For many people who have committed and worked hard throughout the year to stay healthy, maintaining that healthy lifestyle can be challenging during the festive season.
With many nights out and festive gatherings, one slice of pizza can easily become three or more while one scoop of ice cream can result in you finishing the entire tub.
The next thing you’re banging your head against the wall asking yourself what went wrong?
Megan Lee, a Cape Town dietitian explains that most people often fall off the wagon by failing to maintain their routine and healthy eating habits.
Not only do people drink more during social gatherings, but they also snack more and tend to overeat in the end.
“The holiday season brings about a more relaxed atmosphere and many of us choose to take a break and do little-to-no exercise. The key is to strike a good balance between a well-deserved holiday while still looking after your health. An all-or-nothing approach can ruin good habits and progress made during the year,” says Lee.
While you should maintain good eating habits during the festive season, she says people should also give themselves a break and enjoy food.
“Don’t be over restrictive and ruin the fun, but equally try to choose your splurges wisely. Choose selectively foods you will enjoy most in moderation."
A balanced meal includes a good serving of vegetables, summer fruits and water.
“If you know there is a delicious dessert waiting, then have smaller portions or something else. Keep in mind that sugary drinks, fruit juices and alcoholic drinks all contain extra kilojoules.”
Gabriel Eksteen, nutrition science manger at the Heart and Stroke foundation, says a couple of unhealthy meals are not likely to cause you to break the scales.
But, he cautions, falling into bad habits over a couple of weeks can cause weight gain and make getting back to your healthy habits harder.
“Continue your usual healthy routine to some extent, which will provide a greater sense of control. Keeping active, drinking lots of water and sticking to a healthy breakfast are good examples.
"If you have a healthy relationship with food you should know how to enjoy food, but also know when to stop. Still, it makes sense to plan for times when you will eat more decadently, and compensate with healthier and lighter meals around this,” he said.
Retha Booyens, spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, says it is imperative to remember that good eating behaviour during the festive season is identical to good eating behaviour all year round, with the exception that the temptations are much more.
“Christmas indulgences make it much more difficult to make the healthy choice but keep in mind that it should be a lifestyle and not just a diet.
“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 practise mindful eating this season?
Lee says being mindful about eating means being more aware of why and what you are eating. This includes firstly asking yourself how hungry you really are and what portion sizes should you be serving?
“Then during your meal, eat slowly, enjoying the company around you, paying attention to the taste and smell, and savour each bite instead of racing to finish your meal.
"Mindful eating also involves checking with yourself throughout the meal to assess if you are full and whether you should stop eating. Be aware of mindless eating such as snacking on chocolates, chips or leftover cake just because it’s available!” she says.
In addition to the dietary tips, Eksteen says it’s important to continue some form of physical activity, otherwise you will burn less energy, while consuming more is a perfect recipe for weight gain.
“Many people want a break from their normal schedule, but you can still play games together as a family, swim more and enjoy walks in nature if you’re visiting a scenic place,” he said.