How to avoid the festive food traps

Christmas may be a time for giving, but how about giving up the excess just a little? Dietitian Susie Burrell has these 10 tips to help you keep your festive feasting under control.

Christmas is a notoriously difficult time when it comes to keeping the weight off. Not only are we surrounded by high calorie foods for weeks, but simply knowing it’s Christmas gives many of us permission to consistently overeat and skip our regular training sessions. The result? Weight gain that few of us want or need.

So if you’re keen to keep on top of things this holiday season — whether you’re at a work function, a backyard barbeque with the family or staring at the leftovers in your fridge — here are some of the easy ways to manage your eating behaviour when enjoying the foods that can do the most damage.

1. Never go to a party hungry

A common mistake people make when it comes to party season is overindulging on high fat foods like pastries, chips and dip, which are consumed mindlessly while waiting for the “real” food to be served. The easiest way to avoid overeating at cocktail events is to make sure you don’t arrive hungry.

Events held either late in the afternoon or early in the evening pose the biggest problem, as it’s prime snacking time. Try to eat a highly filling food 60-90 minutes before the party, such as a meal replacement shake, apple, cheese and wholegrain crackers or a handful of nuts.

2. Recommit to your training

The warmer weather and longer days present the perfect opportunity to do more activity, not less. Make it a priority to maintain your gym commitments, and regular walks or taking the kids or dogs to the beach, park or organised activities can help you compensate for all the extra food you’re likely to be eating.

3. Don’t buy food you don’t want to eat

Remember, if the food is there you’ll be more than likely to eat it. Avoid temptation and keep bad food out of your fridge. Large Christmas hampers and cupboards stocked with excessive amounts of snack foods and chocolates for when unexpected guests drop in are a recipe for disaster. Shop in small amounts, purchasing only what you need and avoid extra-large boxes of chocolates and sweets. Give away your leftovers to remove temptation after the key holiday parties are over.

4. Stick to a canapé limit

It might surprise you, but those tiny, scrumptious canapés contain an average of 200 calories — it’s easy to see how you can fall victim to a complete calorie overload at parties. Limit yourself to just 3-5 canapés at any one function and ensure that you eat a soup or salad at some point during the day to compensate for the extra party calories that in all the finger food.

5. Don’t eat everything that is offered

Ask yourself a simple question when each canapé appears: “Do I really feel like eating this?” It’s often enough to help you control the type and volume of food you’re eating, and only indulge if there is something you really want on offer. Partake in the food you really like, and politely decline the rest.

6. Watch what you’re eating when drinking

Throughout the holiday period chances are you’ll be enjoying a few drinks with friends more often than usual. While it’s commonly thought that alcohol leads to weight gain, often it’s the foods that we’re enjoying with those few drinks that do the most damage.

Alcohol is metabolised before carbs or fats, so it means that when you eat a burger and fries with a glass or two of wine, the calories consumed in the fries and burger are more likely to be stored. For this reason, eating a decent meal before you head out and choosing lower calorie options such as sushi, seafood, salads and grills will help to control your overall calorie intake and support weight control, even when you’re enjoying a drink.

7. Learn the art of compensation

Holidays mean fun times, which can also mean extra treats and more down time. When it comes to achieving the right balance between good food, regular social outings and weight control, a key skill is learning to compensate when we’ve overdone things. Whether it means factoring in extra exercise, an alcohol-free day or a couple of days of light eating following several days of higher calorie eating, learning to compensate when you’ve eaten more than usual is a useful strategy to help you control your weight, not just over the holiday period, but for life.

8. Eat mindfully

If you love Christmas pudding or cake or you can’t go past the pork crackling, of course you should enjoy it, but there’s a big difference between enjoying Christmas treats at Christmas dinner and binge-eating them for the entire month of December. Differentiating between these times is all you need to enjoy your Christmas treats, minus the extra kilos.

9. Be smart with the grog

As is the case with activity, the festive season shouldn’t be seen as an excuse to forget your personal limits with alcohol intake. Commit to minimum of two alcohol-free days each week to give your liver a break, stay hydrated, drink plenty of water and be wary of high-calorie mixers such as juice and soft drinks, which can increase the number of calories in your diet significantly. A refreshing alternative is soda or sparkling water with a slice of lime, lemon and/or cucumber — in the right glass, no one will know you’re not drinking.

10. Avoid the worst foods

There’s nothing wrong with indulging in treats on special days — the major issue with extra Christmas calories is that we indulge too early or too late in the season. Don’t start munching on chocolate coated nuts and mince pies in November and continue through until January. From a weight control perspective the worst foods are those that are easy to overeat and packed full of the wrong types of fat — chocolates, baked goods and high calorie canapés that we often don’t even notice we’re eating.