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How to avoid falling off the wagon over this festive season

During this time of year, dubbed silly season, there are usually two groups of people. On the one hand you have people who are incredibly motivated to either look good in their swimsuits, adamant to keep their fitness levels up and not fall off the wagon. Then you have the other group, the ‘We-will-try-next-year’ group.

The problem with both approaches is that the aim is short-term and not lifestyle orientated and that is bound to yield disappointing results. Add to this the incredible pressure and stress endured over the year and you basically end up with individuals who are just tired – tired of exercise, tired of dieting and tired of worrying about their lifestyle.

How does one create good eating behaviour during the festive season?

It is imperative to remember that good eating behaviour during the festive season isn’t something entirely new or foreign. Healthy eating is identical to good eating behaviour all year round, with the exception that the temptations are greater.

Christmas indulgences make it much more difficult to make healthy choices but keep in mind that it should be a lifestyle and not just a diet. And then the dreaded phrase loved by dieticians that no one wants to hear: “It is all about balance”.

The amount of times I have heard “Then I messed up and decided to only start again next Monday” is ridiculous. When people forget or run out of time to brush their teeth, do they wait until next Monday to start over again?

No. Or at least I hope not. That would be silly!

But when it comes to diet, people do this all the time. Changing this mindset can go a long way.

Healthy eating or good eating behaviours aren’t only for a specific time, but for right now! Balance is important NOW, not only in 2020.

Balance gives you the freedom to eat an ice-cream or malva pudding without guilt and then enjoy a wonderful, nutritious salad at your next meal. Balance gives you the power to say no to second- or third-helpings because you know that you can have it again. Balance takes away the pressure of having to be perfect all the time!

A lifestyle approach to the festive season encourages physical activity and healthy food intake but is also less restrictive in the manner that it allows indulgence and a bit more leniency.

How can people control holiday binge eating?

Control and prevent holiday binge eating by asking yourself the question – ‘Will I ever have the opportunity to eat this again?’ and making your decision based on that.

For example; if you are contemplating a third helping of your mother’s Peppermint Crisp tart, ask yourself ‘Will I ever have the opportunity to eat this again?’. The probability that you will is very high, therefore rather give it a skip this time.

Now, if you are in Rome and contemplating whether to enjoy Italian gelato next to the Trevi Fountain, ask yourself ‘Will I ever have the opportunity to eat this again?’. If you are lucky enough to travel a lot, you can give it a skip but if you resemble the general population – chances are that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so enjoy your gelato.

How can people cope with feelings of being overwhelmed by food during this time?

If you feel overwhelmed with all the options and temptations during this time, take a step back. Remind yourself that you are in control of what you eat or don’t eat and don’t give food too much power over you.

  • Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach- you will end up making unhealthy decisions and buying much more than you need.
  • Stock up on healthy snacks. If you have healthy options close by you are less likely to make poor food choices.
  • When you have a certain craving, enjoy that specific indulgent food but practice portion control. Satisfying the craving will prevent binging later.
  • Lastly, don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes it is just as important for your mental sanity to enjoy that piece of cake!

How can people practice mindful eating?

Mindfulness: The psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment.

Therefore; mindful eating refers to using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention and to be more aware with regards to your experiences, cravings and physical cues when eating.

Practice mindful eating by:

  • Eating slowly and without distraction.
  • Sit down for each meal, chew slowly and thoroughly. Putting your knife and fork down between bites.
  • Listening to physical hunger cues and eating only until you’re full.
  • Using a smaller plate can help with this.
  • Distinguishing between actual hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating.
  • Feelings of happiness, loneliness, depression and anxiety can trigger emotional eating, especially during the ‘silly season’. Boredom is also a non-hunger trigger for eating.
  • Engaging all your senses by noticing colours, smells, sounds, textures and tastes.
  • Savour and enjoy every bite.
  • Appreciating your food.
  • Learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.
  • Eating to maintain overall health and well-being.
  • As previously mentioned, lifestyle changes focusing on overall health and well-being is much more effective than a short-term and restrictive diet.

Healthy ways to avoid picking up too much weight during the festive season

  • Keep your portion sizes in check. It’s often not what you eat, but the amount that can lead to weight gain at any time of the year.
  • If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Alcohol contains a lot of empty calories and sugars and can quickly lead to weight gain. Plan to have water or soda water with a slice of lemon or lime between each drink to pace your consumption. NB: Don’t drink and drive!
  • When ‘braaiing’ skip the chips and creamy dips and rather snack on fresh zucchini or cucumber sticks, broccoli florets, carrot curls, red and green peppers. Serve with a low-fat dip or spread such as hummus, yoghurt with herbs, fat-free sour cream or fresh salsa.
  • Embrace the seasonal summer fruits. Enjoy a beautiful tray of fresh fruit as a wonderful and refreshing end to any meal. Pineapple, kiwi, mango, pomegranate, grapes, guava, lychees, papaya and bananas are a colourful feast for the eyes and taste buds.
  • Be moved by the holiday! Strive for at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate to vigorous activity per week. It will not only help you cope with the stress of the holiday bustle, but it can also help compensate for some of your food over-indulgences!
  • Make it part of your daily activities by parking further away from the shop’s entrance, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and carrying your groceries as a substitute for lifting weights. Every bit of physical activity you can sneak in counts.
  • Maintain your weight throughout the holidays by still eating three meals every day, starting with breakfast and snacking between meals. Snacking prevents you from overeating during the next meal.

Make these healthy living tips part of your routine the whole year round – not just for the holidays.

Retha Harmse

Registered Dietician