The beauty of living in Asia is there is always a big festivity coming up: Eid al-Fitr, Deepavali, Chinese New Year, Christmas or even just a wedding or birthday. While it’s always an opportunity to celebrate, having so many festivities also gives way to never-ending excuses to let loose for a day or two, or to just start on your healthy routine “next week”.
These are also the times we are often unkind to our bodies: we eat too much, drink too much, move away from our daily routines, gain weight, become stressed and usually end up having less energy after each celebration than we had before. Does it have to be this way? Can we enjoy these moments and still stay on track? Yes you can—and it starts right here.
First thing’s first—let’s talk food
Big buffets, dinners and lunches with friends and family—it’s easy to see why food is one of the most common issues during festive periods. These situations invite us to eat more than we usually would.
Here is a fact: we actually eat 25% more when we eat with one to two other people, and up to 40% more than our body actually needs when we eat with four or more people. This happens as you don’t concentrate on eating. You chat about your lives, tell stories, think about the things that happened to you recently, listen to news from others…. everything except monitor what you are eating. So you eat, eat and eat, without realising the amount of food you are putting into your body.
Photo credit: Saveur.com
Before you go to a celebratory meal, drink a big glass of room temperature water—this will temporarily fill your stomach so you tend to eat less. Instead of starting with the main dish, begin with something lighter like a salad and some greens. By the time you are ready for your main, you should feel less hungry, and will eat less. Always choose the healthier variation where possible: grilled instead of fried, a side of vegetables instead of fries or more white rice.
If you are at a buffet, use a smaller plate. Studies have shown that the bigger the plate, the more you eat. So choose the smallest plate you can find and place less on it. If you are still hungry after the first one, then go for a second one—but first ask yourself: “Am I still hungry? Does my body really need more?”
Even if you are with other people try to concentrate on your food: feel the texture, the taste and chew each bite to savour the flavour. If you want to tell a story, put your cutlery aside and stop eating—don’t do both things at the same time.
Studies have also shown that the light where you are eating impacts your appetite and how much you actually eat. Darkened rooms like a candle-lit dinner encourage us to eat more, whilst blue or bright light stimulates us to eat less.
And don’t forget drinks
Don’t underestimate the calories from drinks—especially alcoholic drinks. For example, one simple apple juice has about 120 calories, one glass of red wine about 150 calories and a cocktail like a mojito around 200kcal. Now consider how many calories you consume when you drink three or more glasses.
The most important thing to remember is to not see festivities as an “all you can eat occasion”. Make a plan and commit yourself to staying on track as much as possible. Don’t go into “it doesn’t matter, it’s celebration time” mode—this is the fast-track to trouble!
When maintaining your health during festive times, plan ahead. Plan when you’ll eat and what you’ll eat. If you know that you will go to a dinner in the evening, try to eat consistently throughout the day so you don’t arrive hungry and over-indulge.
You’re now armed with some strategies to maintain healthy eating behaviours, but what about exercise routine? Don’t see the festive seasons as a free pass—keep exercising and make it a priority even in your busy schedule. The side effect here is that you will feel stronger and healthier, and more conscious of the calories you put in your body. Plan your days and make time for a quick workout—whatever you do, move daily. It also won’t hurt to get your family and friends involved too—how about a short walk after lunch?