10 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! But, for those of us who have worked tirelessly for the past ten months to establish and maintain healthy eating habits, it can also be the most stressful. From Aunt Ida’s mouthwatering stuffing to Grandma Jane’s infamous pecan pie, the holiday season brings with it a seemingly endless supply of indulgent – and equally delicious – foods to be enjoyed.

Believe it or not, it IS possible to enjoy all of the delicious flavors of the holiday season (guilt-free!) without undoing all of the progress that you’ve made toward your health goals. Set yourself up for success this holiday season with a few simple tips and strategies from AHN’s Registered Dietitian:

  1. Honesty is the best policy. As we gear up for the holiday season, be honest with yourself upfront and set realistic expectations. Rather than attempting to swear off holiday treats altogether (an overly ambitious and highly unlikely feat), acknowledge that your diet will likely include a few more indulgences than usual – and adjust your goals accordingly. If you’re in the midst of a weight loss journey, focus on simply maintaining your current weight through the New Year, rather than trying to shed additional pounds. The more realistic your expectations, the more likely you’ll be to bounce back after a night of overindulging.
  1. Step OFF the scale. There’s nothing more discouraging than turning down treats at a holiday party, only to step on the scale the next morning to find that the number actually went UP. While sudden shifts in weight are mostly due to temporary fluid retention (“water weight”), the initial shock can be devastating enough to cause you to throw in the towel on your healthy habits altogether. If you find that your usual weigh-in routine is causing you to turn into the Grinch, consider stepping off the scale for a while. Tune into how your body is feeling and allow your internal hunger and fullness cues to guide your food decisions (your body is smarter than you may think!)
  1. Don’t run on empty. On days when you know you’ll be attending a holiday gathering with plenty of food, it may be tempting to skip meals earlier in the day to “save up” for the extra calories. However, showing up to a party or meal completely famished is a surefire way to find yourself face-first in a platter of cookies before the first course has even been served. To prevent overindulging this holiday season, start your mornings with a protein-packed breakfast (think scrambled eggs with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt with fruit) and aim to eat every 4-5 hours throughout the day. Make a conscious effort to include plenty of nutrient-dense foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins) with your meals to maintain good digestion and help balance out some of those holiday indulgences.
  1. Take a lap… around the table. Did you know that the majority of our plates tend to be made up of the first three foods we see? Before piling food onto your plate, take a moment to scope out all of the options available. You may be surprised to find that the frozen meatballs sitting at the head of the table turn out to be one of the least appealing options available. Once you’ve had a chance to fully assess the situation, begin by serving yourself small sample-size portions of the dishes that interest you and then go back for larger helpings of your favorites.
  1. Eat what you LOVE, leave what you like. With so many incredible foods available around the holidays, there’s no reason to settle for something that is just… If you find yourself biting into a food that you’re not crazy about, simply set it aside and move on to the next. Despite what your parents may have led you to believe growing up, you are not obligated to be a member of the “Clean Plate Club”. Save your indulgences for foods that really excite you!
  1. Eat your veggies (first!). Studies suggest that filling up on fiber- and water-rich foods at the start of a meal may actually help to prevent overeating later on. If possible, try starting your meals with a salad, some veggies, or a broth-based soup; this will help curb your appetite and prevent you from overdoing it on some of the heavier holiday fare. Not to mention, you’ll get an extra dose of immune-boosting nutrients to help keep you healthy and happy all season long!
  1. Savor the flavor. We’ve all been there… one minute you’re deep in conversation, and the next you’re staring down at an empty plate of crumbs wondering where all your food went. Prevent mindless munching this holiday season by bringing awareness back to your meals and snacks. Slow down and savor each bite by putting your utensils down while you chew and alternating bites of food with occasional sips of water. Meanwhile, check in with yourself periodically and ask, “Am I still enjoying this?” If the answer is no, then take a break and re-evaluate your hunger later. Keep in mind that it takes roughly 20 minutes for your brain to recognize that you’re full; so, if you want to avoid a stomachache later, your best bet is to stop eating when you’re satisfied, not stuffed.
  1. Reinvent your leftovers. Our bodies are fully capable of handling occasional bouts of overeating; however, things can start to get a little more complicated when a one-day holiday “splurge” turns into a week-long feast. Spread out your indulgences this holiday season by freezing as many leftovers as possible and incorporating the rest into well-balanced meals. Leftover meat and veggies make wonderful additions to salads, soups, sandwiches, and frittatas, while sweet potato casserole adds a festive holiday touch to whole-grain muffins, breads, and pancakes.
  1. Prioritize sleep. With a jam-packed schedule filled with parties, traveling, and holiday shopping, it can be easy to let normal sleep habits fall by the wayside. But skimping on shuteye affects more than just your energy levels and mood; studies show that sleep deprivation also interferes with the body’s hunger and fullness cues, resulting in increased sugar cravings and a greater likelihood of overeating. Stay in control of your food choices this holiday season by ensuring that you’re getting at least 6-8 hours of sleep per night.
  1. Enjoy yourself. Last, but certainly not least… ENJOY YOURSELF! It’s really hard to be present and enjoy the company of loved ones when you’re fixated on the amount of food that you just ate. Do your best to let go of any guilt that you may be feeling around your food choices this holiday season and just enjoy the moment. If you feel as though you may have overindulged, learn from your experience and simply remind yourself to be a little more mindful next time. Remember, the holidays are all about connecting with loved ones; the food is just an added bonus.

About AHN Nutrition Services

AHN now offers Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT). This program features personalized nutrition counseling to help prevent and manage a variety of chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Clients work one-on-one with our Registered Dietitian to create a realistic nutrition plan that fits their lifestyle and meets their nutritional needs.