Season’s eatings

Season’s eatings

Lee Jian Xuan and Benson Ang
The Straits Times
Dec 23, 2014

With the festive season around the corner, many partygoers are gearing up for the spate of feasting sure to accompany the triple whammy of the Christmas, New Year and the Chinese New Year holidays.

While some are all set to gorge themselves, others are ramping up their workout regimens to shed the extra kilos.

And some are taking the approach to nibble and share food at parties to stave off weight gain.

SundayLife! speaks to partygoers about their feasting plans and consults dietitians and fitness trainers on how you can eat your fill, but not feel like a stuffed turkey.

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Illustration: ST Adam Lee

Feast to your heart’s content

Sales manager Wendy Woo’s attitude towards feasting is best summed up by the lyrics to the theme song of Disney hit 2013 movie Frozen.

“A wise woman once sang, ‘Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore’,” says the 26-year-old, who intends to eat until she is full at the eight functions she is attending these two months.

These range from gatherings with friends to house parties to company events.

“During this time, I will just not care. Normally, I gain weight from eating anyway. I’ve already put on 2kg from the parties I’ve gone to. It has started,” she adds with a laugh.

With such a jam-packed feasting schedule, Ms Woo also intends to cut back on her usual exercise regimen of lifting weights at least four times a week and twiceweekly cardio workouts for now.

“I’m winding down a bit and will restart after the New Year since the damage has already been done,” she says.

She is among six out of 10 partygoers SundayLife! spoke to who are adopting a “eat first, worry later” attitude at parties, as so aptly put by student Lenice Tan, 14.

“My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so I get the chance to eat Christmas food only at parties. And I can’t resist the pineapple tarts and kueh at Chinese New Year, so I will allow myself to eat as much as I want,” says Lenice.

Another partygoer who will indulge is accounts manager Kelvin Seo, 29, who has been invited to five gatherings.

“The holiday season is a time to let loose, so I don’t think I’ll be counting calories. It’s not good to waste food or refuse food offered to you.

“In any case, if I’m eating too much, I can tell because my pants will get tight,” he says.

For such eaters, it is important to slow down, says senior dietitian Amy Vong Man In at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

As it takes around 20 minutes for one’s brain to receive cues that one has had enough food, it is important to chew slowly and stop eating when one feels full, she says.

Available research suggests that most people gain an average of 0.5kg during the last six weeks of the year from mid-November to January, notes Ms Verena Tan, senior research dietitian at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, part of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

“We cannot easily lose holiday weight gained over the course of the year and so we will accumulate more weight as the years roll by, which contributes to obesity,” she says.

Illustration: ST Adam Lee

Share the treats and calories

Freelance writer Annabel Tan, 29, and real estate agent Darius Chia, 32, are watching their weight for another reason this season – the engaged couple will tie the knot early next month.

Ms Tan, who does not exercise much, is trying to gain weight in “the right places” while Mr Chia, a self-professed “fat kid”, is keeping tabs on his waistline.

“I’m the sort of person who puts on weight easily, so I’m under extra stress to fit into the tailor-made suit so close to our wedding,” he says with a chuckle.

For this reason, they will share food at the five or so Christmas and New Year get-togethers that they are attending.

Mr Chia says: “I’m not a big fan of sweets, unlike Annabel, so I will just nibble a little and share the rest with her.”

Adds Ms Tan: “I’ll eat a bit at each function. Usually for each event, there’s a ‘special dish’ made by the host, so I’ll just take a bit of that.”

Navy regular Adrian Chia, 35, will also ration his intake at the three functions he is going to.

“To try more things, I take small portions, like just a few slices of ham. If there’s a log cake, I’ll take a slice and put the cream aside, since I don’t like it anyway.”

Controlling portion sizes and sharing food at events can help prevent over-eating, say dietitians.

But Ms Verena Tan, senior research dietitian at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, part of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), points out that “numerous small portions may also lead to over-eating and more calories than intended”.

Studies show that meals eaten with more people increase the food quantity eaten by as much as 96 per cent, she says.

“We get distracted socialising. Holidays and parties cause us to eat more than we need or intend to.

“If dinner is served buffet-style, use smaller plates and don’t stack your food. Watch out for sauces and dips too.”

Avoid going to parties hungry by drinking water and having light healthy snacks such as sandwiches or fruit beforehand, advises senior dietitian Amy Vong Man In from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

“You’re likely to over-indulge if you arrive feeling hungry, thirsty and deprived for the whole day,” she says.

Lastly, those battling the bulge might want to resist the tipple, says A*Star’s Ms Tan.

“Alcohol contains calories too. Women should drink no more than two glasses of wine or cans of beer, and men, no more than three a day.

“Drink slowly and alternate the drink with a nonalcoholic one and some food to slow down absorption,” she adds.

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Illustration: ST Adam Lee

Step up the workouts

Come Christmas and New Year, administrative officer Tiara Putra will be doing yoga daily, hitting the gym for cardio sessions on odd days and going for freestyle and piloxing training on even days.

“This is my annual routine during the last month of the year, so I can get fit for the New Year. It’s pretty intensive so I’m sticking to it,” says the 35-year-old.

“I believe in eating in moderation and maintaining my regular exercise plan. It’s efficient and effective.”

Real estate agent Darius Chia, 32, also believes in efficient exercise.

“I play football twice a week and I do kettle-bell workouts at home. Those are good for this season because you can do them in half an hour, then head out,” he tells SundayLife!.

They are among a group of eaters who maintain or step up their workouts to cope with the increased calorie load from having their fill at parties this season.

Mechanical engineer Koh Tee Yan, 26, intends to keep up his twice-weekly routine of runs and swims.

“It’s so that I don’t have to worry about my weight ballooning this season,” he says.

Ms Verena Tan, senior research dietitian at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), says their commitment to exercise is “desirable”.

A consistent exercise programme all year round is key to long-term weight maintenance, she says.

A 2008 study of more than 54,000 runners published in the United States has found that those who cut down on or stopped running, could not lose the amount of weight gained during inactivity after resuming their exercise, she notes.

For a quick home workout, try a circuit of squats, push-ups, jumping jacks, planks and crunches, suggests Fitness First Singapore’s head of fitness education Tommy Yau.

“These don’t require any equipment, just your body weight,” he notes.

Intense workouts burn more calories as the body has to keep its metabolic rate up, says personal trainer Joanna Lee from Pure Fitness.

But simple exercises such as brisk walks and taking the stairs can do the same, she adds.

“You can put on your favourite tunes and dance to the rhythm, which is a great exercise for the heart.”


This article was first published on Dec 23, 2014.
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