Malaysia is a nation known for its melting pot of cultures and traditions. Festive seasons are celebrated throughout the year, namely, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Chinese New Year, Diwali, and Christmas holidays.
Family reunions are almost a ‘must,’ and it is always accompanied by lots of food. ‘Malaysians only have one meal a day. However, this meal lasts for 24 hours’ is a saying that describes how much we love food, especially during celebrations. Think about the rendang and ketupat that Mak Ngah prepares for Raya, the mutton varuval that Ama cooks for Diwali, or the delicious pineapple tarts that Popo bakes.
Although we show our love and appreciation for our loved ones through food, too much can result in health issues. ‘I put on 5kg in one week!’ is a common complaint we hear after festive seasons.
Health is compromised during festive seasons
In addition to excessive food consumption and binge eating during festive seasons, there are a few other reasons health is compromised. Sedentary routines become a norm during the holidays. Unhealthy food, inadequate rest, disrupted routines, and inactivity and no exercise during the holidays, can take a toll on our health if no intentional steps are taken to stay in shape.
A 2017 study on the effect of the holiday season and weight gain found that adults gained 0.4 to 0.9 kg during the Christmas holidays, measured from the last week of November to the first week of January. Although this study pertains to the United States, it could likely be applied to Malaysians too. After all, most, if not all, of our festivities tend to centre around food and, quite often, unhealthy food.
So, how can we stay healthy during the festive seasons? We have got some tips; trust us, it is possible.
Eating healthily during the festive season
With so much food readily available during the festive seasons, it can be challenging to monitor how much we eat. So here are some tips to help you maintain your waistline.
- 1. Look for healthy food alternatives
We all love festive season snacks and confectionaries. However, most snacks are high in fat and sugar, contributing to increased weight and health issues.
Instead of the usual snacks, healthier alternatives are available. For example, nuts, dates, trail mixes, and dried food are perfect if you love to munch. Additionally, honey can be used as a substitute for sugar, brown rice for white rice, and green tea for ‘teh tarik.’
- 2. Practice healthy cooking
We are well aware that oily, fatty foods are unhealthy. However, a lot of food tends to be fried during the festive season. Sugar and salt are also often added to enhance the flavours.
Healthy cooking methods such as baking, roasting, grilling, and steaming are good alternatives to frying.
- 3. Be aware of your food portion
We may forget how much we are eating when we are feeling festive and end up binge eating during the festive seasons.
To avoid overeating, be aware of your food portion. For example, use a plate for snacks - put all the snacks you want on a plate and limit yourself to the plate rather than continuously putting your hand in the snack container. This will help prevent you from eating up the whole container of cookies without realising it.
- 4. Eat a little before going out to visit friends and family
Festive season visitations mean food and more food. If your relatives are coming over, you have probably got a complete meal on the table for them; and if you are going to a friend's place, you will likely be giving them a bag of goodies.
Thus, one tip to avoid overeating is to have a light meal or healthy snack before you head out.
- 5. Make your own treats
Commercial festive treats often contain high quantities of refined sugar, flour, and fat, which make them extremely unhealthy. One way to combat this is to make your own cakes, cookies, and treats at home as you can control the amount of sugar in the recipe. Additionally, you will also be able to use better-quality ingredients.
- 6. Stay hydrated
Drinking lots of water keeps you hydrated. It will also help remove toxins from your body. Besides this, sometimes festive foods contain lots of salt, and thus, adequate water intake is a must.
- 7. Avoid eating very late at night
We often stay up late during festivals; this usually means that the eating continues past our usual dinner time. Supper and midnight snacks are a norm during these celebrations. However, our metabolism tends to slow down at night, causing unhealthy weight gain.
- 8. Limit consumption of alcohol & sweet beverages
Alcohol and sweet fizzy drinks are high in calories. Our bodies turn these excess calories into fat if they are not burnt off. Thus, it is best to limit or, even better, avoid alcohol and soda.
Choose healthy alternatives such as fresh juices without added sugar, unsweetened coconut water, or green tea.
- 9. Eat slowly & avoid skipping meals
Eating slowly gives your body a chance to signal to your brain that you are full. This ensures not going overboard with the feast in front of you.
Skipping meals may seem like the perfect way to reduce food intake, especially if you have been snacking on all the festive goodies. However, this may result in overeating at the next meal or cravings for sugary and fatty foods. Additionally, some people may feel grumpy when they are hungry.
Thus, rather than skip meals, start the day with a healthy breakfast, eat moderately during mealtimes, and stick to healthy snacks.
- 10. Support your digestive system with probiotics
Probiotics deliver good bacteria that aid in supporting a healthy gut. They help with digestion and improve the absorption of nutrients while keeping harmful microorganisms at bay. For example, a 2020 study shows that the consumption of multispecies probiotics is regarded as safe and natural for alleviation of functional constipation in adults.
Thus, remember to support your digestive system with probiotics during the festive seasons.
Set aside time for daily exercise
Another way to stay healthy during the festivities is to stay active. Exercise helps you burn off the extra calories from all the festive food and help you stay in shape. In addition, it flushes out toxins from your body, improves blood circulation, builds immunity against germs and viruses, and releases feel-good endorphins.
- 1. Workout at home
Working out at home is an excellent option. There are plenty of exercise videos available online. A search on YouTube will result in many videos you can follow to work out from home.
- 2. Go for a walk with family
Since most people are on leave during the festive seasons, why not go for a morning or evening walk with your family? Also, a walk around the neighbourhood can be fun - you may run into neighbours you have not met in a long time. For those who are more adventurous, consider going for a short hike if there is a trail near your home.
- 3. Have a sporting match with friends and family
Remember the fun times with siblings and cousins playing a board game or running around playing on the porch? Why not create memories with a simple sporting match that family members and friends can join? A quick football match at the field nearby or a game of badminton using the house gate as a ‘net’ can help keep you active.
Make sure to get adequate sleep
Although we are likely to stay up late enjoying the festivities during the holidays, our bodies must get enough rest and adequate sleep. The benefits of sufficient sleep include:
- Stronger immune systems
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Reduces the risk of health issues such as heart disease
- Improves decision-making - thus, avoiding accidents and injuries.
- Think better and clearer
- Improves mood
Take your daily medications, if applicable
With all the food, fun, busyness, and excitement, it can be easy to forget about medication. However, if you have health issues and take daily medication, you must continue to monitor your health during the festivities. Set an alarm as a reminder and place your medication somewhere you can see (for example, bedside table) so you do not miss any doses.
Go for your routine health screenings
Besides being mindful of your diet, staying active, getting adequate rest, and taking your medications, another intentional step one can take to stay healthy is to go for routine health screenings at least once a year.
Make an appointment at Gleneagles Hospitals
Health is a commodity that should be appreciated and taken care of. Thus, it is important that intentional steps, such as eating moderately and exercising, are taken to ensure our bodies are as healthy as possible.
Remember to go for your annual health screenings to ensure your general well-being. To make an appointment for health screening, please contact the health screening centre at the Gleneagles Hospital nearest to you.
- Effect of the holiday season on weight gain: A narrative review. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5514330/ [Accessed 17 November 2022]
- Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of the effects of probiotics on functional constipation in adults. Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32005532/ [Accessed 17 November 2022]
- Surprising Reasons to Get More Sleep. Available at https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/benefits-sleep-more [Accessed 17 November 2022]
- Why sleep is essential for health. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325353 [Accessed 17 November 2022]