By Carol Anthony 9/12/2020 Edited  13/12/2021

2021 has been a challenging year for most people.  We all really need to unwind, have some fun (safely) and enjoy the holiday season.

When it comes to health, wellness and weight loss, the holiday season threatens to unravel the hard work you’ve put in all year. We eat cleanly, exercise like crazy, so focused on being ‘ready for summer’ only to potentially do a lot of damage within the space of a few weeks, if not days, of the holiday season. All that hard work undone, leaving you feeling bloated, lethargic, unhealthy and sadly, the ensuing weight gain.

However, few healthy festive season hacks can keep you on track, or at the very least minimise the damage so that you start the new year on the healthy note.

December is a special time in South Africa, the weather is gorgeous, it is the end of the school year. The festive season is a time to celebrate. With this comes lots of festive eating, usually a fair amount of alcohol, a more relaxed routine and often no formal exercise. Late nights, along with copious amounts of rich food and alcohol can leave you feeling bloated and lethargic. This can also be a very stressful time for many people. Targets to reach, uncertainty about the new year, financial stress, it can be a very challenging time.

So let’s look at a few easy strategies to at least minimise the damage while still having a great festive season.

Holiday Hustle #1 – Eating

Every meal does not have to be an ‘all-fall-down.’ For the most, stay on track and eat as you would normally eat. The odd ‘off-limit’ meal here or there and on special celebratory days, will not derail you, but 2 or 3 weeks of continuous eating in excess, high calorie, low nutrient food will do damage.

Keep it clean when you can

Don’t ‘eat-it-all’ just because you can. Overeating results in a huge calorie excess and ensuing weight gain. Pace yourself, eat slowly and choose wisely. Fill up on salads and protein, go easy on carbs, they are easy to overeat on, will raise your blood sugar levels then drop you down, craving more. Protein will keep you satiated for longer.

Pace yourself

Beware of snacks. Those crisps, roasted nuts, the sweetie bowl, pretzels and dried fruit.  They’re all so easy to overeat on. They’re right in front of you and you keep reaching out for another handful. These kind of snacks are inevitably high in carbs, sugar, fats and salt. We often don’t factor this random eating into our day’s intake, increasing our overall calories for the day beyond a reasonable limit. Avoid the snacks if possible, eat only what you dish up on your plate.

Skip the snacks

Assist with meals and the planning of meals over the holiday period. Either ensure that there will be something healthy for you to eat, or, if in doubt, take a dish with you to add to the meal. This way you know there will always be something suitable for you to eat. Most people really want to be eating healthily and will appreciate a lower calorie, healthy option.

Choose healthy options

If you do fall off the wagon, a meal or even a day, don’t feel that all is lost. Get back on track right away. Make the next meal a healthy one. Have no regret, no anger and beware of falling into the starve-binge cycle. It’s done, move on, exercise the next day, drink lots of water and get right back on track.

Hop back on the healthy wagon

If at all possible, don’t arrive hungry. When attending a function or even a family lunch, you can be sure that there will be a fair wait until the meal is served. When you are ravenous it is often impossible to make sensible decisions. You will overeat and only realise it when it is too late. Eat a protein or fat snack before you leave home, a handful of nuts, even a boiled egg. This will keep you satiated until the meal is served and enable you to make better and healthier choices.

Don’t arrive hungry

Try to tune into your body, eat only enough to feel satisfied and stop before you are overfull. Remember that thirst or tiredness is often misread as ‘hungry’. Listen to your body and eat mindfully this holiday season.

Eat mindfully

Hack #2 – Stay Active

Most people are committed to exercising all year round. Holiday time seems a perfect opportunity to take a break. It is good to give your body a rest, especially if your training is usually quite rigorous. However, don’t stop completely, for a few reasons:

Your body has become accustomed to the calorie burn. Fewer calories burnt during the holiday season, along with increased calories from holiday eating and drinking will inevitably lead to weight gain.

Stopping completely makes it harder to get back into regular exercising in the new year.

Rather find an alternate way of staying active if you are unable to exercise formally. Outdoor activities, walks on the beach, pool games and hiking are all fun ways of staying active over the holiday season.

If you do overindulge, be sure to stay active the next day as an effective way of doing damage control. Starting your day with a fun activity (eg. a walk on the beach) also sets the tone for a healthy eating day.

If you have been carrying small training niggles during this year, this is an ideal time to nurture your body. Stretch and flexibility sessions, flow and mobility routines can be most beneficial over the holidays. Enjoy a massage, have relaxing Epsom salt baths and really pamper your body at this time. Remember to stay well hydrated in the hot weather which characterises our holiday season.

Hack #3 – Drinking: water and alcohol

The holiday season is typically characterised by the old adage ‘eat, drink and be merry’.  However, you need to pace yourself and avoid overindulging. Make sure you have a glass of water between meals and drinks to make sure you stay hydrated.

Be sure to eat between alcoholic beverages and try to alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Set yourself a limit and drink slowly, avoid binge-drinking. Try not to drink every day, give your body a chance to recover in between.

Hack #4 – Get enough sleep

This is a busy time of the year, between work, socialising and holiday preparations you may find yourself a little short on sleep. Being tired is bound to increase your appetite and make you feel more hungry while reducing your motivation to exercise. When you are tired it is also harder to cope with stress. Pace yourself when it comes to nights out, plan a few early nights in between and schedule some afternoon naps.

Hack #5 – Manage Stress

While the holiday season is meant to be a fun time, it can also be stressful; reaching financial targets, completing work, shopping, entertaining and managing family dynamics all add a fair amount of stress. Be gentle on yourself. 2020 has been an unprecedented year, with stresses that we have never had to deal with before. Take time out to pamper yourself, be sure to get some early nights, organise to spend time with special friends and schedule time to rest.


This holiday season, look after your health, practice social distancing, wear a mask, sanitize regularly and STAY SAFE.

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