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Battle of the festive bulge

Post baby Belle, having just experimented with my first pair of Spanx, I'm feeling a little depressed. Spanx might be amazing at flattening down your extra inches but the excess does have to go somewhere. So whilst right now I have an impossibly flat stomach (courtesy of the tightest lycra known to man) I also have an extra roll of flab underneath my armpits.

It goes away when I stand up, but I do plan on sitting down at some point over Christmas. With this in mind, it seems I have no choice but to rein myself in a little food-wise and even Do Some Exercise. Sigh.

This is all very well, but watching what you eat seems especially mean during the festive season. Between the parties and all the fun things to buy in the shops, it's not all that easy to eat healthily.

Even I find it hard! Still, putting on a pound of weight only requires an extra 3,500 calories which is much easier to rack up than you may think. For example, one small glass of eggnog contains 400 calories; a glass of mulled wine, a whopping 686, and canapés tend to account for 50-75 calories each, more if it's something deep-fried or covered in cheese.

So with this in mind brace yourselves it's time for my annual lecture on dietary damage limitation.

And whilst I don't think this is a great time of year for lifestyle change, there are certainly things you can do to make your health goals easier in January. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the festive season more healthily, and remember, this time around, we're in it together!

1. Serve healthy options at your own party.

If you're throwing your own party, make sure you have some healthy canapés to hand. I'm not suggesting that you try and impress your friends with mini rice cakes, instead try the following. They're more healthy and tasty too.

l Cherry tomatoes stuffed with hummus or goats cheese

l Dips with toasted pita and vegetable crudités instead of chips

l Melon wrapped in prosciutto

l Wholegrain crackers with smoked salmon and crème fraiche

l Strips of rye toast topped with guacamole and fresh cilantro

l Fresh fruit dipped in melted dark chocolate

2. Don't go to a drinks party hungry.

A drinks party isn't a drinks party without canapés. But whilst canapés can be delicious they can also be laden with calories…. deep-fried shrimp, mini pizzas and filo pastry cups are all hard to resist, especially if you're hungry! However you can be guaranteed that there will be more calories in the amount of canapés it takes to fill you up than in a healthy meal. So if possible, eat before the party and only have two or three canapés with your drinks. If it's not possible to have a full meal before you go, have a healthy snack (e.g. an apple and some unsalted nuts) beforehand. As a last resort, if canapés are going to take the place of your evening meal, then just try to make healthy choices. Many venues serve crudités and dip, fruit kebabs and chicken skewers, which are all healthier options.

3. Limit your drinks and choose mixers carefully.

Alcohol provides you with “empty calories” i.e. lots of calories, without making you feel full. If you over-indulge you are also more likely to get an attack of the munchies later on, stopping off for some fries or a burger on the way home. So, limit yourself to two or three drinks, with a few glasses of water in between. Coke, lemonade, ginger ale, ginger beer and tonic water are all loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners both of which worsen your hangover. The sugary mixers can also cause weight gain as remember, excess sugar in the bloodstream, can be stored in the body as fat. If you are drinking spirits, then choose soda water as a mixer or fruit juice diluted with LOTS of ice. Champagne, red wine and vodka with soda water are some of the better options.

4.Go carefully at the buffet table.

Try to limit yourself to the equivalent of one course! Your body can only handle so much food at once. What it doesn't need immediately can get stored as fat. Instead, eating little and often actually helps to boost your metabolism.

5.Don't keep too many treats in the house.I always remember our kitchen being stuffed full of Christmas treats when I was little and because it was there, we ate it, even if we weren't hungry. For this reason, buy and make treats in moderation. If you enjoy baking at Christmas, give plenty away too.

6. Convert traditional high-fat, high-sugar recipes into healthier versions.

Baking doesn't always require such a high-sugar content. Try using one-third less sugar or replacing the sugar altogether with unsweetened apple sauce. It's also important to limit saturated or hydrogenated fats, as these are the fats that cause weight gain and clog up your arteries. Margarine is often less healthy than butter, however, important exceptions are some of the healthier vegan margarines. My favourite is the Earth Balance margarine from Down to Earth or Lindo's. It has no cholesterol, no hydrogenated fat and lower saturated fat than many of the others. It's particularly good in baking.

7. Never say never.

If you ban your favourite treats entirely from your diet for months on end, you are much more likely to fall off the wagon. If you are generally following a healthy eating plan and don't have any serious health concerns, there is no reason why you shouldn't have the odd treat.

8.Introduce some exercise-orientated holiday traditions.

Ever notice how most of our Christmas traditions revolve around food? Try and shift the focus away from the table by starting some new exercise-orientated traditions such as a Boxing Day walk along Horseshoe Bay or a treasure hunt in the Botanical Gardens. Exercise is a crucial component of weight management and is especially important when preventing weight gain over the holidays. Healthy adults should aim to do 30 minutes of appropriate exercise for six days a week more if you've eaten too many of those canapés.

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. She can be contacted at nourishbda[AT]gmail.com.

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Published December 03, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 13, 2010 at 2:41 pm)

Battle of the festive bulge

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