4 Smart Strategies That’ll Help You Outsmart Festive Fat Traps

You’ve worked too hard to blow your progress now! Follow our easy advice for staying on track amid the string of festive invitations.


Leslie Goldman and Gotlhokwang Angoma |

’Tis the season of cocktail parties, finger food and family get-togethers. And when your social schedule begins to expand, so does your waistline. “Most people attend tons of festive events – and nearly all of them revolve around fattening food,” says Dr Michelle May, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. Add the seasonal stress and zero time to cook or hit the gym, and you have a recipe for holiday weight gain. Well, not this year. Here’s a plan to outsmart festive fat traps.

At the office holiday party…

The danger: An open bar and endless platters of samoosas and sausage rolls.

THE PLAN

Step 1: Keep Moving
If you’re planted next to the food table, you’ll shovel chips and dip into your mouth all night long. “So stay far away – literally,” says Cape Town-based dietician Berna Harmse. “Network and spend time chatting to your colleagues – it takes your mind off the urge to overeat. Having a snack before the function is also a good idea, so you don’t arrive hungry.”

Step 2: Be Picky
Those hors d’oeuvres being served at every turn are small, but they add up – fast. To avoid eating 8 400kJ worth of canapés, limit yourself to three that you love. Been waiting all year for pancetta-wrapped or caviar-topped treats? Go for it. But pass on the crumbed chicken strips and deep-fried mushrooms.

Step 3: Sip Smartly
With alcohol, the goal is to keep both your kilojoules and your buzz under control.

A single shot of vodka, gin or rum. Mix it with soda water and a squeeze of lime and it’ll only set you back about 400kJ.
Sparkling wine. Not only is it low on the kilojoule chart – around 330 to 500 per glass – but it’s also more likely to be sipped rather than guzzled.
Light beer or ciders. Most have fewer than 600kJ per serving. If you’re the type to have several within minutes (no judgement!), rather pour your drink into a glass and only halfway each time – it will last longer.

Out Shopping…

The danger: Having to make decisions diminishes people’s willpower. So all the choices you face at the mall (point-and-shoot camera or digital camcorder for your man? Espresso machine or plunger for Mom?) will make you that much more vulnerable to other temptations.

THE PLAN

Step 1: Pack Snacks
Malls are filled with kiosks and takeaway joints. Keeping portion-controlled goodies in your bag will make other snacks easier to resist. Stick 30 pistachios or 24 almonds in a Ziploc bag with two dried plums, or tote a fibre-filled protein bar. The carb/protein combo will keep you full.

Step 2: Sidestep Seasonal Ploys
An economic theory called the scarcity principle explains why we’re such suckers for festive treats. “Decades of research shows that items we perceive as being in limited supply seem more desirable to us than non-scarce items,” says Professor Kathleen Vohs, co-author of Do Emotions Help Or Hurt Decision Making? And once-a-year festive drinks and sweets are often more kilojoule-filled than regular ones, so see them as annual traps, not treats.

Step 3: Chew On It 
Pop in a piece of gum to keep your mouth occupied and out of trouble. Gum can satisfy a sweet craving, and studies show that the chewing sensation sends appetite-suppressant messages to your brain.

At the family dinner…

The danger: Mom has made all your childhood faves. Food variety may be the spice of life, but it’s the scourge of your scale.

THE PLAN

Step 1: B.Y.O.D 
Offer to bring a healthy dish. Your stressed-out hostess will welcome the contribution and you’ll have a safe go-to.

Step 2: Choose Your Load 
Harmse suggests filling half your plate with salads – which will leave less space for the foods you want to avoid. But, she says, don’t be too hard on yourself – one dinner isn’t going to throw you completely out of whack; it’s the other 364 days that really count.

Step 3: Practice Portion Control
Your total amount of carbs – potatoes, garlic bread and stuffing – should be the size of your fist. “The same goes for lean proteins, which should be the size and thickness of your palm (no fingers),” advises Harmse.

Minus the gym…

The danger: Zipping to the mall, zooming to the airport… Where’s the time to squeeze in a sweat session?

THE PLAN

Step 1: Walk Everywhere
“Look for opportunities to walk more during your travels,” suggests WH fitness advisor Dr Kim Nolte. Opt to take the stairs at the airport instead of the escalator and walk with your suitcase through the terminals instead of taking a shuttle or using a travelator.

Step 2: Start An After-Meal Festive Tradition
“Get people to immediately shift away from the table and take part in a family sport tournament,” says Nolte. Try touch rugby, cricket or soccer (get the cute nephews and nieces to pressurise the adults). There’s something about getting your sweat on without stepping into the gym. The competition will burn some extra kilojoules and get everyone away from the
food for a while.

Step 3: Burn Fat With Your Body Weight 
“Going to an active holiday destination provides some fun activities to keep you moving, like hiking, swimming in the sea or other watersports,” says Nolte. Strapped for cash? You can get your heart pumping, without any gym equipment, right at home. Do as many reps of each exercise (below) as you can in one minute, moving from one to the next without stopping. Rest for 90 seconds, then repeat the circuit three or four times.

– Star jumps Stand with your feet together and hands at your sides. Simultaneously raise your arms above your head and jump your feet out to the sides. Immediately reverse the movement and jump back to the start.

– Burpees Squat to place your hands on the ground, jump back into push-up position and do a push-up. Reverse the move to return to a standing position, jumping off the ground to finish each rep.

– Line hops Keeping your knees slightly bent and feet together, hop from side to side, imagining you’re jumping over line on the floor.

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