It’s that time of the year that we’ve all been waiting for. That time when we open our houses to family and friends to break fast and indulge in food, glorious food. Times of celebration don’t often do our bodies any good though and Eid, the Festival of Breaking Fast is no exception.
We tend to eat too much, drink too many sweet drinks and exercise falls to the wayside. By the end of the celebrations, we’ve gained weight, are more stressed out and have less energy than when it all started! But does it have to be like this? Can we enjoy the festivities while keeping healthy? Why yes, you can. And here are some tips on how to do that!
1. Be mindful of what you eat
A study conducted by John de Castro looked into how eating with different sized groups affected food intake. His findings showed that “meals eaten with one other person present were 33% larger than meals eaten alone, whereas 47%, 58%, 69%, 70%, 72%, and 96% increases were associated with two, three, four, five, six, and seven or more people present, respectively.”
Now that’s a whole lot more food than you would ever eat alone. Throw in the fact that you’ll be visiting more than one open house and the effects are compounded. Instead of concentrating on what you are eating, you’d be chatting about your lives and sharing new stories. You do everything except realise the amount of calories that you are putting into your body. Let’s put a stop to this and be more mindful of the situation.
2. Drink water in advance
Before each meal, drink a big glass of water at room temperature. This will trick your body into feeling full. When you arrive at the buffet table, you will have a limited appetite, forcing you to choose what you eat wisely and according to your hunger.
3. Continue drinking water throughout the day
Continue to drink water and only water as most of the drinks served during Raya contain high amounts of sugar. One glass of ‘air bandung’ (that pretty pink drink) contains approximately 150 calories and over 20 grams of sugar. This will spike your blood sugar levels making you crave more food and even more sugar causing you to end up standing near the dessert table!
4. Choose your plate size
Studies have shown that the bigger the plate, the more you eat. Try to use the smallest plate you can find and fill it up with less food than you need. Remember, it’s not a race - you can always come back for more.
5. Start with greens
Start with the greenest dish possible, such as ulam, or a few sticks of satay with lots of cucumber and a drizzle of peanut sauce. When you eat, it takes around 15 to 20 minutes for the full range of satiety to reach the brain. By the time you finish this and decide to make your way back to the buffet table, you should be feeling pretty full and your second serving of food will be more reasonable and controlled.
6. Taste and savour rather than devour
Lontong, rendang, curry laksa, sambal – These dishes are delicious but one should still practice restraint. Rather than eating as much as you can because the food is only available once a year (although it really isn’t), be sensible about your portion sizes by tasting and savouring each dish.
7. Ask yourself questions
Before you go back for more food, always ask yourself - “Am I really still hungry? Does my body need more?”
8. Concentrate on your food
Although you will be distracted by the company of others, try to concentrate on your food. Feel the texture, the taste and chew each bite for 20 to 30 times. If you want to tell a story, put your cutlery aside and stop eating rather than trying to do both things at the same time.
9. Plan ahead
For many people, the first day of Raya consists of visiting two to three houses, if not more. The risk of overindulging is high especially seeing that it is impolite to decline the food your host has so graciously prepared. You can circumvent this though with a bit of planning and thinking ahead. Start the day with a bit of fruit as you don’t want to arrive at the first open house on an empty stomach - that’s just asking for trouble! Knowing that you have a few houses to visit, choose just one dish to eat at each place, saving space for another dish at the next.
10. Continue exercising
The festive season isn’t an “exercise-free time of the year”. In fact, this is usually the time of year that you’ll have more free time on your hands. Plan your schedule and make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. If you have a trainer, ask him or her to recommend some exercises that you can do at home. You can also get the whole family involved and go for a short walk in the evening or play a bit of badminton in the backyard. Continuing to exercise through Raya will ensure that you are more careful about the calories that you consume so that you’ll be healthier and more energised once the festivities are over.
With lunch here and dinner there on top of preparing for celebrations at home, it can be easy to get stressed out. Enjoy Raya for what it is supposed to be about - restoring your energy levels while spending time with family and friends. Amidst all the socialising, allow yourself at least 15 minutes every day to relax. If you have more free time available, go and treat yourself to a foot massage or spa treatment.
12. Make a commitment
The most important thing is to avoid viewing Raya as an “all-you-can-eat” season. By switching to “it doesn’t matter, it’s celebration time” mode, you’re already starting out on the wrong foot. Make a commitment to staying as healthy as possible. Ask your partner, friend or relative to constantly check up on your health throughout Raya so that you can stay on track. Communicate your successes and challenges to them every day. With someone else on your team, you will be more committed to your exercise and nutrition plans, increasing the likelihood of success.
So to sum it all up, plan ahead, think positive, choose what you eat, exercise and find some time to relax. Above all, enjoy this year’s Raya festivities with your loved ones and tell us how you get on!
 De Castro, John, ‚Eating Behaviour: Lessons From The Real Word of Humans’, Nutrition Volume 16, Number 10, 2000