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Fit to feast

Jovi Ho
Jovi Ho • 6 min read
Fit to feast
Party first, diet later? Options finds out how to feast and drink without regrets this holiday season.
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Party first, diet later? Options finds out how to feast and drink without regrets this holiday season

As we approach the end of this unusual year, some may complain of the “quarantine body”, the visible effects of turning to food for comfort while being cooped up at home for months. With Christmas just around the corner, Singaporeans are hoping to let loose with one last hurrah.

But with a group limit of five merry-makers and a 10.30pm cut-off at bars, holiday festivities may be a tad muted this year. Nevertheless, we deserve a little merry-making this year, if only to make up for lost time.

For that, Options spoke with fitness instructors to find out how — with just a bit of mindfulness — an enjoyable festive season can welcome a healthier 2021.

Peer pressure

Holiday gatherings are both about what is on the dinner table and who is around it. When dining as a group, however, our eating habits may change without us even knowing.

Spin and yoga instructor Angela See says it is not just festive cheer that whets our appetites, but also peer pressure. “Studies have shown that people eating as a group tend to change their food intake to match the average,” says See, who coaches at fitness chain F45. This also extends to drinking.

The effect of such bravado at brunch accumulates over time. “Because we have so many gatherings during this season, we tend to forget about our daily required calories. This results in overeating and eventually leads to excess weight gain,” See adds.

The root of the problem, however, could be an issue larger than ourselves, says boutique gym Ground Zero’s instructor Alicia Teng. “I think the problem resides in society’s perception that overeating and seasonal weight gain is an issue. As much as I would love to maintain my ideal physique all year round, I think people need to get comfortable with the fact that our bodies aren’t going to stay the same throughout the year,” says Teng.

Restrictive diets also tend to backfire for many, she adds. “At one point or another, they will cave and just go all out [with feasting] then feel horrible after.”

“Depending on what’s happening in life, you’ll lose some and gain some, and that’s okay!”

All in moderation

But if you are looking for a clean break from party food, there are a few common culprits at every spread.

For starters, you might want to avoid that mashed potato, even if it is homemade. See says the starchy snack is high in fat hidden in ingredients like butter, cooking cream and whole milk, which are used to give the dish its signature smooth texture.

If you are bringing a dish to a potluck, See suggests making roasted vegetables with your favourite herbs instead, tossed in olive oil.

Over at the punch table, not everything is off-limits, says See. While soft drinks and alcohol are “sneaky ways” your body could take in excess sugar at dinner parties, some good alternatives are soda water infused with fruits and iced fruit tea.

In addition, staying hydrated between meals is crucial. “Not only does it help with your weight, your skin will also thank you for it,” adds See.

SEE: 'Tis the season to be eating

That said, moderation is still the name of the party food game, says Teng. “There aren’t any foods I avoid, nor do I think there should be. The holiday season comes around once a year, so you should just enjoy it,” she says.

“Rather than binge-eating and feeling bad after, you’ll find yourself in a happier and healthier mindset if you approach the holiday season and all its wonderful foods with moderation.”

Dealing with long-term weight maintenance boils down to consistency and recognising that it is a marathon and not a sprint, says Teng.

“Don’t feel like you need to be perfect because there is no such thing as a perfect diet. Eat what fuels your training and your health, but leave room to enjoy the tasty things.”

A walk in the park

Could skipping a meal or going for a jog the next morning make up for a wild night of overeating? Not entirely, says the trainers, but it is always a good time to start on an active lifestyle.

While both instructors recommend consistent workouts throughout the year, simple cardio activities like a stroll in the park are great for everyone.

“If you aren’t exercising much to start with, do something fun,” says Teng. “You don’t need to start by doing crazy track sprints or CrossFit classes. You can start with something simple like swimming a couple of laps at your own pace or going for a short run, as long as your heart rate is elevated above resting [level].”

After all, regardless of your fitness level, exercise has scientifically to be proven to be beneficial for your health, reducing your risk of heart disease, promoting a healthy body weight, reducing stress and keeping chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension at bay.

Cardio is for everyone, says See, and body weight exercises like push-ups and lunges can be done anywhere, even at home. “Consistency is key so do try to stay active even during the festive season. It will help keep those excess pounds off!”

Water therapy

Plates of sweet treats and bottomless cocktails do not a good morning make. Whether you are enjoying a beer at home or partying responsibly at a bar, one glass too many can easily ruin a weekend.

Options spoke to one veteran bartender of 12 years for tips on enjoying the holiday season sharp and sober, while keeping within your limits.

Hydration is key, says Josiah Chee, formerly of the award-winning bars Jigger & Pony, 28 HongKong Street and Employees Only.

Drinking lots of water does help prevent strong hangovers the following day, he confirms. Another tip is sipping some turmeric and ginger tea before heading out, says Chee, who is now the owner and chef of Rice Bowl Boys, which is located along Smith Street.

Partygoers can also enjoy the hot tea the following day. “The tea really helps cure that morning-after dizziness,” he adds.

Casual drinkers or teetotallers looking to explore the bar also should not be entranced by the flutes of bubbly being passed around. Chee says sparkling cocktails and celebratory champagne — hallmarks of festive parties — could pack more of a punch than most people realise. “They are way too easy for drinking and could end the night real quick,” he warns.

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