It’s just a fact of life – come the holidays,  you eat more than you should,  you put on a bit of weight, and then  you kick off the New Year determined  to shed it. 

Studies show people put on 0, 5 - 1 kg on average over the festive season. It doesn’t sound like much but, according to a review published in the scientific journal Physiology & Behaviour last year, most of us never manage to lose it. 

The extra kilos can accumulate year after year, adding up to excess weight and putting you at risk of the health problems that tend to go with been overweight, such as heart disease and diabetes. 

Make this year different by ensuring you don’t pile on the pounds in the first place.  To make it easier we asked dietitians to tell us what they do to keep their eating on track over Christmas. They put together this 10-point plan.

 1 Don’t skip breakfast

It really is the most important meal of the day, Johannesburg dietician Tanya Alberts says. “Eating breakfast boosts your metabolism, gives you energy and helps you to focus,” she says.

“Studies have shown that people who eat a balanced breakfast tend to weigh less than those who don’t eat breakfast.” 

Johannesburg dietitian Toni Brien adds that a good breakfast also helps you to avoid eating things you know you shouldn’t, as well as making it less likely you’ll overindulge at your next meal. 

Tanya says the perfect breakfast is two eggs with a cup of mixed vegetables. 

Examples of other quick, nutritious breakfasts include plain yogurt with fruit and rolled oats or high-fibre bran; peanut butter and banana on whole-wheat toast; and low-fat cottage cheese and/or avocado on whole-wheat toast. 

2 Plan ahead

The worst thing you can do during the holidays is to simply go with the flow when it comes to food. That’s a sure-fire route to overindulgence. 

“I still plan my meals for the week ahead so I’m prepared during the chaos that comes with the holidays. Whether its meals or on-the-go snacks, having a plan helps me to stay focused,” Tanya says   

3 Check portion sizes

The secret to healthy eating is in your hand. It’s not just about what you eat – it’s about how much, Toni says.  Use your hand as a guide: the size and thickness of your palm determines your protein portion (men can have two palms), your fist is your veggie portion, your cupped hand determines a carb portion and your thumb is your fat portion. 

“Sticking to the correct portion size is a great way to keep your kilojoule intake under control, even if the meal is rich,” Cape Town dietician Alex Royal says. 

Toni advises also using it as a guide when it comes to the occasional treat. 

“I allow myself to have a little of the  things I know don’t belong in a healthy  eating plan – so I’ll have some Christmas  pudding or trifle, but make sure it’s a small  serving.”   

4 Snack smart

the best way to avoid eating unhealthy snacks is not to have them in your kitchen cupboard.  “I stock the fridge with fresh fruit that’s ready to grab and go – it’s a great way to prevent yourself from getting nibble and reaching for an unhealthy snack,” Alex recommends.

 “I keep a supply of healthy snack options such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, lean biltong and whole-wheat crackers with low-fat cottage cheese,” Tanya adds.

 5 Slash the sauce

 A great deal of the extra kilojoules we consume over the festive season come from creamy sauces, dips and dressings, Alex warns.  “Festive eating often means rich meals laden with creamy dressings and sauces.  I avoid those as much as possible and instead add flavour by using lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, herbs or a fresh salsa made with tomato, onion, chillies and coriander,” she says.  “But I do allow myself to indulge a bit once a week during the holidays and on Christmas Day – it’s not realistic to avoid all temptations completely!” 

6 Drink mostly water

“I avoid all sugary drinks, including iced teas and fruit juices, and instead drink water,” Coburg dietician Jenny Meyer says.  Many drinks are loaded with sugar and these are simply empty kilojoules – you get no nutrition, just extra sugar. Some drinks contain more kilojoules than you’d get in an entire healthy meal, she adds.  “If I feel like a different texture I switch to  plain sparkling or soda water and if I want  flavour I add slices of lemon or lime to iced  water,” Jenny suggests

 7 Go lite on the liquor

 Alcohol is often a big contributor to  weight gain over the festive season, Jenny  says. “I do enjoy a glass or two of wine but I manage my intake by adding extra ice or soda water to dilute it and so reduce the amount of alcohol I drink,” she adds.  “I also drink slowly to make it last longer and when drinking spirits I limit myself to a single tot and avoid sugary mixers.” She also chooses “late” options when it comes to drinks such as cider. “And regardless of what alcohol I drink, I always ensure I have a big glass of water on the side, too.” 

8 Listen to your body  you know that uncomfortably full feeling? It happens for a reason – to tell you you’ve gone too far. Make it your mission not to let it happen this festive season.  Your body will thank you.  “I always make sure I stop eating before I feel stuffed,” Tanya says. “Eating smaller portions also helps to moderate your blood sugar levels.”

 9 Recognise thirst

Sometimes we eat when our body is actually craving water. “I drink plenty of water to keep hydrated,” Tanya says. “It’s important to replace the fluid we lose, especially in summer.”   

10 Keep moving

Let’s face it – it’s unlikely you’ll eat healthily 100 % of the time, so make up for the odd indulgence with exercise.  “As much as we try to make healthier food choices, reduce portions and remove temptations, all the socialising that happens over the holidays means we still often take in more kilojoules than planned,” Jenny says. “Exercise can help compensate for some of this.”  There’s no need to go to the gym – enjoyable outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling and walking will do it.