The malls are packed, the streets are full of carollers, and the air is colder (on some days, anyway) – the holiday season is indeed afoot. The Christmas season, at least for Filipinos, is marked by almost-unbelievable amounts of food.

So, in the spirit of trying to stay healthy over the holidays, MIMS asked nutritionists for their advice on keeping a balanced diet. Here is a comprehensive list of five of tips that will help you cut down on the caloric intake while not missing out on the holiday celebrations.

1. Upgrade your menu

Foods that find themselves on the Christmas menus are typically very fatty, high in salt, and high in sugar. These are foods like: chocolate cakes, ice creams, mechado, Christmas hams, Queso de Bola, and the Filipino favourite lechon.

According to Camille Chen, a Nutrition Officer II for the National Nutrition Council, planning these meal menus and swapping a few of the ingredients for healthier alternatives can go a long way in terms of improving the overall nutritional quality of these meals.

Using fresh ingredients instead of preserved ones, for example, is one effective way to go about this. “Instead of having sweetened beverages like soft drinks and powdered fruit juices, use freshly-squeezed fruits as an alternative.”

Using fresh fruits instead of canned ones for salads, for example, is also a much healthier alternative. Canned fruits are usually swimming in syrup which, Camille rightfully points out, is very high in sugar. Using low- or non-fat creams for salads is also a good idea.

An old-but-gold piece of advice, Camille continues, is to swap out red meats for white meats, at least as much as possible. This means trading out the usual pork and beef cuts, which are usually high in fat, for the healthier chicken and fish.

Remembering to include fruits and vegetables in the menus is also very important, as these provide very important nutrients that the body needs.

Finally, Camille points out that the way the foods are prepared is also very important. “Don’t overcook. It strips away some of the nutritional value and, in the case of charred food, may cause cancer and other diseases.”

2. Eat in

Ydett Señoron, a Health Management Specialist at Motolite, believes that the simple act of eating in and opting for home-made meals already contributes a lot to trying to eat a healthy diet over the holidays.

Overeating is done especially during the holiday season when people "eat out". Everything is doubled when we eat out: the serving size for a meal, calories consumed and not to mention the price.

“People are prone to overeating during the holidays especially when they ‘eat out,’” she writes in an e-mail to MIMS. 

So, instead of consuming around 2,000 calories a day, for example, people who dine in restaurants end-up consuming this in just one meal. And, in the age of fast-foods and convenience foods, the body does not only receive an inflated amount of calories but also misses out on important nutrients.

This is why Ydett is an advocate of home-cooked meals.

“Not only do you get the assurance of sumptuous and safe meals, but you also get the nutrition and quality of food that your body needs. Preparing and planning your grocery list and meals with your family will help in resisting the urge to eat out. It really is all in the mind,” she explains.

3. Meals in moderation

Of course, eating in moderation will always be an effective way of keeping the calories in check. With all the Christmas parties and holiday meals, cutting down on your usual portions and eating less than the usual servings may help in trying to keep a balanced diet over the holidays.

This way, people will still get to participate in the festivities without sacrificing a healthy lifestyle.

One nifty trick that may help with eating in moderation is trying to fool your brain into thinking that you’ve already eaten enough.

“Studies have shown that chewing your food more slowly or stretching your meal time to around 20 minutes will help your brain recognize that you are already full,” Ydett explains. “While you’re at it, enjoy the company of the people around you. Chew your food slowly and savor it. This will help you feel full and avoid overeating.

4. Energy in, energy out

In maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Camille explains, maintaining balance is important. That is, to offset all the food that will be consumed, people should also engage in physical activities to burn these off. “Energy in, energy out,” she writes.

Ydett agrees with this. It doesn’t even have to be as high-level or as expensive as booking a membership to your local gym, she argues. Even just small conscious decisions to engage in simple physical activities can go a long way.

Walking or taking the stairs are both effective to burn excess calories

Walking or taking the stairs are both effective to burn excess calories

“Personally, I suggest to our employees who have hectic schedules to make time for the following actions: taking the stairs instead of the elevators at least three times a day, walking everyday for at least ten minutes longer than what they usually do, take casual strolls at night after dinner, and go jog with their kids or pets at a park during weekends.

“If their time permits, 30 to 45 minutes of moderate activities will still be the best,” Ydett offers.

5. Have it your way

At the end of the day, Ydett argues, diets are highly personalized. There may be general standards for overall health and there may be some general rules that are followed when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet, but by no means should people be irrevocably beholden to these.

In her counselling sessions, Ydett tells MIMS that she usually ends by reminding her clients that they are free to eat whatever they want, and to not deprive themselves of the food that they like. What is important, she argues, is that they have to know how much, when, and how to consume these foods to maximize their nutritional value.

 “A diet that works for others doesn't necessarily work for you. Customization is the key. If it works for you then it is for you. Remember that it is the eating pattern that we are trying to build here not just some project or such for a few months, so it is necessary that we are comfortable in it,” Ydett concludes. MIMS

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