It’s the season to be jolly – and to forget one’s diet. Not only because the food is so tempting it’s a pain to ignore it, but also because family reunions are all about sharing – and to refuse to partake of a feast that took Mom and Grandma days to prepare is to risk being disinherited and disowned by the clan.
And yet there’s also the cardiac waiting to happen and the possibility of keeling over just when you’re enjoying your second helping of queso de bola and Chinese ham.
But cheer up! Thanks to sensible advice from two nutritionists and dietitians, it is possible to enjoy the best of the season without paying too high a price. A few tips to get you started:
1. Mind over belly. Nutrition dietitian Blecenda Miranda Varona, DrPH, RND, who has made it her second career to rescue patients from “unsurvivable” heart diseases and diabetes, stressed that one needs to be in the right mind before the special occasion. “Remind yourself of the after-effects of eating unhealthy foods.” But she cautioned, “Avoid being a dietary scrooge to others. “Do not lecture on healthy eating during parties — that is not the right time to give negative comments on unhealthy dishes.”
2. Think of variety, moderation, balance and activity. This should be your mantra this Christmas. Victor J. Alfonso Jr., Food and Nutrition Research Institute’s science research specialist at the Research Utilization and Management Division, said, “Eat a variety of foods and balance it with correct portions from each of the food groups. Just eat enough, not in excess or lacking.
“You can enjoy one or two small treats so you don’t feel deprived, but don’t go back for thirds and fourths. If you overfill your plate, you are more likely to eat a much larger portion than usual, so go easy!” He added: “Also take into account your feeling of fullness. Don’t keep nibbling just because food is there. Position yourself away from the buffet table. This will prevent you from grabbing small servings every now and then.”
3. Have a healthy snack before you go to a party or function. “Filling foods such as sandwiches or a bowl of cereal is a good idea,” said Alfonso. Added Varona: “Eat a high-fiber snack before you go to the event.”
4. Visualize a healthy meal. Before going to a friend’s Noche Buena party, Varona said you should already decide and imagine yourself making food choices.
But what should you imagine about? According to Varona:
Choose vegetables, fruits, vegetable salads and healthy desserts
Choose pasta and non-meat entrees
Avoid dips, gravies, dressings, and sauces as much as possible
Get small servings so you won’t be forced to finish what you would eventually realize as unhealthy.
5. Take a healthy dish with you. If possible, take a “healthy dish” to contribute to the event, and make sure it looks and tastes good, Varona said. If you’re hosting the party, Alfonso suggested that you should encourage guests to take home the leftovers so you’re not tempted to over-indulge the following day.
6. Tame your appetite. According to Varona, this means: a) Do not go out to eat when famished; b) Stick to a reasonable eating schedule; c) And eat high-fiber snacks before the event
7. Choose a healthier drink. A few tips from Varona: Choose water over any other beverage. Stay away from alcohol – many people find it hard to make healthy choices after an alcoholic drink. Ask for herb teas rather than caffeinated drinks. If you want to drink something other than water, consider the calories in your choices: Grape juice – 180 cal/cup; Apple, cranberry, pineapple juice – 120cal/cup; Orange – 80 cal/cup. Water has 0 calories, giving you enough calorie room to enjoy more solid foods.
8. Eat slowly, then ease out. When you’re finished eating, remove yourself from the food area if possible.
9. Focus on the people for whom the social event was planned, and not just on the dining table, said Varona. Engage more in social activities than in dining.
10. If you can no longer control yourself, think of how dangerous some foods are, even beyond the calories. Chemicals got to your food first before you did. They’re in your meat and seafood. A few years back, biochemistry, molecular and nutritional oncology specialist Dr. Romy de Villa revealed to INQUIRER that the race for faster livestock production in the agribusiness sector has resulted in unnatural practices and, worse, could set the breeding ground for new strains of viruses and toxins. Veterinarian Rosemarie Antegro of the viral vaccine production laboratory of the Bureau of Animal Industry, added: “What’s (disturbing) in food production is the abundance of vaccines, drugs and growth promoters in meat. The residues are dangerous.”
11. Go Christmas shopping! In his FNRI digest “Is your Christmas naughty or nice?”, Alfonso shared his own take on “how to effortlessly burn few calories this season while having fun,” and this includes “walking around the mall. You just can’t get a better activity combination!”
12. Do the old standard. Park your vehicle a few meters from the building and walk. Yes, it’s an old tip but still one of the best. Use the stairs instead of the elevators and escalators.
13. Wrap those packages! And once yours are all bundled-up, volunteer to wrap some more.
14. Bake some home-made holiday bread. It’s great exercise due to the kneading, and makes for a great personalized gift, too!
15. Grab some friends and go caroling. A brisk walk along the neighborhood will give you and your friends a great workout. •