No it’s not just you: every year December arrives and we resolve to resist the mince pies, eat salad for lunch and go for a run at least twice a week, but the second we arrive at a braai or party our healthy eating plans go out the window.
That’s why we asked a team of registered dietitians from ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa) to please save us from ourselves and share their secrets on how to have holiday fun while staying healthy.
Apparently the trick is a little something (that we admit we struggle with) called balance. Ditching your weight loss or weight management plans, or letting go of your health conscious habits over the festive season stresses both body and mind, but so does denying yourself and feeling deprived.
You can avoid the holidays becoming an extended binge by using strategies to moderate the inevitable excesses.
So here are 11 dietitian-approved ways to stay healthy and have fun this Christmas
1. Survive holiday parties
I never attend a party on an empty stomach — I rather grab a small healthy snack before I go. When I get to the party, I don’t rush to eat — instead I socialise and settle into the festivities before I eat and I try my best to keep my socialising away from the buffet table or appetiser trays — to help limit nibbling. (Cheryl Meyer)
2. Eat mindfully
The buffet table is an invitation to eat all you can, so first check out 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. This really helps you enjoy your food more while eating less. (Jessica Byrne)
3. Balance less healthy meals with healthy ones
When I’m on holiday I try and limit myself to one less healthy treat or meal per day. For example: one day I’ll have a full English breakfast, the next day a bowl of ice cream for dessert and the next night takeaways for supper, but never all three on one day. I make sure my other meals are healthy by eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. (Zelda Ackerman)
4. Eat what you love, leave what you like
Be picky — don’t deny indulgences, but only eat treats that you really, really love. Starting the festive season with the intention of eating salad all day and not having any treats is setting yourself up for failure. Instead, avoid “wasting” calories on non-favourites — think quality rather than quantity. (Cheryl Meyer)
5. Be a snack smuggler
Travelling, shopping and a lack of routine during the holidays can lead to skipping meals, or grabbing convenient fast food. To keep my appetite in check, I 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)
6. Make water your MVP (most valuable player) this holiday season
Jazz water up with lemon, cucumber or even fruit cubes like watermelon ice cubes, adding an element of holiday indulgence to plain water. Also try plain fruit or herbal tea for a change. Water and tea can help fill you up preventing holiday overeating or even overindulging in alcohol or fizzy drinks, both loaded with calories. (Hlanzeka Mpanza)
7. 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 even more uncomfortably full. Rather keep them for another time or give them away if the temptation of having them in your cupboard is too great! (Lila Bruk)
8. 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.
This lemon curd and berry is roulade is another moreish, lower-calorie option. (Lila Bruk)
9. Start your day with a wholesome breakfast
When I’m on holiday I always have a low GI breakfast. Some of my favourites are oats, wholegrain cereal or wholewheat toast with avocado or eggs. This keeps me satisfied until lunch, my sugar levels stable and hunger pains at bay — but more importantly, it also stops me from snacking on sugary treats that are empty calories with little nutrients. (Lucinda Lourens)
10. Get moving with friends and family
Spend quality time with friends and family these holidays, 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. Anything is better than collapsing on the couch in front of the TV! (Jessica Byrne)
Read more: 6 outdoor games you can play with the kids
11. Make healthier holiday meals
You might associate ‘Christmas’ with ‘high calorie’, but there are ways to cut the kilojoules while still enjoying delicious festive food. Not only will dukkah-crusted ostrich fillet with cucumber raita make a delicious festive meal, this ADSA NutritionConfidence recipe, created by Chef Vanessa Marx, is perfect for keeping your health on track this holiday.
Ostrich is a great alternative to other ‘red meat’ sources — it’s low in fat (even lower than some chicken cuts) and saturated fat; but it’s also a great source of iron.