Survive the festive frenzy

Every year the festive season arrives and all our healthy eating plans go out of the window.  There is no doubt that time to relax and enjoy ourselves is important to our well-being, but we tend to overindulge in rich foods while cutting back on regular physical activity and often staying up too late.

Of course, you want to enjoy yourself and it’s certainly not the time to feel deprived, but you can avoid the holidays becoming an extended binge by using strategies to moderate the inevitable excesses.

We asked a team of registered dietitians from ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa) to give us their top tips on how to balance holiday fun with staying healthy. Here’s what they have to say:

Surviving holiday parties: Don’t attend a party on an empty stomach – grab a small healthy snack before you go. When you get there, don’t rush to eat – socialise and settle into the festivities before you eat and keep your socialising away from the buffet table or appetiser trays, to help limit nibbling. – Cheryl Meyer 

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Eat mindfully: The buffet table is an invitation to eat all you can, so survey what is available, choose the foods you really want to eat, and then move away. Eat slowly, focusing on enjoying the taste and smell of each bite. – Jessica Byrne

Eat what you love, leave what you like. Be picky – don’t deny indulges, but only eat treats that you really love – avoid ‘wasting’ calories on non-favourites. Think quality rather than quantity. – Cheryl Meyer

Make water your MVP (most valuable player) this holiday season:  Jazz it up with lemon, cucumber, [fruit slices, herbs] or fruit ice-cubes like watermelon ice cubes, adding an element of holiday indulgence to plain water. You could also try plain fruit or herbal tea for a change.  Water and tea can help fill you up, preventing holiday overeating or overindulging in alcohol or fizzy drinks, both loaded with calories/ energy. – Hlanzeka Mpanza

Balance less-healthy meals with healthy ones: Choose only one less-healthy item or meal per day. For example, one day an English breakfast, the next day an ice cream and the next day a takeaway, but not all three on one day. Ensure the other meals are healthy by eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. – Zelda Ackerman 

Be a snack smuggler: Travelling, shopping and lack of routine during the holidays can lead to skipping meals or grabbing that seemingly convenient fast food. To keep your appetite in check, never leave home without a snack. Fruit makes a refreshing, no-fuss snack, and a small packet of unsalted nuts can easily fit in your handbag for when the hunger hits. – Jessica Byrne

Avoid after-dinner nibbles and snacks: Those chocolates and biscuits that come out after an indulgent lunch or dinner are unnecessary calories and will probably only make you feel more uncomfortably full. – Lila Bruk 

Have your cake and eat it too: If you do have one of the many sweet treats on offer, keep your portion size as small as possible and choose the healthiest of what you can find. For example, generally fruit-based cakes and desserts are better choices, so an apple tart would be a better option than a chocolate cake, especially if you don’t eat all the pastry. – Lila Bruk 

Start your day with a wholesome breakfast: Have a low GI breakfast such as oats, whole grain cereal or whole wheat toast with avocado or beans/eggs. This will not only keep you satisfied, your sugar levels stable and hunger pains at bay, but will also prevent you from snacking on sugary treats that are empty calories with little nutrients. – Lucinda Lourens

Get moving with friends and family: Spend quality time with friends and family this holiday, but instead of catching up over coffee and cake, make the most of the warm weather and plan to do something where you can be active together. Meet for a walk on the beach or get a group together and go for a hike. Go for a swim, or get the whole family involved in a post-lunch stroll around the neighbourhood. – Jessica Byrne