Picture: Pexels / August de Richelieu
Picture: Pexels / August de Richelieu

The art of staying healthy during the festive season

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Dec 3, 2021

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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.

Ditching your weight loss or weight management plans or letting go of your health-conscious habits over the festive season stresses both body and mind. Of course, you want to enjoy yourself, and it’s certainly not the time to deprive yourself, but you can avoid the holidays becoming an extended binge by using strategies to moderate the inevitable excesses.

Nathalie Mat, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), says: “Healthy eating during the holidays might take some thought, but it is really manageable. Having access to healthy food is key. If there is healthy food in your fridge, you will eat it. The same goes when you travel – you do not need to eat every meal out and on the run.

“You can buy healthy food and pack meals or snacks just the same way you would if you were home. Make sure there is an abundance of salads and vegetables at each meal. Serve these onto your plate first, and fill half or more of your plate with them. This will help you to keep the portions of rich meats and roast potatoes small.”

Aneeka Buys, who is a fitness trainer and Under Armour Athlete, says: “It can be quite tough to manage healthy eating over the holidays. What I stay mindful of is including variety, consuming whole foods most of the time, and avoiding overeating. Just like your body, these are things you have to train your mind to be aware of. Eventually, they become habits that are easy to implement into everyday life.’’

She says you can indulge a little bit more, especially with desserts, but I try not to overeat. When your body says it's had enough and feels satiated, you can stop eating.

When it comes to diet and cooking tips to cut down excess calorie intake this festive season, Buys says, drink a glass of water before your meal. “Lots of times, we mistake thirst for hunger because our primal response to both is the same, and we are actually more thirsty than we are hungry.”

She says adding variety is beneficial as well. “We are going to indulge, that’s a fact, but adding low GI, high-nutrient foods will make us less likely to binge on high sugar, fast energy foods. Add high fibre foods to your diet. This will not only keep you fuller for longer, but it will also help maintain your gut health.

“Cut down on high sugar and refined carbohydrate foods after 4 pm. Your metabolic rate slows down as the sun sets, and your body will end up holding onto all this excess energy as stored fat,” Buys recommends.

To make sure you are, you stay on the health wagon. “Make your greens interesting. I love beautiful food and often add pomegranate seeds, nectarine slices or roast veggies to salads.

“Be kind to yourself this holiday season. You are meant to enjoy your time and not obsess over your weight or a little bit of extra fat here or there. Stay mindful of your nutrition for health, not for body shape.

“Stay fit and active: walking is the most underrated form of exercise! And a very social activity too,” she concluded.

For those who are determined to stay healthy during the holidays. Herbalife Nutrition shares tips on how you can get right.

Get enough rest

Late nights are inevitable during party season, but that doesn’t mean you should go without the sleep you need. Without work to worry about, there’s no reason to get up at the crack of dawn. Move your usual morning exercise session out by an hour or two or train in the late afternoon. That way, you’re less likely to succumb to heat exhaustion, and it will help energise you for evening festivities.

If you're a runner, you could replace your usual outdoor jogs with another activity that’s safe to enjoy during the heat of the day. Indoor sports like squash are a good option, or you can go for a swim in an indoor pool. However, if you feel you can’t start your day without pounding the pavement, it’s a good idea to squeeze in an afternoon nap to ensure your body has time to refresh after a late night.

Stick to good habits

As far as possible, try to stick to your regular morning wellness routine without sucking all the joy out of your time off. It’s easy to get side-tracked once the day gets underway. Boost your energy levels with your usual healthy breakfast, and remember to take your vitamins or supplements as you do throughout the year. When you get off to a good start, it’s easier to stay in a healthy mindset, no matter what the day brings.

Make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day by investing in a refillable water bottle and keeping it close at hand. When travelling in foreign countries or even visiting another province, playing tourist means that you’ll often be out and about when hunger strikes. Get into the habit of carrying a few healthy snacks, such as a protein bar, protein shake, or fruit, in your handbag or backpack. That way, you’ll be sure to have a nutritious snack on hand until you make it to your next meal.

Balance is the key

It’s easy to think of health and fitness as the boring route when everyone else is throwing caution to the wind during the holidays. Don’t fall into this trap – by staying mindful of what you're eating and doing and choosing the healthier route when you can, you'll survive the festive season without too much impact on your hard-earned fitness. But remember to still have fun and enjoy yourself – life is all about balance, after all.

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