Keeping your healthy balance over the holidays

We know it well, silly season is not for sissies. We always head into it with the best intentions not to give way to the over-indulgence; not to leave our healthy eating plans by the wayside, and to make sure we have the ‘me-time’ for prioritising the physical activity and self-care that we need to maintain our healthy balance. But we can trip up.

No sooner have we got through the swirl of team, company and client lunches, drinks and parties than we’re whirling off on holiday with non-stop plans for spending (well-deserved) time with family and friends. And, you know what? It’s actually, all good.

Our human drive to gather together around food is really not the problem. No matter what is available, what’s on offer and even, what might be pressed upon us, we still remain absolutely in charge of everything that we choose to eat or drink over the upcoming festive season. What’s critically important is how you think and how you decide to act in the moment.

For some, the legendary lavishness of the holidays is an excuse to let go despite the stated aspirations to achieve that bikini body this summer. It’s easy to take an ‘everybody’s doing it, I can’t avoid it’ approach, and lose your balance and your focus on your personal goals.

Or, you can see it for what it is – a highly social time that is good for you in so many ways, but will inevitably be accompanied by loads of food and drink. It’s important to stay mindful of this fact: you are completely in charge of how the holiday unfolds for you. You have all the power to maintain balance and progress on your healthy lifestyle goals – without suffering, and without setting yourself uncomfortably apart from others.

Healthy lifestyles have gained serious traction over the past years. Sure, no one has yet been able to convince Grandma to replace the condensed milk with low-fat yoghurt in her classic Christmas Day potato salad, but the chances are you will still find plenty of others in your social circles who, like you, want to start some new, healthier traditions and eating habits when it comes to the food we share over the festive season. It’s actually so unlikely at any holiday gathering this year that you won’t find some companions who also intend to stay focused on balanced eating in the context of a healthy lifestyle. Find them, band together and forge forward into a festive season that truly recharges mind, body and soul.

We asked Registered Dietitians, Retha Booyens and Mbali Mapholi, spokespeople for ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa) to each give us their top festive season tips for mindful, in charge, healthy eating over the holidays:

Mbali says:

  • It’s the same packet of chips – “Yes, you’re relaxing on the beach with friends and the context is the holidays – but the packet of chips being offered around is just the same as any other time, so, stick to your same reactions. If you’re not hungry, or if you would prefer a healthier snack, pass it on. This is not different advice from how to choose when waiters at a party are offering trays of canapes – just because it is in front of you, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Be mindful about what you choose to eat. Sometimes when it comes to food offerings, we go on autopilot and think we need to hoover up everything in our sights just because it is on offer. But, we don’t. It’s just food. There will be more. There will be other contexts. We still have free choice, and we need to keep this in perspective – it is the same packet of chips you could say no to any other day, so say no today.”

Retha reiterates:

  • Keep it in perspective – “If you find yourself in Rome on a rare holiday with the chance to enjoy an Italian Gelato alongside the Trevi Fountain – just go right ahead and enjoy it. But if the choice is about yet another third helping of Mom’s peppermint crisp tart, you can probably skip that this time around. If it is a genuine once in a lifetime experience, go for it, but if it’s a holiday habit that just trips you up, let it go.”

Retha says:

  • You won’t feel happy if you just over-ride your healthy weight loss or weight management plans – “You can avoid the stress that compromises your enjoyment of the holidays by sticking to your goals and plans in flexible and practical ways. Keep your portion sizes in check at every meal. Cut back on the empty calories of alcohol by consciously reducing your intake and also drinking a glass of water between every glass of wine or beer. Never slake your thirst with an alcoholic beverage. Stick to your exercise regime. If you can’t access your usual classes, sessions and activities, then run, walk, ride or play physical games for a minimum of two and a half hours a week.”

Mbali adds:

  • The devil is in the detail – “It’s not the holiday season that is the pitfall but rather our mindless reactions. Step away from the snack table. When you eat; choose well, chew slowly and be aware of what you are eating. Bring your favourite healthy dish to the family braai. Don’t hesitate to eat well and share that. Keep your eye on portion size and trade the treats you don’t want to miss out on with increased exercise and a more balanced meal before or after.”

 

For more information about ADSA or to find a dietitian in your area, please visit www.adsa.org.za


10 Healthy Ways to Survive the Festive Season Eating 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 over-indulge in rich foods, sweet treats and alcohol. At the same time, we are cutting back on regular physical activity and staying up too late, too often.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to indulge a little, but allow for eating in moderation and maintaining a varied diet. 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. 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, and 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 – socialize and settle into the festivities before you eat and keep your socializing away from the buffet table or appetizer trays – to help limit nibbling. (Cheryl Meyer)

Eat mindfully: The buffet table is an invitation to eat all you can, so first 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 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/ 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 take away, 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 and 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, wholegrain cereal or wholewheat toast with avocado or 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 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. (Jessica Byrne)

This ADSA NutritionConfidence recipe, created by Chef Vanessa Marx, is perfect for keeping your health on track this holiday, while still indulging in delicious festive food: “Grilled Ostrich Fillet with Egyptian Dukkah and Cucumber Raita”.

Ostrich is a truly South African and healthy alternative for the braai this festive season! The raita bursts with flavour while being low in sugar and fat. Ostrich meat is a great alternative to other ‘red meat’ sources. Classified as a ‘white meat’ due to its fat content, it’s low in fat (even lower than some chicken cuts) and saturated fat; but also a good source of biologically available iron. This makes a great pairing with the “Spinach, Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad”.