8 tips to avoid excessive calories without being a Christmas Grinch

November 25 2016

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Nobody’s going to convince you not to indulge in a few mince pies and chocolates this Christmas, and nor should they.

However, while most of us are fully aware of the amount of calories that are packed into festive foods, there are a lot of people who vastly underestimate how many calories are lurking in certain Christmas staples.

Alcohol is a particularly big issue at this time of year.

A recent Guardian article showed that we’ve reached the stage where adults in the UK now get more of their calories from booze than from sugary drinks.

Did you know that one ‘Jagerbomb’ - an office party favourite - contains more than 150 calories? This is roughly comparable to an average mince pie.

With the festive season fast approaching, we’re not going to tell you not to enjoy yourself. Instead, we’ve collected some expert advice that will enable you to hit your fitness goals without being a Christmas Grinch!

1. Know what’s coming – prepare your body for party season and stay hydrated!

Foresight is better than hindsight, so we think that the best way to avoid taking in unwanted calories is to know that the festive season is coming and prepare accordingly.

Personal trainer and Fitness First’ resident expert, Carly Tierney, gave her tips to make sure the festive season doesn’t catch you unawares.

“Before you get started, it is a good idea to get your body in the best state possible,” she said, and offered her tips:


  • Eat a filling, healthy meal, with a good balance of fats (particularly good quality fats), protein and carbs. This will help to stop you getting overly drunk and reduce the amount of unhealthy snacking you do.
  • Drinking plenty of water to hydrate will also stop you drinking alcohol for thirst’s sake.

Carly commented that your drink of choice can make a difference. She said: “Although there are no healthy alcohol choices, we can make sure that we reduce the impact.”

During the Party

  • Choose drinks with fewer calories. “Drinks like beer and wine are fairly calorie dense whereas a vodka, soda water with fresh lime/lemon juice has two-to-three-times fewer calories.”
  • Drink a glass of water between every drink consumed.
  • Avoid creamy drinks like Baileys®, shots and cocktails. They're packed with fat, sugar and calories,” Carly said.
  • Stay away from sugar-packed colourful mixed drinks, frozen ‘dessert’ drinks and after-dinner liqueurs.


  • Avoid the kebab shop, or if you do go down that route, go for a shish on salad!
  • A hearty but healthy breakfast can help you fight the hangover.
  • Have some ingredients good to go at home to prevent you heading to a fast food chain for a low-quality breakfast.

So remember, a bit of preparation can ensure that you don't totally hammer your body on a night out. Eat well, keep your drinks lower-calorie if possible, drink plenty of water, and have a healthy breakfast plan in place,” Carly added as a reminder.

2. You don’t have to count calories – but do your research…

1g of Alcohol = 7 Calories

Calorie counting can be unhealthy, but it still pays to have a rough idea of what you’re consuming.

As discussed, there’s a general lack of understanding as to how many calories certain products contain, especially alcoholic ones.

Alcohol education charity, Drinkaware offers the Unit & Calorie Calculator tool for you to learn more about the calories you take in when drinking alcohol.

CEO of Drinkaware, Elaine Hindal, added some perspective: In the run-up to Christmas, waistlines can expand alongside our expanding social calendars. Events such as the office Christmas party often promote a drinking culture which can see individuals increasing their alcohol consumption and consequently piling on the pounds.”

She explained there are seven calories per gram of alcohol, almost as many as pure fat, and these are ‘empty’ calories, meaning they have no nutritional value.

“50ml of Irish cream liquor for example, can be as high as 175 calories,” she revealed.

Think things through before you head to the bar!

3. Make sensible substitutions – imitations can be better than the originals!

If you know something is downright bad for you, why not make a healthier version of it?

In-House Nutritionist at health app Lifesum, Frida Harju, pointed out some useful examples.


This is one of the worst culprits for unexpectedly high calorie intake, as it has a hefty 343 calories.

“Swap half of the sugar content for vanilla extract or a touch of nutmeg or cinnamon, which will enhance the sweetness without using as much sugar,” Frida recommended.


Just because it’s got fruit, it doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

“Fruitcake tends to contain a lot of butter, sugar and syrup, making it high in both fat and calorie content,” Frida pointed out.

She advised that if you’re making your own fruitcake this year, then try looking for a recipe that substitutes the butter for Greek yogurt - this will cut down the fat and calorie content significantly.

Cranberry sauce

Cranberries are not naturally sweet, so cranberry sauce contains a great deal of sugar.

“Typical canned cranberry sauce can contain as many as 105 grams of sugar per serving, which adds roughly 400 calories to your plate.”

Try creating your own sauce by using frozen or fresh fruit with less sugar.


Homemade gravy is often thickened by adding white flour or corn-starch, which adds carbohydrates to the recipe, whilst the traditional addition of fat drippings adds considerable amounts of fat and salt.

To make healthier gravy, Frida suggested you make it from scratch, using a stock cube, as it adds flavour but not fat, and substitute the white flour for whole-wheat flour - a low-carbohydrate option.

4. Mocktail delight: some tasty alternatives to avoid calories

created in partnership with Highland Spring.

Calgary Avansino’s Low-Sugar Margarita

Image courtesy of Highland Spring & Calgary Avansino

What you need:

  • Enough sea salt flakes to cover the bottom of a small plate
  • 50ml larger shot size or 25ml smaller shot size of tequila
  • 3 tbsp (1 ounce) of lime juice
  • ¼ tsp of orange extract
  • ½ tsp of Stevia (natural sweetener)
  • Small handful of ice
  • 2 tbsp of sparkling water
  • Slice of lime, to serve

How to make it…

Wet the rim of a margarita glass with water and dip it into a plate of salt to create your rim of salt. Next, combine the tequila, lime juice (freshly squeezed is best), orange extract, Stevia and ice. Shake it all up in a cocktail mixer until combined. Then add the sparkling water at the end. Serve with a slice of lime.


Autumn Sparkle Mocktail

Image courtesy of Highland Spring & Calgary Avansino

What you need:

  • Juice of 1/4 lemon
  • Juice of 1/4 orange
  • 1 tsp of organic honey
  • Top with sparkling water
  • Garnish with orange peel and lemon peel

How to make it…

Add all ingredients except the sparkling water to a tumbler. Ensure all are well mixed before adding ice. Finally top up with sparkling water and garnish with the orange and lemon peels.


Pick-Me-Up Mocktail

Image courtesy of Highland Spring & Calgary Avansino

What you need:

  • 50ml of cold brew coffee
  • 50ml of sparkling water
  • 1 tsp of agave syrup
  • Cinnamon stick & orange wedge to garnish

How to make it…

Swirl the agave and the cold brew coffee in the bottom of a wine glass to mix, add ice and lengthen with refreshing sparkling water. Garnish with an orange wedge and cinnamon stick.

5. Waste not, want not – eat clean AND save money!

Many of us are guilty of overspending at Christmas, so make sure you get your money’s worth from your food spend. You’ll be surprised how many healthy meals you can make from the waste food that you accrue over the festive period.

Frida Harju commented: “Rather than throwing out old vegetables simply turn them into a soup. This is a great way to save money, not waste any food and eat healthily.

“We often eat far more food than we actually need and if you are looking to save money then this is something that can be easily changed in your diet.”

To achieve this, she suggested:

  • Switch larger plates for smaller ones
  • Use a bowl instead of a plate, as it will look fuller than a plate
  • Make use of your supermarket’s ‘Happy Hour’

“If you live near a food market then it’s a great idea to pay a visit an hour or so before they close. Sellers are keen to sell all their produce before they finish for the day, meaning that you can often get a great bargain. Supermarkets often follow a similar initiative, reducing their fresh items towards the end of each day, making this the perfect time to do a food shop if you’re trying to save money.”

Now, that’s what we call ‘win-win’!

6. Treat yourself in other ways

There are 500+ calories lurking in your advent calendarAre you the kind of maverick who eats all of their advent calendar chocolates in one fell swoop?

At 20 calories per chocolate, this could be an extra 500+ calories that you’re taking on board!

Why not mix things up a bit by treating yourself to a novelty advent calendar that gives you your favourite cosmetics behind every window, instead of chocolate?

7. A rest day does not involve a trip to the shopping centre!

Callum Melly of Bodyin8 explained that while you shouldn’t allow Christmas to derail your fitness plans, it’s important to keep scheduling in “rest days”.

Don’t stress over missing a day or two in the gym if it means you get to spend time doing something valuable with friends and family; the gym isn’t going to go anywhere and a day or two of relaxing a little isn’t going to compromise your results. In fact, letting your body have a rest now and then is beneficial for both your general health and wellbeing,” he commented.

That being said, those all-important rest days can be harder to come by at this time of year. In 2010, Debenhams commissioned a piece of research that showed the average woman covers almost three miles during a two-and-a-half-hour shopping trip.

A trip to the local shopping centre during your day off can be a stressful endeavour in the run up to Christmas, so make sure you schedule in a few days where you allow your body to recuperate.

8. If you can’t beat them, burn them!

dw dancingIf the festive treats are too irresistible, then nobody’s going to judge you for indulging.

However, Carly Tierney advised that staying active is a great way to combat those Christmas calories, which means you won’t have so much pain to endure when you hit the gym again!

  • Dance

“Stick on your favourite Christmas tunes and have a dance whilst you trim the turkey or decorate the tree. Dancing burns up to 100 calories per hour and also helps to minimise stress.”

  • Ice skate

Get Christmassy and try out ice skating with the family. There are plenty of ice rinks or indoor centres for winter sports about. Make exercise fun and festive for the whole family.


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