Party-proof your diet during the holiday season

The festive season is meant to fill you with cheer, but if you’re trying to lose weight, Christmas can be tough. Here’s how to beat the bulge.

10 November 2010
by Kim Hofmann

Did you know that the average person puts on about two kilograms over the festive season, consuming about three times as many kilojoules than needed on Christmas Day alone?

When it comes to office parties and Christmas bashes, overindulgence is usually the order of the day. However, if you’re hoping to stick to a sensible eating plan, you need to put a strategy in place beforehand so that you don't regret the 'silly season'. Here we help you do just that with key advice from dieticians.

Don't skip meals

Can you treat yourself to a big dinner if you skip lunch? No, the experts unanimously agree. "From a kilojoule perspective this may make sense," says Hofmann, "but if you do skip lunch you are far more likely to overeat – even more than just the two meals put together."

"You can cut back on your portion sizes if you’d like to compensate for the amount of food you’ll be eating at the party, but don't starve yourself," advises Pentz-Kluyts. "If you do, you’ll end up craving high-fat, sugary foods."

She recommends having a modest lunch that combines carbohydrate and protein, such as chicken salad with a slice of wholewheat bread or rice salad with vegetables and chicken. "This will keep your blood sugar levels stable and you won’t crave unhealthy food."

Snack beforehand

Ensure you have a snack 30 minutes to an hour before a party. "If you've starved yourself beforehand, you'll eat far more uncontrollably than if you've eaten your regular meals and kept your blood sugar levels constant with a snack," says dietician Kim Hofmann. Choose a snack rich in soluble fibre, such as a fruit salad with yoghurt or a few Provitas with peanut butter or low-fat cottage cheese.

Don't forget exercise

It's not a bad idea to exercise before your party, according to Pentz-Kluyts, as long as you don’t use exercise as an excuse for pigging out. "By all means do more exercise the day of the party," she advises. "Your metabolism does tend to become sluggish over the festive season due to a lack of exercise, so it’s important to stay fit and active. Also, consider getting onto the dance floor and enjoying yourself there instead of just chatting."

Hofmann stresses though, that exercising your way out of overindulgence is not the way to go – finding a healthy balance is key.

Eat sensibly at the function

Here’s a noteworthy tip: don't hang around the food table. "If you stand and chat next to the table, you'll find yourself nibbling away and reaching for more snacks without realising how much you’ve eaten," says dietician Megan Pentz-Kluyts. "Instead, fill your plate once and then move away. That way you’ll be able to keep track of what you’ve consumed."

Hofmann recommends listening to your body’s signals so that you don’t overeat. "You should try to stop eating before you are 100 percent full," she says. "Rather have a smaller plate of food, remembering to eat slowly, and then wait 20 minutes so that your stomach has time to send out the 'I'm satisfied' signal."

Stay hydrated

"Alcohol is one of the biggest sources of empty kilojoules, so drink in moderation," says Pentz-Kluyts. "Have a glass of sparkling water with a slice of lemon when you arrive. That way you won’t look out of place. Your second beverage can then be alcoholic. Continue to alternate between alcohol and water throughout the evening. Employ clever strategies such as putting ice in your wine to dilute it. Decide before the start of the party what your alcohol quota will be and then stick to it."

Clicks pharmacist Dhiren Garach agrees that drinking water is a good way to compensate for a bit of overindulgence. "Drink lots of water before, during and after consuming alcohol," he says. "The reason behind this is that alcohol is a strong diuretic. It causes more water to be cleared out of your body than normal, and so replacement for this unnatural loss of fluid is necessary."

How to survive the festive season with these conditions

Heartburn: That burning sensation in your chest is all too familiar to those who suffer from heartburn. Make sure you manage this condition by eating smaller portions and staying away from fizzy drinks at Christmas parties. "Don’t eat and drink together," advises Pentz-Kluyts. "This distends the stomach and exacerbates acid reflux. Rather wait half an hour after you’ve eaten before having something to drink." Another sensible strategy is to eat two to three hours before turning in for the night.

Stomach ulcers: For those who suffer from stomach ulcers, the Christmas period can be particularly challenging. "Stay away from alcohol and spicy and strongly flavoured food," advises Pentz-Kluyts.
"Obviously you should avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking. Remember that being exposed to secondary smoke is almost as bad as smoking yourself, so stay away from your smoking friends at parties."

From a pharmaceutical perspective, Garach recommends taking an antacid after you’ve overindulged: "This will counteract the production of stomach acid which exacerbates both stomach ulcers and heartburn."

IBS: Although it’s hard to diagnose what causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), its symptoms are easy to recognise: bloating and cramping after eating, which can result in either constipation or diarrhoea. IBS sufferers should avoid their trigger foods, which can range from fatty foods to chocolate and gas-causing vegetables. "Smaller meals should be eaten," urges Garach, "which, in conjunction with a peppermint oil-based product, should help to ease the symptoms."

If you have a pre-existing condition and are unsure about how best to treat and manage it, consult with your GP or Clicks pharmacist.