Don’t you just love Christmas? It’s the only time of year you’re encouraged to eat, drink and be merry!
And yes, most of us do exactly that, putting on about 1.5kg in just a few weeks, according to Nutrition Australia.
But dietitian Melanie McGrice says Christmas doesn’t have to be a worry for your waistline.
“Christmas food traditions aren’t just about what we eat, they’re also about socialising and celebrating,” she says.
That means saving treats for truly special festivities and maintaining a healthy diet the rest of the time.
“Even though it’s Christmas, you still need to follow the rules for healthy eating with some protein, some grains and lots of vegetables at every meal,” Melanie suggests.
“It’s unrealistic to think you can avoid treat foods at this time of year, but if you’re aware of your portion sizes you can still enjoy rich foods without going overboard,” Melanie explains.
What if you’re a guest in someone’s home and they’re serving up giant platefuls you’d never usually eat?
“Overeating can contribute to extra health problems, so it really doesn’t help to finish all the food on your plate.”
However, if you’re used to eating everything you’re given it can be a tough habit to shake, so Melanie recommends “leaving one mouthful on your plate or one sip in the glass to break the habit of always finishing a meal without stopping to think whether you’re already full.”
If you’re going to do just one thing to keep your figure intact this summer, it’s mindful eating.
All you need to do is be more aware of what and how you eat – from taking a moment to enjoy the aroma to slowly savouring each delicious mouthful and resting your cutlery between bites.
“The more time you spend chewing, the more time you’re giving your stomach to register it’s filling up, so you’re less likely to overeat,” Melanie says.
Taking your time can also help you politely decline those offers of seconds, since you’ll still be eating when everyone else is taking a second helping. Win, win!
With so much going on, you can’t control everything you eat over summer, so it makes sense to dine lightly when possible.
“When you’re at home, make a healthy salad – and don’t fall into the trap of adding bacon, croutons or a creamy dressing,” Melanie says.
Instead, prepare a mix of lean protein (tinned tuna in springwater, poached chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs and leftover roast or barbecue meat) and your favourite vegetables.
“Make it colourful with spinach, baby corn, cherry tomatoes and cucumber, and throw in some bean mix for extra protein and fibre,” she adds. Filling up on a hearty salad will ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs to keep your energy levels up.
Start each day by topping up a two-litre jug with ice, water, mint and fresh berries, so you’ll always have a festive drink to sip.
Staying hydrated will help you avoid snacking between meals, and studies show it’ll also keep you cool and calm.
If you’re watching your weight and worried about the added pressure of socialising, Melanie says it helps to keep the meaning of Christmas in perspective.
“The most important thing is being with your loved ones, not the food,” she says. She’s right, of course, but when your instinct is to spoil your nearest and dearest with a sweet treat, consider healthy alternatives.
“Whenever I take a platter of fruit skewers to a party, it tends to be one of the first things eaten because people are becoming increasingly health-conscious,” Melanie says.
Taking the lead on healthy eating also gives you a reason to shape other fun family activities. Instead of grazing day and night when you’re together, encourage your family to get up and move.
“Join the kids for a game of backyard cricket – even if you’re the scorekeeper, an outfielder or part of the cheer squad,” Melanie says. You can head out for a stroll together or simply stay indoors on a hot afternoon while playing charades and board games.
“Do something meaningful together that avoids just sitting around and eating more food,” Melanie urges.
When the kitchen is stocked with yummy things because you’re expecting visitors, it can be tempting to start before your guests arrive and continue feasting well after they’ve left.
That’s why Melanie suggests sharing the extras with family and friends.
“Whenever you’re entertaining, always send people home with leftovers so you’re not stuck with lots of food you’re tempted to eat or feel bad about wasting,” Melanie says.
You can also take a plate over to less socially active neighbours, who may appreciate the visit as much as the tasty treats.
“This is also the perfect solution if you’re dieting and given boxes of chocolates or other edible gifts,” she says. “Take those temptations out of your kitchen and give them to neighbours, or you could even drop them at the local nursing home.”
Even if you can only spare 15 minutes, balance all the eating and socialising you’re doing with a little light exercise.
“Daily exercise doubles as ‘me time’, so it’s a really good idea to start each week by writing down one physical activity to do each day,” Melanie says.
“Look at your events and plan something that will fit around them, otherwise you’ll never find the time.”
It can be as simple as doing an aqua aerobics class in the morning before lunch or meeting a friend for a sunset walk when you get home from afternoon tea.
“It’ll be a nice chance to wind down and reflect on all the catch-ups you’ve been having,” Melanie says.
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