The festive period needn't mean piling in the food and lounging on the sofa. Diet and fitness experts share the secrets of a happier, healthier break



Matt Roberts is a personal trainer, whose celebrity clients include Natalie Imbruglia, Naomi Campbell and John Galliano. His latest book, 'The PHA Workout', is published in January

"Christmas Eve is our family's big day for celebrating. I start by getting up early and going for a long run. The day is then spent getting ready for the evening's celebrations, when we have a special meal. It's always healthy - usually fish. This year, we're having lemon sole.

When I was younger, Christmas Day began with my dad, my brother and me going for a run round Chester's city walls, where I grew up. A run probably won't be possible this year because I have two young children who will be more interested in presents, but we'll go for nice walks.

We'll have a roast, but I wouldn't dream of using fat or butter. Winter root vegetables provide enough natural sweetness. As for alcohol, we'll splash out on a good quality bottle of wine, which is always nicer to drink slowly to appreciate the flavour.

I think children make it easier to be healthy over Christmas. You get back to basics with cooking simplistic food, rather than specialities that they won't like, and they love getting outside.

I avoid feeling overtired and stressed by taking two weeks off. I also find preparation helps. All our presents are already bought and wrapped, and we are having the food delivered. It means we have plenty of time to do things we want to. For the children, that will mean doing things like visiting Santa, and for me, it will include plenty of time working out in our gym with my wife and going for walks and runs in the park.

I advise all my clients to make sure they exercise to the point of being hot and sweaty at least three days a week over the Christmas period - especially if they've overindulged. Exercising within 10 hours of eating fatty foods has a much greater impact than if you leave it longer."


Ian Marber is the principal nutrition consultant at The Food Doctor Clinic in Notting Hill. His book 'The Food Doctor Diet' was published this year

"I choose not to drink, so I have a great head start when it comes to a healthy Christmas. In fact, without being too puritanical about it, my biggest advice is to limit alcohol over Christmas - at the very least by waiting to have a drink until your main course.

Because Christmas involves a lot of socialising, I obviously have less control over the food in my diet. But I don't let this ruin my regime of eating, which tends to be little and often. If I go to parties, I eat something first so that I don't arrive famished and willing to eat anything. And if it's a meal out, I never feel I have to eat everything. I just pick and choose the things I want.

When I cook Christmas lunch, which I'm not doing this year, I'm really careful about what and how I cook. I'd never make stuffing, for instance, which I find is fatty and stodgy - an unnecessary carbohydrate when there are already too many carbohydrates around in nibbles and snacks. I like to focus more on proteins by making a smoked salmon starter, followed by turkey with lots of healthy vegetables. Mind you, I do like to cook roast potatoes in duck fat - a rare treat.

I'm careful not to eat too much because the more you eat, the more hungry you get, and that's when it becomes easy to go on overdrive. I get so many people contacting me in January wanting help because they've done just that and that cycle of reward and sin has never appealed to me.

I don't exercise rigorously over Christmas, but I do like walking."


Dr Mosaraf Ali is a pioneer of integrated medicine, which blends conventional, complementary and traditional disciplines. He runs The Integrated Medical Centre in London, and his latest book, 'Dr Ali's Weight Loss Plan', is published in January

"I have been working very hard, so I see Christmas as a great opportunity to recharge my batteries. I plan to take about a week off and wouldn't dream of overindulging. In fact, I'll probably do more exercise than usual, focusing on walking and yoga, which can help with the digestive system. For me, this time of year is about replenishing the system rather than doing exactly the opposite.

On Christmas Day, I'll be with my family and I plan to cook roast lamb, vegetables and saffron rice - very healthy and something a bit different. Then I'll probably fast on Boxing Day and perhaps again on New Year's Day, when I'll be down in Cornwall. At the very most, I'll have a banana for lunch and a raw green salad for dinner. For other people who want to detox - which I highly recommend doing at this time of year - soup and water is also effective. You can cook up a huge saucepan of soup for the whole family.

Detoxing is particularly important for people who overdo it before Christmas. Indeed, I think the biggest health problems come not from Christmas Day itself, but from the time leading up to it. That goes for Ramadan, Yom Kippur and Diwali, too. Whichever you celebrate, it's a festive time and traditionally involves lots of food and drink. So by the grand finale of the big day, people often feel very unhealthy. I can't think of a time when I get more people coming to me with coughs and colds.

My biggest pet hate about Christmas is all the adverts for antacids. They should not be necessary for people who are careful about what they consume. I can't understand why people would want to create pain for themselves, particularly at a time that's meant to be pleasurable."


Susan Harmsworth is the chief executive and founder of ESPA International (UK) Ltd. She is a leading consultant on the design of five-star spas, and the creator of the ESPA range of natural products and treatments

"Christmas this year is quite unusual for me because one of my sons is getting married on 3 January and the house will be full of guests from now until then. But I won't be stressed. I'm religious about baths and salts and oils, as well as meditating and listening to calming music. Often, I'll take an hour and a half to myself, even when the house is full. I'll encourage my guests to do the same, and all the bathrooms in the house are full of candles and lovely things to put in the bath.

Another stress reliever for me is going with the flow. It's inevitable that things don't always go the way you want them to, but my philosophy is 'So what?' The main thing is that everyone has a good time. I also take full advantage of people offering to muck in, rather than wanting to be seen to do everything myself.

Night time is an important time for me. I try to get to bed early when I can, I have calming breathing techniques and I'm a big believer in things like taking a hot-water bottle to bed.

I have a personal trainer and she will come between Christmas and the new year, so my exercise regime isn't messed up. And I won't eat anything other than what I call 'clean' food - that is, everything organic or fresh, nothing packaged. Breakfast is always protein to keep up the energy and I never cut meals or I get headaches."


Lucy Wakefield is creative director of Calmia, a combined day spa and holistic store. She is also a health and beauty writer

"The perfect Christmas for me is low-key and that's how it will be this year. I prefer yoga to parties and am looking forward to spending time doing that and going on lovely walks. On Christmas Day itself, we'll spend the morning at the London Buddha Centre where they have food-sharing and meditation. Then we'll come home and my parents will join us. We'll have a small number of presents from each other to open.

Although I'm only taking a few days off this year, it's not a stressful time. Calmia is all about helping people rediscover what it's like to feel relaxed, stress-free and simply themselves once again. I've also planned ahead for Christmas to avoid the last-minute rush, buying special presents for people when I've seen them.

I don't eat meat or drink. Our treats will be more along the lines of nuts and fruits, with the odd home-made mince pie or chocolate. Christmas is all about having fun, but that can be in moderation.

My daughter will be seven months old this Christmas and that's helped me really appreciate that the magic of Christmas doesn't have to be about excess, but about simple things like putting up the tree.

For New Year's Eve, we'll probably go away to a country hotel with friends or we'll stay at home. I might have one glass of champagne, but no more than that. I don't feel good if I drink - all those toxins in the system put me out of balance.

Although that night will obviously be late, I like to go to bed early and will do so for most of the Christmas period."