Let’s face it – Christmas is not a time for diets, detoxes or counting calories. The season to eat, drink and be merry is definitely upon us.

Most of us do our best to eat as well as we can throughout the year, making choices to ensure we eat our five a day, drink enough water and fill our shopping trolley with foods that we know are going to nourish ourselves and our families well. Then December hits, and we go for it!

It can be almost impossible to leave the supermarket without some tempting treat making its way into our shopping basket. So is it possible to enjoy the best of the season without feeling like an overstuffed turkey by the end of it?

:: Strike a balance: My view of healthy eating is one of balance. I am not a fan of fad diets, get-thin-quick plans or crazy low-fat foods – and especially not at Christmas. Instead, my philosophy is that if we can eat healthy and well at least 80 per cent of the time, a little of what we fancy is unlikely to do much damage.

I also think that if we can really connect to how food makes us feel, the healthy choice is always the easy one. I eat healthy food because it makes me feel better. I have more energy, clearer thinking and a more balanced mood if I eat the foods that I know are good for me.

Rather than live by restrictive diet rules and regulations, let’s enjoy the best of the season without the guilt and the bloat.

:: Mindful eating: Slow down and savour the flavour. By taking our time to really enjoy the food we are eating, we are likely to eat less and be more satisfied by a small treat, rather than want to eat the whole tin of sweets, yule log or pack of mince pies.

If there are sparks flying off your knife and fork as you devour your dinner, or a box of sweets disappears in a flash, being a little more conscious of what you are eating, and how it tastes, can be so much more satisfying and may help to control cravings too.

:: Pack your trolley with the best of the season: There are plenty of seasonal treats to pop into your shopping basket beside the selection boxes. ‘Wee oranges’, dates, nuts and dark chocolate are nourishing treats to have in as a healthy alternative.

:: Don’t skip meals: Whether you are shopping til you drop or have a Christmas party later this evening, eating your regular meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner will keep you fuelled and energised. Most people find they are less likely to overeat if they keep mealtimes regular.

:: Don’t deny yourself your treats: There is nothing worse than watching your nearest and dearest munch their way through tasty treats as you solemnly nibble a celery stick. Remember that rather than deny yourself something, it is better have your treat, but really enjoy it. As the brilliant author Michael Pollan says in his book Food Rules, “Treat your treats as treats”.

Last year, one of my clients challenged me to come up with a healthy alternative to Ferrero Rochers. I think you might like these:

CACAO AND HAZELNUT ‘FERRERO ROCHER’ BALLS

200g roasted chopped hazelnuts

1 tblsp cacao powder

1 tblsp maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

pinch sea salt

35g 70-85 per cent cocoa chocolate

12-14 whole hazelnuts

METHOD

Keep 2 tablespoonfuls of chopped hazelnuts aside in a small bowl. Place the rest of the chopped hazelnuts in your food processor and blitz until smooth. Add the cacao powder, maple syrup, vanilla extract and sea salt.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set over a larger bowl of boiling water. Roll the hazelnut mixture into 12-14 bite-size balls and pop a whole hazelnut in the centre of each ball. Dip in the melted chocolate and sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts. Place in the fridge for half an hour before serving.

This blog first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 15 December 2018.