Statistics show that on average we can gain around half a kilo during the festive season thanks to the consumption and abundance of food and alcohol at this time of year. Some people can gain much more than that and unfortunately most people do not lose the weight they gain over the holidays.

You can see how easy it would be to gain more than five kilograms over 10 years if you do not actively try to lose this festive weight gain. So what can you do to avoid weight gain over the festive season?

Here are some tips:
1) Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly, savour every mouthful. This will result in eating less food and feeling fuller faster.

2) Watch your portion sizes. Eat off smaller plates and avoid going back for seconds unless it’s for salad/veggies.

3) Try to balance your plate with a variety of colourful foods. Festive foods are typically high in processed carbohydrates (white foods) that can raise your blood sugars and insulin resulting in hunger and fat storage. Try to balance your plate with this simple guide:
· ¼ plate carb-rich foods like pasta, rice, or bread
· ¼ – ½ plate of lean protein such as fish/octopus/calamari/shellfish (preferably grilled not fried), or chicken/red meat or, ideally, vegetable protein such as bean salad/stew or tofu or a dish containing egg/cheese/quinoa. Protein reduces hunger and appetite.
· ½ plate of fibre-rich colourful salads (containing wholegrains, nuts, seeds, legumes) and/or cooked veggies. Fibre also reduces hunger and appetite.

4) Cut down on taste testing when you are cooking/preparing foods. A small bite of less than a teaspoon is more than enough. Also avoid cooking when you are hungry.

5) Bring a healthy dish to share. We often have no control over the food that is being served at a party. Why not bring a healthy dish to share? This way you will have something to eat that aligns with your weight management goals.

6) Choose desserts wisely. Rather than eating every treat in sight, focus on your favourite and eat it slowly and mindfully, which may leave you feeling more satisfied.

7) Limit liquid calories.

Alcohol increases appetite and alters liver metabolism favouring fat storage, especially around your waist. Avoid drinking too much alcohol. Try diluting spirits and wine with plain soda water or sparkling water. Avoid soft drinks or tonics (if you must have these research suggests that the diet versions are still better than the full sugar versions). Choose water wherever possible!

8) Reduce the calories in recipes or simply make them healthier.

Baking: replace butter with apple sauce, banana or pumpkin puree (these are high in fibre and have less calories than fat); instead of sugar use stevia or erythritol; use dark chocolate or dried fruit instead of milk chocolate/lollies; use Greek yoghurt instead of cream/cream cheese; replace half the flour in cakes/biscuits etc with lupin flour (this is very high in protein/fibre and low in carbs). However you will need to warn your guests that your baked goods have lupin as it is an allergen.

Cooking: flavour dishes with herbs and spices and extra virgin olive oil instead of butter; use milk/Greek yoghurt instead of cream; use feta, cottage cheese, or ricotta instead of yellow cheeses; choose baking, steaming, roasting, casserolling over frying or barbequing. New research is showing that traditional ‘moist’ cooking methods like casseroles are now considered to be the healthiest way to cook because there is minimal browning/charring of ingredients which has been linked to cancer and other diseases. Why not cook a traditional Greek meat casserole instead of the usual lamb on the spit or BBQ?

9) Reduce your food intake the day after your festive eating. Significantly reducing your calorie intake and avoiding alcohol the following day after a feast can help correct any excess energy intake consumed thus avoiding weight gain. An easy way to do this is to have a late breakfast (after 11.00 am) the day after and ONE other meal i.e. finish eating for the day by 7.00 pm. This extended fasting period will give your liver a chance to break down the alcohol and stored fat/sugar from the day before!

*Associate Professor Antigone Kouris is a clinical dietitian working in Murrumbeena (Total Nutrition Care, suite 22/488 Neerim Rd, Murrumbeena, VIC. Tel: 03 94837013) and a senior academic at La Trobe University’s School of Allied Health (Discipline Dietetics and Human Nutrition) in the College of Science, Health and Engineering.