Updated: Nov 9
The Chinese New Year is arguably the world's largest holiday and set of festivities. With family reunions over the course of a week and, pre-new year marketing and shopping running even longer. In our home base of Singapore, the festive season in Singapore commences with Mid-Autumn festival (and its delicious moon cakes), November's Divali and Thanksgiving all the way through to the Chinese New Year. A relentless season of festivities, family, friends and, potentially, related weight gain. Is there a way to find health and balance during the holiday season?
Let's make things quite clear - feast days, celebrations of culture and life - have a purpose. They should be enjoyed!
Living in a multi-cultural society such as Singapore - where we celebrate holidays from all over the world - we potentially face 2 to 3 months of less exercise (starting for some with Thanksgiving) and more calories than others might have to deal with. In one UK study the researchers found that even in cases where holiday bodyweight remained the same, worryingly the participants' fat mass increased and muscle mass decreased. A double whammy of bad health.
Studies from the China, UK and US have consistently shown that it is easy to gain 05. to 1 kg (1.1 to 2.2 lb) or more over any given holiday period. People may be facing a weight gain of 1.5 to 3 kg (up to 6.6lb) or more over the extended holidays. For some this weight can take months to lose, for others they may never lose it at all.
Outside of celebratory meals on the main days of Chinese New Year, we are bombarded with delicious snacks and tidbits, generally only available over the holidays. Sweet or salty, crunchy or fatty, these include salted fish skin (fried fish skin, usually in a salty rub), flaky pineapple tarts with their sweet filling, crunchy and crumbly kueh bangkit (a type of dry coconut cookie), bak kwa (BBQ pork jerky, usually sweet and salty), peanut cookies and love letters... salivatingly the list goes on.
Unfortunately many of these snacks are high in fats, sugars and salt. Perfectly designed to light up the dopamine receptors in our brains: addictive food. This is OK as an occasional treat but not if consumed in quantity and over a period of time.
So while celebrating and wanting to maintain our health, our waistlines, what can we do?
Plan for Success
Make a plan, set some parameters. Think about what you really want to enjoy and the potential consequences. With some many occasions to feast ahead of you where can you exercise restraint? What does that look like to you? After that, consider these actionale items to help you to success.
Eat healthy, daily. Try to eat something healthy everyday. What meal can you control, breakfast perhaps? Can you make sure that you eat healthy snacks, fruit and nuts, on a daily basis or before you go out. Fill-up on healthy items so that you don't binge later.
Moderation and Portion Control. Enjoy the seasonal treats and the snacks but remember - you don’t have to go all-in every time. Portion control counts. By all means, enjoy the kueh but maybe don't go for seconds, or thirds!
Hydrate and fill. When the corks come out and the alcoholic drinks are pouring, alternate alcoholic drinks with plain water. Your waistline, liver and head will thank you later.
Plan a 'day off' after a feast day. No reason not to enjoy leftovers and perhaps focus on a day of 'light' eating. The '7th day' holiday of RenRi provides a perfect example for this.
Don't be afraid to say No. Politely turning down offers of food or drink can at time be difficult but pays dividends.
Regular weigh-ins work to keep you on track with your weight management goals.
Weight loss can be a real challenge in Singapore, for many reasons. What we eat, how we eat is just one part of health. To successfully navigate the new year (and run-up to the new year) there are other lifestyle practices that we can use to manage our health, we discuss these here.
Being conscious, mindful, about eating and drinking habits can make a difference to your success in weight management - and health - over the festive season.
Celebrating Chinese New Year doesn't mean living in denial of the foods that we enjoy. Just taking small steps to maintain your health, having a bigger goal in mind, and still enjoying those pineapple tarts!
Stay Healthy and Happy New Year, 祝大家新年快乐, 身体健康！
Felicia and Alastair
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Hengrong Luo & Xiaohua Yu (2022) National day holiday and Weight Gain in China: evidence from the CHNS surveys, Applied Economics Letters, 29:2,145-149,DOI: 10.1080/13504851.2020.1861184
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Díaz-Zavala RG, Castro-Cantú MF, Valencia ME, Álvarez-Hernández G, Haby MM, Esparza-Romero J. Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. J Obes. 2017;2017:2085136. doi: 10.1155/2017/2085136. Epub 2017 Jul 4. PMID: 28744374; PMCID: PMC5514330.
Hull HR, Hester CN, Fields DA. The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006 Dec 28;3:44. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-3-44. PMID: 17192197; PMCID: PMC1766354.