It’s just what happens – come the holidays, you eat more than you should, you put on a bit of weight and then you kick off the New Year determined to shed it. Studies show people put on 0,5-1 kg on average over the festive season.
It doesn’t sound like much but, according to a review published in the scientific journal Physiology & Behavior last year, most of us never manage to lose that kilogram. So it tends to accumulate year after year, adding up to excess weight and putting you at risk of the health problems that tend to go with being overweight, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Make this year different by ensuring you don’t put on that extra bit of weight in the first place.
To make it easier we’ve asked dieticians to tell us what they do to keep their eating on track over Christ-mas. They put together this 10-point plan.
1. Don't slip breakfast
It really is the most important meal of the day, Johannesburg dietician Tanya Alberts says. “Eating breakfast boosts your metabolism, gives you energy and helps you to focus,” she says.
“Studies have shown that people who eat a balanced breakfast tend to weigh less than those who don’t eat breakfast.” Johannesburg dietician Toni Brien adds that a good breakfast also helps you to avoid eating things you know you shouldn’t, as well as making it less likely you’ll overindulge at your next meal. Alberts says the perfect breakfast is two eggs with a cup of mixed vegetables.
Examples of quick, nutritious breakfasts include: plain yoghurt with fruit and rolled oats or high-fibre bran; peanut butter and banana on wholewheat toast; and low-fat cottage cheese and/or avocado on wholewheat toast.
2. Plan ahead
The worst thing you can do during the holidays is to simply go with the flow when it comes to food. That’s a sure-fire route to overindulgence. “I still plan my meals for the week ahead so I’m prepared during the chaos that comes with the holidays.
Whether it’s lunch and supper or on the go snacks, having a plan helps me to stay focused,” Alberts says.
3. Check portion sizes
The secret to serving sizes is in your hand. It’s not just about what you eat – it’s about how much, Brien says. Use your hand as a guide: the size and thickness of your palm determines your protein portion (men can have two palms), your fist is your veggie portion, your cupped hand determines a carb portion and your thumb is your fat portion.
“Sticking to the correct portion size is a great way to keep your kilojoule intake under control, even if the meal is rich,” Cape Town dietician Alex Royal says.
Brien advises also using it as a guide when it comes to the occasional treat. “I allow myself to have a little of the things I know don’t belong in a healthy eating plan – so I’ll have some Christmas pudding or trifle but make sure it’s a small serving.”
4. Snack smart
The best way to avoid unhealthy snacks is not to have them in your kitchen cupboard.
“I stock the fridge with fresh fruit that’s ready to grab and go – it’s a great way to prevent yourself from getting nibbly and reaching for an unhealthy snack,” Royal says.
“I keep a supply of healthy snack options such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, lean biltong and wholewheat crackers with low-fat cottage cheese,” Alberts adds.
5. Slash the sauce
A great deal of the extra kilojoules we consume over the festive season comes from creamy sauces, dips and dressings, Royal says.
“Festive eating often means rich meals laden with creamy dressings and sauces. I avoid those as much as possible and instead add flavour by using lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, herbs or a fresh salsa made with tomato, onion, chillies and coriander,” she says.
“But I do allow myself to indulge a bit once a week during the holidays and on Christmas Day – it’s not realistic to avoid all temptations completely!”
6. Drink mostly water
“I avoid all sugary drinks, including iced teas and fruit juices, and instead drink water,” Johannesburg dietician Jenny Meyer says. Many drinks are loaded with sugar and these are simply empty kilojoules – you get no nutrition, just extra sugar. Some drinks even contain more kilojoules than you’d get in an entire healthy meal, she adds.
“If I feel like a different texture I switch to plain sparkling or soda water and if I want flavour I add slices of lemon or lime to iced water.”
7. Go lite on the liquor
Alcohol is often a big contributor to weight gain over the festive season, Meyer says.
“I do enjoy a glass or two of wine but I manage my intake by adding extra ice or soda water to dilute it and so reduce the amount of alcohol I drink,” she adds.
“I also drink slowly to make it last longer and when drinking spirits I limit myself to a single tot and avoid sugary mixers.”
She also chooses “lite” options when it comes to drinks such as cider.
“And regardless of what alcohol I drink, I always ensure I have a big glass of water on the side too.”
8. Listen to your body
You know that uncomfortably full feeling? It happens for a reason – to tell you you’ve gone too far. Make it your mission not to let it happen this festive season. Your body will thank you.
“I always make sure I stop eating before I feel stuffed,” Alberts says. “Eating smaller portions also helps to moderate your blood sugar levels.”
9. Recognise thirst
Sometimes we eat when our body is actually craving water. “I drink plenty of water to keep hydrated,” Alberts says. “It’s important to replace the fluid we lose, especially in summer.”
10. Keep moving
Let’s face it – it’s unlikely you’ll eat healthily 100 percent of the time. So make up for the odd indulgence with exercise.
“As much as we try to make healthier food choices, reduce portions and remove temptations, all the socialising that happens over the holidays means we still often take in more kilojoules than planned,” Meyer says.
“Exercise can help compensate for some of this.” There’s no need to go to the gym – enjoyable outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling and walking will do it.