Seven Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

healthy holiday eating

Most of the people reading this article are interested in healthy holiday eating.  Based on the comments I have heard from a number of nutrition clients and friends, you eat fairly well at home, but eating out is often a problem, especially during the holidays.  

Recent studies have shown that adult Americans gain one pound over the holiday season and another pound during the rest of the year. This may not seem like a lot, but this weight is normally not lost. On average, Americans weigh 20 pounds more per decade!  Based on these statistics it is not hard to see why obesity is increasing at an exponential rate.  So that you can be above average – or maybe below average for weight gain! – read on. 

PLAN AHEAD! I know, I know, you have heard this one before, but it works.  Here are a few specific “plan-ahead” strategies to try.  

Plan your meals on days with holiday events.  If you are going to a cocktail or dinner party in the evening, then make sure to plan your other meals with care.  Eat as many high quality whole fruits and vegetables as possible along with adequate protein for the meals prior to the evening.  Don’t starve yourself by eating nothing during the day. Extreme hunger almost always ensures overeating.  Instead, by eating a slightly smaller amount of high quality foods during the day, your body will be full of nutrients and you will be better able to resist overeating. 

Bring a healthy dish to holiday gatherings.  Many events, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, involve contributing to the meal. Select a favorite healthy recipe that you like to make and take that food to the event.  Because I am gluten and dairy sensitive, I always bring a gluten and dairy-free entrée to events I attend.  That way I can have something healthy and safe to eat, even if nothing else seems appropriate.  

When eating in restaurants focus on the areas of the menu that have the healthy choices.  Menus are dividedinto sections such as appetizers, salads, sandwiches, meat entrees, seafood entrees, pastas, and desserts. I ignore the sandwich and dessert sections of the menu because these all contain gluten.  I also ignore the pasta section unless the restaurant has gluten-free pasta and I am sure that their cooking methods are safe.  If you need to limit sugar because you are diabetic or are trying to lose weight, don’t even look at the dessert section of the menu!  Instead, train your brain to focus on those parts of the menu where the healthy choices for you are most likely to be found.  

Stay away from food temptations.If you are trying to lose weight, and you know that you eat too much at buffets, then don’t go there.  If that is not possible because you want to attend the event, pre-plan what you will eat prior to getting in the buffet line. Then eat ONLY those foods.  Many foods at holiday parties are healthy, including fresh-cut fruits, vegetables, peeled shrimp, sliced meats, cheeses and nuts.  As long as you don’t eat too many desserts or breads, you should be fine. 

Don’t eat standing up.  Many holiday events are cocktail-type parties. Get a plate, choose the food you want and put it on your plate.  Then take the plate to a table, sit down and eat it mindfully.  Remember the previous times standing by the buffet chatting and eating massive amounts of nuts or chips and dip.  Try to learn more about mindful eating and consciously focus on the food you are eating.  The source at the end of this article gives some good suggestions about cultivating mindfulness.   

Don’t over-consume alcohol.  It is very easy for liquid calories to add up at a holiday party.  Women should consume a maximum of one serving of alcohol and men only two. This can be hard, especially at a party that lasts two or more hours. Sip slowly on your glass of wine or mixed drink and enjoy it, rather than gulping it down.  Then have club soda with lime for the rest of the evening.

Plan for a certain number of indulgences. If you love the fruitcake cookies or red velvet cake your mother makes, plan to eat some without guilt and relish the experience. Think about this ahead of time and plan what special holiday treats or meals you will have.  On the other hand, if you know someone at work always brings leftover Halloween candy to share, make sure and have some healthy fruit with you to eat instead.  Don’t waste your calories on treats you don’t really like.  Check out my recipe page for healthy treats you can make.

Humans are the only creatures that God has designed with a prefrontal cortex.  This means we don’t have to be like Pavlov’s dogs, and mindlessly respond to the food stimuli in front of us.  Instead we can use our brains to plan our eating and then stick to that plan.  By using the strategies above you can participate in holiday events and be confident that you will be able to stick to your healthy eating plan. 


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