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Strategies for special occasions

'Tis the season to be jolly! Here we have advice for getting through the festive season while following a weight-loss plan.

Christmas parties are fun, but they can be a trap when we're trying to lose weight. Here are strategies for avoiding nibble overload:

  • Compensate during the rest of the day. This doesn't mean not eating – it means choosing carefully and not being so hungry you pig out at the party. The prospect of late nights and alcohol make good nutrition all the more important.
  • Go for small amounts. Try one of each canapé, eat slowly and enjoy. 'Tis the season to be jolly, but also the season to eat slowly.
  • Beware of nuts. They are too easy to eat and full of fat. Try shelled varieties like pistachios which take slightly longer to eat.
  • Don't stand near the food. Remember – easy access encourages mindless picking.
  • At a buffet. Have more of fewer foods, rather than a little of lots. This eating strategy will mean you will more likely eat less overall.
  • If you're throwing a party, offer alternatives. Avoid pastries and cheeses. Include platters of vegetable sticks to accompany dips instead of chips. Chopped fresh fruit is a refreshing addition to any party, indoor or out.

Alcohol is stacked with kilojoules. At 29 kilojoules per gram, it has nearly double the kilojoule density of protein or carbohydrates (17 kilojoules per gram). These are 'empty kilojoules', meaning they have no useful nutrients. Plus they don't fill us up like kilojoules from carbohydrate or protein do, which can lead to overeating.

Because alcohol has no useful physiological purpose in the body, it is used preferentially as a fuel supply. When we consume alcohol, it will be burnt for fuel before fat, carbohydrate or protein. After an alcohol binge, we could be running on alcohol for quite a while: the kilojoules from the food we eat with the alcohol (particularly from the fat) get tucked away in fat stores for use another time. In other words, alcohol isn't helpful if we want to lose weight. So keep an eye on what, and how much you drink.

Tips to beat the binge

  • Drink from a small wine glass and sip slowly. Large glasses contain about two standard drinks and can fool us into believing we are drinking less.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or diet soft drinks.
  • Have a large glass of water before you start. Often we gulp down the first drink because we are thirsty.
  • Try for up to four alcohol-free days a week. Or reserve alcohol for weekend nights only.
  • Choose diet mixers with spirits, and have a long drink in a tall glass.
  • Take care with the food you eat with drinks. Instead of cheese or chips, go for vegetables, low-fat dips and high-fibre crackers.
  • Avoid binges. A drink a day is better than a weekend splurge.
  • Watch out for 'shouts'. You can end up drinking more than you planned.