Is it possible to enjoy the festive party season while not gaining the average six pounds that we pile on between now and Christmas Day?
Yes, just so long as you know how to navigate the usual pitfalls and have a few tricks up your sleeve.
When the mince pies appear, distract yourself with a phone call, grab a satsuma or think of a great excuse to talk to a colleague across the office. Do anything except dive in, because just one average mince pie packs in 252 calories. That’s seven calories short of a Mars bar (or two and a half bananas), and how often do you stick with just one mince pie?
As for the family-size tins of chocolates, that infiltrate offices at this time of the year, just say no. If you politely refuse the first few times the tin is offered, hopefully it won’t come your way again.
To avoid moments of weakness, move any chocs out of your eye-line and have a small 30g bar of dark chocolate in your drawer to nibble if you get desperate. A couple of squares will give you about 60 calories as opposed to 72 in two filled chocolates. Research suggests that dark chocolate also helps to curb the appetite.
Party nibble nightmares
Crisps, nuts, Japanese crackers, tortilla chips and Bombay mix; all are loaded with calories. Each has around 150-170 calories per couple of handfuls (about 30g) and they are almost impossible to stop eating once you start.
To avoid falling prey, eat before you party. A slice of wholegrain toast with peanut butter; a mini cheese such as Babybel with two oatcakes and an apple; a handful of chopped dried apricots and a few teaspoons of chopped cashew nuts; a banana and a few tablespoons of 0 per cent fat Greek yoghurt. All help to fill you up and make bowls of snacks less tempting.
Scan the selection as they do the rounds and be polite but firm in opting for things such as grilled prawns, pork or chicken satay sticks and any sashimi you can spy. These are not only lean on the calorie front, with about 50 calories per serving, they are also high in protein, which fills you up.
Avoid the dips that often accompany canapés; they tend to be fatty and calorie-laden, as are canapés wrapped in filo pastry such as won tons, any that are deep-fried such as scampi, and cheese-rich offerings such as mini-baked Camembert.
High-profile socialites are known, if all else fails, to surreptitiously deconstruct canapés, for example, eating the roast beef while eschewing the accompanying Yorkshire pudding.
Buffet tables are one of the easiest places to eat well on the party scene. Head for plain meats such as turkey, ham or beef. Try chicken legs or drumsticks if you feel able to wrestle the skin off with dignity while simultaneously holding your plate, fork and glass and making entertaining conversation.
Pile your plate with salad bits and crudités but forget the dips unless you spy a tasty-looking salsa, which is usually low-fat, or hoummos. Avoid cream-based dips and leave the taramasalata for others: it packs in around 250 calories per tablespoon.
Forget mayonnaise-bound salads (mayonnaise adds 100 calories to a serving of tuna or potato salad, for example); avoid “shiny” foods that glisten – it usually means they are oozing with fat – and don’t be fooled by “bite-size” things such as sausage rolls. They have about 90 calories each.
Finally, try putting your fork in your left hand if you are right-handed and vice versa. It’s amazing how much more slowly this technique makes you eat.
If you are invited to a festive lunch or dinner, remember to check the menu before you go, or at least make each course decision before you start drinking.
Soups and melon are almost always the lowest-calorie starters with around 100-200 calories each. Skipping bread and rolls with butter while waiting for your starter saves 200 calories, minimum. Roast turkey or other meats, and grilled, baked or roasted fish are good choices for your main course. For example, a large serving of turkey, minus the skin, with two roast potatoes, lots of carrots, broccoli and French beans, a tablespoon of stuffing and bread sauce, and two tablespoons of gravy, adds up to 566 calories.
Puddings are easy: ice cream, sorbet and fruit salads are the best options.