At this time of year eating and drinking to excess seems to be part of the festive blueprint. We eat more than we regularly would, and that extra energy from alcohol and treats can really add up, causing us to stack on extra kilos.
If you're looking to shed that weight or prevent gaining it in the first place, the diet advice from two dietitians may surprise you.
Dana Winik, an accredited practising dietitian from Munch Dietetics in Bondi, and Rosie Stern, an accredited practising dietitian at Sydney Food Wise, say indulging over the break is OK, and there's no need to avoid foods or restrict yourself when it comes to holiday treats. .
Winik says that overindulging isn't the end of the world – one or two weeks of the year won't steer you off track.
"Will you gain weight? Possibly, but most importantly you can always lose the excess weight after normality has returned," she says.
During the Christmas period, Stern's top tip is to limit alcohol consumption.
"Excessive alcohol intake leads to an increased appetite, which leads to having larger portions and more serves of food," she says.
"Have a low energy non-alcoholic drink in between your alcoholic drinks. When drinking alcohol, have low alcohol drinks like spirits such as vodka with soda water or mineral water."
She recommends regulating your portion sizes, and filling your plate with the healthier options, such as baked or steamed vegetables, legumes and green salads, before adding the less nutritious options.
Winik agrees we should not avoid certain foods over the holiday period in the name of health.
"I am not one to exclude any foods in someone's diet. Whether it's a glass of wine or that delicious chocolate brownie you have been waiting to have, allow yourself to indulge a little, most importantly guilt-free," she says.
Avoid the "all or nothing" approach, Winik says. Instead, aim to make healthy choices most of the time, allowing yourself to indulge in a few treats you've been looking forward to.
Put the overindulging guilt behind you and look forward to a healthier lifestyle.Dana Winick, an accredited practising dietitian
"The holiday period is all about family, friends and good food and alcohol," she says.
To help keep you on track, Winik suggests having a good-quality healthy snack before festive functions.
"Walking into a buffet of delicious food when you're starving can make for a very challenging time," she says.
"Too much variety leads to overconsumption. Try and choose one treat that you really want, as opposed to a bit of everything."
Christmas also isn't the time for major diet changes.
"Reassess your goals and ensure that they are realistic," Winik says. "If you are trying to lose weight but know during this time it will be more challenging, weight stabilisation may be more appropriate."
When the holidays do come to an end, Winik and Stern agree no diet is the best diet in order to ditch those holiday kilos.
"Put the overindulging guilt behind you and look forward to a healthier lifestyle," Winik says.
"I don't believe in dieting; I do however believe in lifestyle changes. I would recommend going back to basics."
"Ensure you are eating a balanced diet which includes lean sources of protein, crowding your plate with vegetables and including good sources of low-GI carbohydrates."
Stern agrees, saying no specific diet will help you shed theholiday weight gain, it simply comes down to consuming less energy from food and drink throughout the day.
"After the festive season ends, a combination of some exercise and a reduction in the total energy, fats, sweet foods and alcohol intake per day results in the extra weight slowly dropping off," Stern says.
She suggests including foods from each of the five food groups (vegetables and legumes, fruit, grains, lean protein and dairy), and sticking to recommended serving sizes.
Winik recommends making lifestyle changes, rather than embarking on a strict diet.
"If you're wanting to lose weight healthy and keep it off, no diet will give you that. Changing your lifestyle can assist you in losing weight and keeping it off," she says.
She recommends seeing a dietitian for expert nutrition and personalised dietary advice.
"Because of the hype around social media and online nutrition platforms, it can be really difficult to sieve through the misinformation," she says.
The key message? Let those holiday kilos drop off naturally, and aim to make healthy decisions most of the time, with a few treats in between. Enjoy the festive period – and don't feel guilty for doing so.
Tips for healthy holiday eating
- If you're asked to bring a dish to an event, bring your favourite salad - that way you'll have at least one healthy option to graze on.
- If eating out at a restaurant, have a look at the menu beforehand. Always order a side of salad or vegetables to bulk up your meal and increase nutrient intake.
- Take advantage of the warm weather, and walk to and from social events.
- Planning ahead is the key to success. Try opting for a few alcohol-free days in between events if possible.
- Be mindful of your alcohol intake. Alcohol is energy-dense and low in nutrients, so stick to low-kilojoule options such as vodka, lime and soda, and alternate with non-alcoholic drinks such as water or kombucha.
- Let go of the guilt. Indulge in moderation - try all of your favourite treats, just watch your portion sizes.
- Don't need to eat until you're in a food coma. Eat slowly, enjoy every bite, and stop before you're full. You don't have to eat all the food now - there will be more later.
- Stay hydrated. You're more likely to make better food choices when you're hydrated, as your body often mistakes thirst for hunger.