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Healthy eating: A party season survival guide

How to relish the odd festive indulgence – without too much regret.

Mulled wine at Christmas time.

Sharon Curtain, Accredited Practising Dietitian 

We’re well into the swing of this busy, social and tinselly time of year. Between end of year parties, catch ups and work finishing up, there’s not much time to think about whether your life is in balance. If your calendar is looking fuller than Santa’s sleigh, it’s not surprising if your exercise time has been replaced with festive preparations and a usually healthy fridge is now bursting with wine and cheese.

One reason ‘get healthy’ and ‘lose weight’ are such popular New Year’s resolutions is the festivities that begin in November and continue right through into January. It’s so easy to over-consume calories (shortbread, mince pies, boxes of chocolates – and that’s before you’ve even left the office), under-consume nutrients (Christmas cake might be the closest we get to a piece of fruit), and to not even think about opening the drawer that our active wear sits in.

But weight gain, feeling sluggish, and struggling to get out of bed in the morning don’t have to be your reality over the festive season. Be prepared by starting each day with the question: ‘What do I have on today?’ Then consider some of the following strategies.

1. Be ready for a busy day

If you’re rushing between commitments, don’t resort to devouring a packet of nuts (a healthy choice, but portion control is the calorie issue), rice crackers or lollies to keep your energy up. Instead, pack yourself a lunchbox with healthy and filling foods like fruit, carrot, cucumber or celery sticks and some protein (roast chicken, ham, turkey, boiled eggs). Or, plan what you can grab while you’re out – stop for sushi, go past that place that makes a delicious salad, or pick up a meat and salad roll.

2. Never go to a party hungry

If you do, chances are your willpower will be at home curled up in front of the TV when the fried food and pastries wander past. For the healthiest party choices, try to stick to the fresh fruit, protein (meatballs, salmon, and antipasto platter) and crudités – a fancy word for cut up raw vegetables.

3. Be alcohol aware

We’re all here to celebrate, but those glasses of champagne or refreshing cold beer quickly add up. If you guestimate 500 kilojoules (125 calories) per glass of beer, wine, champagne or freehand poured spirits, drinking four glasses over a few hours easily adds 2000 kilojoules (500 calories) to your day. Mixers loaded with sugar (tonic, coke, lemonade) and premix spirits are also adding plenty of extra kilojoules. Try topping up with sparkling mineral water between drinks.

4. Limit office treats

If your office is full of Christmas cheer (that is, Christmas food), it’s a given that you’ll enjoy a shortbread, mince pie, or cute Christmas cupcake with your cup of tea. Little indulgences are good – just keep track of how many small treats you’re having. Keeping a food diary (on paper or a phone app) helps you keep track of the extras, and increases your awareness of how often you’re snacking.

5. Be a healthy host

If you’re the one throwing a party or hosting an event, great! Make healthy choices easier for everyone by providing plenty of lighter party food, like cut up vegetables and dip, big salads, a fresh fruit platter and meat options such as kebabs or lean meats, or fish.

6. Most importantly, be mindful

Try to take a moment to be aware of what you’re eating. Before you bite into that sausage roll, fried calamari or chocolate Santa, pause and ask yourself:

  • Am I hungry?
  • Do I want to eat this?
  • Do I even like the way it tastes?

Then you can decide if you want to eat all of it. We had it drilled into us as kids that we had to finish everything on our plates, but as adults, we have a choice to take a few bites and leave it if that’s all we really want. You might be surprised how often we only taste the first bite!

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