Love it or loathe it – you can’t escape it: abundant food is synonymous with Chinese New Year. It’s almost impossible to say no to nine-course meals, flavourful treats, as well as drinks and desserts that will sweeten your palate immediately. Here’s how to enjoy delicious food while preventing weight gain during the festive season.
1. Portion Control
It can be hard to turn down hearty but high-carb meals when your mother has spent hours cooking them for the reunion dinner. The good news is, portion control can be an excellent strategy to manage your food intake during the festive season.
“Balance your meal portions by incorporating all primary food groups, which include meat and vegetables. Meat contains fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin B complex, and minerals, while veggies contain multiple vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre,” says Chu I Ta, Chief Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician from the Real Health Medical clinic in Singapore.
You can also try this simple healthy plate guide during family dinners:
- Divide your plate into three parts.
- Fill the first quarter with carbohydrates (rice, noodles, bread, potatoes, etc.).
- Then, fill the second quarter with protein (meat, fish, eggs, etc.).
- Finally, ensure the remaining half is filled with vegetables and fruits.
“It’s best to reduce carbohydrates. Instead of filling up on white rice and noodles, consider low-carb alternatives like sweet potato, Chinese yam, and pumpkin. Also, ensure you have sufficient protein. When you pair adequate amounts of protein with moderate exercise, it will increase your muscle mass and reduce body fat,” Physician Chu adds. “Additionally, stay away from processed food products as they contain high sodium, which can easily lead to water retention and reduce metabolism.
Curb Your Cravings
Maintaining a balanced and healthy diet can be challenging during this festive period, especially when we already have issues with food cravings or trouble controlling our appetite.
According to Harvard Health, curbing a big appetite begins with learning to distinguish hunger from cravings. When you are physically hungry, you would feel a distinct emptiness in the pit of your stomach accompanied by fatigue and light-headedness. These symptoms will subside when you eat any kind of food. On the contrary, food cravings often come with a sense of restlessness or agitation. You will also only want specific comfort food to satiate your cravings.
Be aware of these two types of hunger during the festive season and eat only when you are really hungry. If you start to crave sweet snacks or oily, fried foods, do something else to distract yourself. Go for a walk, play with your kids, or talk to your family members. You will notice that your cravings will go away after a while.
You can also try natural appetite suppressants like apple cider vinegar. However, don’t overconsume vinegar as its acidic quality can irritate the oesophagus and stomach.
For those who can’t seem to resist the temptation of food, the hunger point (located in front of the ear, on the tragus) is an ear acupressure point that can help suppress appetite. Massage this point for five seconds, five times daily.
Do a Detox
If you have already eaten too much throughout the first few days of Chinese New Year, consider doing a detox. At its core, detoxing involves removing and eliminating toxins and then feeding your body with healthy nutrients.
While there are many different detox methods, most of them will require a period of fasting or restrictive caloric intake to flush elements like flavour enhancers, food colourings, pesticides, and preservatives from the food and drinks we consume.
One of the most popular Western detox programs is the Candida Cleanse which claims to treat an overgrowth of yeast and fungus in the body. This detox diet only allows steamed or raw and non-starchy vegetables complemented by a daily liver detox drink.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are eight ways to detox depending on your symptoms and body constitution. These include perspiration, heat-clearing, replenishment, purging, warming, vomiting, elimination, and harmonisation. For example, if you are experiencing indigestion or feeling bloated, detox via elimination is recommended, while the warming method can treat spleen, stomach, and gastrointestinal deficiencies. Harmonisation is often used for indigestion symptoms created by stress and anxiety factors which lead to liver-qi stagnation. Regulating the liver is also the primary solution for treating epigastric distention or abdominal bloating .
Acupressure can help as well. The Tian Shu point located two thumbs width to the side of the belly button can aid with regulating bowel movement and the removal of toxins. Stimulate this point by massaging it for three minutes, two to three times daily.
Work Out Regularly
All food and no exercise are a sure-fire recipe for weight gain. Don’t neglect your daily workout routines just because you are on holiday. Make time to go for a run, a swim, or even a short walk around your neighbourhood. Exercise also improves cardiovascular health, aids sleep, and relieves stress.
Get creative and find ways to incorporate physical activities into your festive schedule. For example, taking the stairs instead of using lifts, playing basketball or badminton while waiting for dinner, or spending time with your family at the local park.
You can also consider traditional Chinese exercises, which are often used to treat obesity and weight gain. For instance, Tai Chi helps maintain overall balance while Ba Duan Jin can increase lower limb strength and muscle content and reduce fat content. On the other hand, Wu Qin Xi leads to improved flexibility.
Choose Your Beverage
Food aside, alcoholic drinks and sweet beverages can contribute to weight gain significantly, especially during the festive season. Wine, beer, and carbonated drinks are loaded with hidden calories, and we often drink more than we should during this time. Additionally, alcohol also lowers inhibitions, so we are likely to overindulge in unhealthy snacks and food as well.
Choose plain water or unsweetened teas. Oolong tea helps to reduce weight by improving lipid metabolism, while green tea has also been proven to play a role in fat loss. If you want something more satiating between meals, high-fibre oat beverages are a good choice.
While sumptuous food is one of the prime highlights of the festive season, you can still enjoy a healthy and happy celebration without worrying about overeating and putting on weight. Be proactive and conscious about what you eat, exercise, and even do a simple detox. You can also take the lead in preparing healthier festive spreads so that everyone can stay slim and trim too.
- Harvard Health Publishing. 2019. 5 ways to outwit your appetite. [Accessed 19 Jan 2022]
- BeWell Standford. Avoiding holiday weight gain. [Accessed 19 Jan 2022]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2020. The Beneficial Effect of Traditional Chinese Exercises on the Management of Obesity. [Accessed 19 Jan 2022]
- Science Direct. 2018. The effects of the extract of oolong tea and its metabolites from Andraca theae in high fat diet induced obese Wistar rat. [ Accessed 19 Jan 2022]
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014. The anti-obesity effects of green tea in human intervention and basic molecular studies.
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