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10 tips to beat the holiday bulge

'Tis the season to be festive. There are more parties in the month of the December than at any other time of the year, making it easy to go overboard with indulgence. Staying on a healthy eating regime can therefore be a challenge.

How to beat the holiday bulge

Studies show that, on average, weight gain during the holidays is somewhere between one to two kilos (two to five pounds).

So then, how can you celebrate with family and friends, attend all the parties and enjoy the food, whilst still beating the holiday bulge?

Here are my 10 tips:

1. Don't skip meals

There is a tendency to skip a meal in order to accommodate the great party food available later in the evening. This is a no-no. You are actually setting yourself up to binge, as not eating earlier will make you extra hungry and increase your cravings for sugars and fats.

Maintaining a balanced blood sugar level will make sure you do not overeat. One hour before the party, try to eat a balanced snack (a mixture of protein and carbohydrate). This will fill your stomach and make sure it doesn’t dictate your food choices.

Go for whole grains which, as they are slow burning carbohydrates, will make you feel fuller for longer.

Maintain your eating schedule, but just make your meals 20-40 percent smaller, to give you the option of indulging in some party foods.

Keep some raw almonds in your bag. If the buffet table throws you too far off-track, pop some into your mouth unnoticed, to help reduce your cravings.

2. Remember that not all party food is created equal

Choices. Choices. Choices...are all yours. The key is to choose enough healthy options so you'll feel full, yet still have room for some decadent foods.

Try to fill 80 percent of your holiday meal plate with greens, vegetables and fruit, and allow yourself 20 percent indulgence. The 80/20 rule!

Become savvy about your food choices. Breaded, deep-fried foods with heavy sauces should rarely be part of the 20 percent option, if ever.

It’s ok to forgo food as it is passed around. Don’t feel obliged to eat when you are full. Christmas dinner is not your "last supper".

When it’s a potluck gathering, where everyone brings something and you are not sure what food will be available, bring your own healthy choice. At least you will know there is one dish you can eat with confidence.

If you are hosting, you can make small changes to recipes to make them healthier, such as using herbs and spices as seasoning instead of butter, oil or cheese; having plenty of steamed vegetables as a side dish instead of a heavy casserole; removing the skin from the turkey; or having fruit available for dessert.

Dips. Watch out for the dips!

3. Put everything on a plate

This allows you to better monitor your portion size as well as notice how much you have eaten. Aim to consume in moderation. Keeping your portion sizes in check will allow you to enjoy your favourite holiday treats without gaining weight.

Resist taking something from the tray each time it’s passed around. Perhaps you can take something every other time, or take everything you want on your plate in one go.

"Big dishes and big spoons = big trouble," says Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating. Choose a small-sized plate.

Try sitting and eating, as it helps you to pay attention to your plate and allows you to see just how much you’re eating.

4. Watch what you drink

I will agree that it is more festive a holiday with alcohol. However, if you want to maintain your waistline, limiting your consumption is a must. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making it more likely that you'll overindulge and forget about your nutrition plan.

Since alcohol is very high in calories, if you do choose to drink, nurse your drink slowly, perhaps start with a glass of sparkling water before moving on to alcoholic beverages and keep alternating with water as the evening progresses.

Alcohol stimulates your appetite, so it's best to make sure you have some healthy food options available.

Drink plain water. Studies have found that when people drink more water throughout the day, they eat fewer total calories. Aim for a minimum of 1,5 litres.

Be mindful of what you’re drinking: a glass of eggnog can have more calories than a glass of red wine.

5. Eat breakfast

Breakfast is king, the most important meal of the day. It stimulates your metabolism. No matter how many parties you attend over the holidays, make sure you start your day with a healthy breakfast. It puts you in good stead to deal with any dietary pitfalls over the course of your day.

If you are party-hopping and uncertain of the available food choices, begin your day with a handful of greens added to your morning smoothie. This supports your immune system, as well as helping you meet your vegetable target for the day!

6. Do a walk around the table

Before you select any of the buffet food - window shop. Stroll around the table and check out the different options.

Mentally classify the buffet dishes as "must-try" and "can do without."

Prepare a balanced plate to include protein, carbohydrates and healthy fat.

Remember the 80/20 rule!

7. Slow down your eating

There is a powerful gut-brain connection. People who chew their food slowly eat less compared to people who don’t. They tend to eat mindfully and have fewer cravings.

Putting your fork down between bites to converse or to savour the food will help you to slow down your eating. In the book "French Women Don’t Get Fat," the author attributed the French manner of eating - forks down between bites - as one reason for French people’s svelte figures.

Feeling satiated sometime takes 20 minutes after you have eaten. In slowing down your eating, you will feel more satisfied and recognise when you are full so you will not overeat.

8. Keep your distance from food temptations

The holiday season is very food-centric. With all the delicious food and candy gifts, it’s easy to pile on the bulge. Finding ways to limit any extra food intake is key.

Re-gift treats and extra food. You can donate them to a shelter or a hospital, or take it to a potluck or to work.

At a party, avoid standing near the party nibbles. When food is within easy reach, chances are you willl have a bite... or three.

9. Socialise with friends and family

The holiday season is for celebrating with family and friends. At a party, if you engage in a good conversation or activity instead of hovering around the food table, you will have a better chance of maintaining your health goals.

Volunteer to help with an activity.

Focus on speaking with each person, work the room.

10. Keep a fitness routine

Whilst juggling your social obligations, it’s tempting to let your training regime fall by the wayside. Finding ways to maintain an hour's bike ride, a 30-minute daily walk or a gym session is key to keeping the extra pounds at bay.

At a minimum, aim for at least one structured training session per week. Schedule it in your calendar. Get outside if the weather permits, and do a brisk walk or light jog. This will give you some quality "me time", which is often compromised at this time of year with a full social agenda.

Wake up with exercise. Take advantage of the "golden hour," your first hour upon waking, when your mind is calm and receptive. This is a good time to meditate, do yoga, run or simply breathe.

People who exercise first thing in the morning are more successful at keeping a regular exercise programme than people who exercise later in the day.

When you exercise, you're less likely to overindulge with food. It also helps you harness your energy during the busy holiday period.

Good luck!

At this time of year, staying on a strict weight loss programme may not be realistic.

However, if you come out of the holidays without gaining any weight, then that is a clear win, making it easier to get back on track in the New Year.

Here's to staying fit over the holidays!

Kyrin

Author

Kyrin Hall, PhD

I am a Clinical Nutritionist and TV Health Journalist. For TEDx 2014, I did a workshop on Food for the Brain. I truly believe that ~ the right choices of...

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