Tips to stay in shape during Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is just around the corner. We’re pretty sure everyone is looking forward to the reunions and to indulge in their favorite goodies – think bak kwa, pineapple tarts, cookies, yusheng,  etc.

However, those endless gatherings and tempting treats could ‘trick’ us into letting our guards down and before we know it, we start over-indulging in whatever food/snacks that come our way (after all, it only happens once a year, right? And there is so much food! :-P). It is not surprising that we usually end our CNY holidays feeling uncomfortably full, bloated and heavier.

Don’t want to go down that ‘festive bloating’ route? Not to worry, here are some simple tips and tricks for you to take note of during this time of feasting:

 

1. Stay Hydrated – Water is the Best!

Stick to plain old water as your go-to beverage this Chinese New Year. Bring along a water bottle wherever you go.  Water (zero calories) helps keep your weight in check, unlike sweetened beverages/soft drinks. Even for prepacked beverages with ‘Reduced Sugar’ or “Less Sweet” labels , if you bother to check the Sugar level on the pack, most still contain unhealthy amounts of sugar which your body does not need.   Drinking sufficient water throughout the day can help flush out toxins and wastes from your body that have accumulated from eating all those processed foods.

An effective and simple way to improve digestion, reduce calorie intake and to make you feel full faster is to drink 1-2 glasses of water before every meal (ideally 30 minutes before). Studies have shown that people who drink water before a meal consume about 75 fewer calories during that meal. This works out to be about 225 calories per day (assuming 3 meals a day)!  You would have to work out for more than 25 minutes, on average, in order to burn that amount of calories.

To get some variety, tea (unsweetened) is another healthy choice of beverage with few or no calories.

 

2. Watch your Portions – Pass Me a Small Plate, Please.

Limit yourself to 2-3 pieces per snack to avoid overeating. Chatting with your friends and guests also cuts back your time at the goodies table and helps you limit your food intake.

Another way to help control your portions is to opt for a smaller plate during meals. Did you know that big plates tend to encourage you to eat bigger portions? This is because it tricks your brain into thinking your portion sizes are smaller than they actually are – scientists call this phenomenon the “Delboeuf illusion”. Choosing a smaller plate not only helps to limit your overall intake but also tricks your brain into feeling satisfied with less food.

 

3. Don’t Go On an Empty Stomach

“If I go on an empty stomach, I’ll be able to eat more good food later on.” Admit it, most of us have all done this at least once in their lives. However, this basically sets us up to overeat and our main goal is to avoid that.

Try to snack on some fresh fruits (eat those mandarin oranges) or some healthy nuts/dried fruits before going visiting during CNY. Not only will this reduce the chances of you overeating, but this will also provide your daily requirement of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals.

4. Remember to Stay Active

Just because it’s Chinese New Year doesn’t mean you can just sit around and do nothing active all day. If it is challenging to stick to a workout schedule during the festive period, then take every opportunity to keep your butt away from that chair. Climbing stairs instead of taking the lift or even playing sports and physical games with family members and friends during gatherings are effective ways to keep you active, have fun and help burn more calories at the same time. However, if your typical reunions involve mostly just sitting around, eating, and chit-chatting, then just take every chance to walk around (especially after a full meal) and stay busy.

When you are at home, instead of watching TV on the sofa, burn some calories with squats, push-ups, crunches, etc in front of the TV. These simple exercises only take a few minutes, can be done in the comforts of your home without any equipment, and will not disrupt your festive schedule at all.  Not into exercise? No worries, get on with spring-cleaning, organize your wardrobe or cabinets, do housework – just get your butt off the couch!

 

5. Get Enough Rest

Staying up all night playing card games or watching movies might sound like fun but remember, inadequate sleep is bad for your body, and your mood. A tired body & mind could lead to unhealthy food choices, increased chances of food binges as well as a lack of energy and motivation to do any sort of physical activity. Be mindful not to have too many all-nighters.

 

6. Choose What you Eat

Despite our rumbling tummies, we know for a fact that our favourite Chinese New Year goodies are all packed with refined sugars, unhealthy fats and are low in nutritional value. The following calorie count list showcases the Top 10 most popular Chinese New Year treats:

1. Nian gao – 482 calories per serving
2. Bak kwa – 179 calories per piece
3. Peanuts – 170 calories per bowl (30g)
4. Kueh lapis 157 calories per piece
5. Love letter – 112 calories per piece
6. Cornflake cookie – 82.8 calories per piece
7. Pineapple tart – 82 calories per piece
8. Kueh bahulu – 40 calories per piece
9. Kueh bangkit – 23 calories per piece
10. Mini dried shrimp roll – 22 calories per piece

If you were to stuff yourself without restraint, then you would for sure increase your chances of overeating as your body takes in more calories than what it needs or expends. Just for reference - within a healthy, balanced diet, an adult man needs around 2,500 calories a day to maintain his weight, and an adult woman needs around 2,000 calories a day. These values can vary depending on age, metabolism and levels of physical activity, among other things.

Mind you, it is not just about the calories. Many of the above list of goodies also have high amounts of unhealthy saturated fats – which isn’t great for your heart or weight.  If you can’t resist these foods (understandably!), eat 1 or 2 pieces just to satisfy a craving. Avoid deep-fried goodies, if possible.

 

7.  Prepare Healthy Alternatives for your Reunion Dinner

Try switching ingredients in your meals with healthier alternatives. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Replace some typical Chinese New Year Snacks (sugar-coated or salted varieties) with healthy nuts, seeds, dried fruits and fresh fruits such as almonds, sunflower seeds, mandarin oranges, etc. We also recommend our SUPERBITES range of organic dried figs, mulberries, apricots, goji berries, etc., all of which make delicious and super-healthy snacks without refined sugars or salt.
  • Include a variety of colourful vegetables in your dishes. Doing this can help increase intake of vital nutrients, dietary fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Vegetables are also low in calories.
  • Switch up white rice and beehoon with wholegrains such as unpolished rice, brown rice, brown beehoon or even buckwheat noodles as they are higher in fibre and nutrients.
  • Be mindful of your sodium intake by decreasing the amount of salt you use in your cooking.
  • For desserts, replace canned fruits (loaded with sugar) with fresh fruits or fruit salad. Watermelon, berries, and grapes make a great combination while adding vibrant colours to the table.
  • Include a fish dish in your dinner line-up. Fish is a low-fat, high protein meat source that is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamins and minerals making it very beneficial for your health. Fish is also considered a lucky food (believed to increase prosperity) to eat during CNY.

 

To sum it all, staying in shape during Chinese New Year doesn’t have to be hard at all. To be honest, it does take a little motivation and slight tweaking of old habits but you will have yourself to thank at the end of the festive period when you realize that you are not a few kilos heavier, you are not suffering from festive bloating and you feel great overall

 

Sources:

HealthHub. (n.d.). Sping to Health This Chinese New Year. Retrieved from: https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/194/spring_to_health_CNY

HealthPlus. (2017). A Dietitian’s 7 Tips to Stay Healthy & Slim During Chinese New Year. Retrieved from: https://www.mountelizabeth.com.sg/healthplus/article/7-tips-to-stay-slim-and-healthy-chinese-new-year

Hendrick, B. (2010). Water May Be Secret Weapon in Weight Loss. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20100823/water-may-be-a-secret-weapon-in-weight-loss#1

Shape. (2018). 5 Ways to Eat What You Want During Chinese New Year Without Gaining Weight. Retrieved from: https://www.shape.com.sg/weight-loss/5-ways-eat-want-chinese-new-year-without-gaining-weight/

Tan, I. (2019).  Commentary: Want to fight the sugar problem? Start counting calories. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/sugar-tax-diabetes-sweetened-drinks-start-counting-calories-11160658

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