anyone feeling anxious at the thought of all those potatoes and puddings!
First of all, I need to start by saying that I’m Lithuanian, so I’ll probably be spending my festive season a little differently to you.
However, there are some key principles you can stick to to make sure you enjoy your Christmas without abandoning your usual routine completely!
The festive season starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas – the beginning of Advent. On Fridays during Advent Lithuanians are not allowed to eat meat, eggs or dairy products, although we are allowed to eat seafood.
During the season I swap between vegetarianism and pescetarianism – dependent on whether I’m bulking up or trying to get lean for my bikini fitness competitions.
As meat-eaters have to give that up during this period, I feel like I need to do the same, but I do need to improvise a bit. So I switch to a vegan diet instead.
It’s not easy as there are lots of products that contain animal-based ingredients that you would never think about (this article is a real help in working out what you can and can’t eat!)
The great thing about going vegan is that it cleanses and detoxes the body, as well as strengthening the immune system.
Not only that, it’s great to challenge yourself and strengthen your self-control, so it’s a win-win situation!
“There is no magical solution to eat huge portions and not put on weight…”
Christmas Eve is when it really becomes tough in Lithuania.
In addition to giving up meat, eggs and dairy products, 12 different dishes must be served, a tradition that represents 12 wealthy months in the following year.
Below is an example of 12 dishes that could be served on Christmas Eve, although every family will have their own favourites (click on each picture for a description).
1. Herring & Beetroot Salad
2. Herring Terrine
3. Marinated Herring
4. Christmas Eve Cookies ("Kūčiukai")
5. Poppy Seed Milk
6. Cranberry Kissel Drink
7. Communion wafers
8. The "White Salad"
11. Candy and sweets
12. Nuts and other snacks
1. Herring & Beetroot SaladAs meat isn't allowed in Kucios, we always prepare lots of fish dishes. Herring is a particularly popular option and can be prepared in a number of ways. Mixed with beetroot it makes a tasty salad.
2. Herring TerrineLayers of pickled fish, vegetables and creme fraiche, with gelatine added for structure, terrines are a tasty, indulgent treat.
3. Marinated HerringSimply marinading herring, or other fish, can make a delicious dish.
4. Christmas Eve Cookies ("Kūčiukai")Kūčiukai are crouton-sized dough bits made of plain flour, water and poppy seeds and baked exceptionally for Christmas Eve only.
5. Poppy Seed MilkAnother special for Christmas Eve, poppy seed milk is something like Lithuanian eggnog. It is often served alongside with Christmas Eve cookies - something like breakfast cereal, only for dinner.
6. Cranberry Kissel DrinkKissel is found in many Eastern European cuisines, and it is usually a berry or fruit flavoured thick starchy dessert. In Lithuania, however, kissel is thinned down to a consistency of a drink, and its cranberry variety is a favorite in winter and during Christmas season.
7. Communion wafersCatholicism is the dominant religion in Lithuania, and sharing community wafers during the Christmas Eve dinner is common. Usually a wafer is passed around the table, and each family member breaks and eats a piece, whishing the others a good year ahead.
8. The "White Salad"Better known outside Lithuania as potato salad, white salad is a much-loved dish for many celebrations, not just Christmas.
9. AspicA savoury collagenous jelly made with meat and set in a mould. Served with mayo, horseradish or vinegar.
10. TangerinesTo sit alongside the dishes are a number of snacks, including fruits such as tangerines.
11. Candy and sweetsChocolates and sweets always keep the children entertained
12. Nuts and other snacksWhat would Christmas be without a few nuts?
As you can see, these dishes are dominated by fish and after being on a vegan diet up until this point, I do allow myself to overindulge just a bit.
One thing to notice though is that the fish has to be prepared with minimal amounts of fat, so no deep-fried fish!
Short-term, cooking the fish or any other food in too much oil can result in having an upset stomach and indigestion, where long-term it can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood leading to risk of heart disease.
One of the 12 dishes not to include fish is also one of those with the most health benefits.
Poppy seed milk isn’t something that you find in many countries outside of Lithuania, but it’s full of calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron, and promotes bone health, improved blood pressure, good metabolism, just to name a few.
We eat it with small, sweet pastries called kūčiukai. Delicious!
However healthy the food would be, there is no magical solution to eat huge portions and not feel heavy and uncomfortable, or to put on weight.
Portion control is still crucial, so what I tend to do is simply taste each dish rather than making each dish a separate meal.
As my grandfather used to say “ne tam geda kas daug eda, bet kas prisideda ir nesueda” – shameful is not the one who eats a lot, but the one who overfills the plate and doesn’t finish!
“Get some exercise into your Christmas, even if it’s just a walk!”
On Christmas morning we go to the church immediately after waking up without having breakfast, which is usually not a problem after the 12 dishes the day before!
After mass, families gather around the breakfast table and indulge on a variety of meat based dishes as at this point, according to the religion, everything is allowed again, which means me getting back to my pescetarian diet.
I usually work out on a daily basis, but Christmas eve and Christmas day are the exception. However, on Christmas day I still try to get some sort of exercise in, so right after breakfast I usually manage to talk my family into going for long walks to the woods by the river.
At least that way I get my heart pumping, which helps to get my metabolism up.
Not only that, walking in the woods filled with spruces spoils my lungs with great amounts of fresh air rather than car emissions, so I would highly recommend finding some green places for your walks!
Obviously it’s easier for me as I celebrate Christmas in a village far from the urban rush which I am very grateful for, because we usually have lots of snow!
This is when a simple walk to the woods with my family truly becomes a festive walk, plus walking in the snow is a lot harder meaning it uses up a lot of energy, especially when you’re all bundled up to fight the cold!
In the end though, it’s the best feeling to enjoy the walk with the people you love, pockets full of nuts and come back to a warm fireplace with your cheeks all nice and pink.
“It’s a relief to get back to normal”
In between Christmas and New Year I get back to my workout routine and back to my healthy, balanced diet – which I usually can’t wait for!
I plan my meals to make sure they are full of protein, fibre, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates
Christmas is so much fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a relief to get life back to normal and settle back into the routine.
If you feel the same, hopefully this blog will have been useful.
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