How to avoid the festive blow-out

Now is the time to reconnect with family and friends, sharing moments to cherish for a long time to come. Here’s how to enjoy the moment while avoiding the after-effects of over-indulgence.


The festive season is a time to let our hair down while celebrating or commiserating over the events of the year almost gone and welcoming the new year about to begin (hooray!). With end-of year functions finally underway, it’s time to reunite with friends and family and enjoy sharing delicious food together.

Part of living a joyful life is enjoying the pure pleasure food can bring. Festive gatherings feature rich favourites like seafood, stuffed turkey, roasted veggies, plum pudding, white Christmas, gingerbread, trifle, cream and pavlova. There’s nothing to say we can’t enjoy all these foods. However, over-indulging can cause us to gain weight, suffer indigestion and lead us down a path of ill-health.

Here are some quick strategies that may be helpful:

“There’s nothing to say we can’t enjoy some indulgences. However, over-indulging can cause us to gain weight, suffer indigestion and lead us down a path of ill-health.”


You may have read articles lately about what alcoholic drink or cocktail has the least or most calories or sugar. Bottom line? Alcohol is energy dense, it is high in calories. So, enjoy your favourite beverage if you really want to, but try these ideas.

Upon arriving at the function you’ll be immediately offered a drink. If you didn’t get the chance to drink a full glass of water before arriving, ask for water or mineral water first. Drink this slowly and ensure you are not thirsty. How many times have you guzzled that first glass of champagne solely because you were thirsty?? Having 1-2 glasses of water first slows you down. As the function progresses, drink a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage. If you don’t enjoy water, ask for water with lemon, lime or mint. Adding ice will also slow you down as it’s difficult to guzzle very cold drinks. If possible, stop drinking alcohol once the main meal is over; and avoid the sickly sweet late-night cocktails. By the end of the evening your defences are down and this is when you can over-do it. Also, avoid soft drinks at all costs. A large glass of soft drink can contain 16 teaspoons of sugar!


Festive functions always mean an abundance of food. So a secret is to pace yourself. Having that first glass of water not only alleviates your thirst, but also curbs the hunger pangs. Often platters of cheese and crackers, dips, crisps and little bowls of nuts and nibbles are placed around the room for your arrival. Feeling hungry, with these right under your nose, they are so hard to resist. Once you start on the nibbles, it’s so hard to stop. These foods are designed to be more-ish. So I could just say ‘have a little amount and stop’ but that usually doesn’t work in reality! Here are some strategies that may work:

  1. Hold a glass of water in one hand and your champagne (or alternative) in the other. You have no hands free for snacking!
  2. Position yourself away from the tables so the food is not right next to you or turn your back on the food. 
  3. If you feel truly ravenous and dinner is delayed, then seek out vegetable items like the carrot sticks or olives and eat a few of those to keep you going.

Canapes can be over-laden with calories, deep-fried and dripping with fat or they can be light and fresh. High calorie canapes include deep fried items, pastries, mayonnaise dipping sauces, and creamy items.

Stick to un-fried canapes that feature vegetables and fish as well as fresh fruit. Rice paper rolls served raw with seafood or vegetable fillings are fantastic. Smoked salmon canapes with cucumber and herbs are also ideal. Vegetable sticks, fruit and light dips like hummus, are also delicious. Where possible, limit or avoid creamy dipping sauces as they add to your energy intake. Try limiting yourself to just a few canapes, remember, there’s a lot of food to come. You have the whole meal ahead of you.

Main Meal

Festive dinners can often involve 3-4 courses, so applying the principle of quality over quantity is key. If the function is self-service, only ‘fill’ the plate once. If vegetables and salad are on offer, fill half the plate with these (avoiding cream based dressings – these make salads more energy dense than some desserts!). Again, it’s about pacing. Slow yourself down, avoid talking with food in your mouth (finish chewing fully before speaking). Savour the flavours to allow your brain to catch up with the messages being sent from the belly telling you that you are feeling rather full!

Calories also quickly add up with sauces, dressings, gravies and creams so try to skirt around these or just add a small dash. If mint sauce, Dijon mustard or vinegar is on offer, aim for these flavour enhancers (if you need them) instead.


Hey, it’s Christmas. This is when you can eat for pleasure (to a point). Here are some ways to enjoy the lovely sweets you long for all year and only enjoy at Christmas time.

  1. Self serve: add some berries and fruit first.
  2. Go for a small scoop of pudding or cake.
  3. Limit the cream and opt for milk-based custard or yogurt instead.
  4. Top a pavlova with natural yogurt and berries, rather than cream. Try this with all your desserts. You can add a dash of cinnamon or vanilla bean or even passionfruit to the yogurt for sweetness. 
  5. A yogurt dipping sauce for the fruit platter is also a healthy option.

Keep Moving!

Finally, don’t sit it out! Short bouts of exercise are perfect for this busy time. You do not need to invest slabs of time to keep on top of your fitness. Taking 10 minutes to stretch, perform an interval session, do some core or strength exercises and deep breathing are all pennies in the bank. Each penny counts and adds up for long term benefits. 

Health Breaks subscribers can tap into the 100s of exercise Pods to slot into your day. Try the canape ideas shown in our photos above and give this workout curcuit a go – perfect to adapt to a 5, 10 or 20min session.


Author: Kristin McMaster, Masters in Nutrition

Subscribe to Health Breaks news