The holidays are here, which means so are the holiday parties. It’s difficult for even the most dedicated healthy eaters to pass by the buffets of buttery tarts, platters of sweet cookies, and trays of decadent appetizers. Luckily, you don’t have to.
You can still enjoy the holiday eats—and you don’t have to beat yourself up or spend hours in the gym to “earn” them either. The secret to eating smart during the holiday season is to adopt practical strategies that help you be mindful about what you eat and still enjoy a little bit of every occasion.
These six strategies for smart and healthy eating during the holidays can help.
Use a salad or dessert plate at the food table. Most dinner plates, even the disposable ones, are close to a dozen inches wide. That’s a lot of surface area for sweets and treats that can pile on the calories. Instead of using the larger plate, look for a smaller one. A salad or dessert plate would be ideal. Not only does this force you to be more selective of the foods you put on your plate, but also it cuts down on food waste, too. Use the smaller plate when you pass through the food line, and you’ll eat smaller food portions. Even if you go back for seconds, you’re likely to eat less than someone using the larger plate from the start.
Give yourself healthy choices for every meal. Skipping meals to “save” calories certainly sounds good on the surface, but it could backfire. It puts you at risk of overeating when you finally let yourself have a bit of food. Instead, make sure you have a plan for a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner—we recommend using our Healthy Breakfast and Lunch Meal Plans, as well as our Quick & Healthy Dinner Plan—and stick to it. Planning, prepping ahead, and cooking your meals means you can’t be tempted to skip, and you can help yourself prevent overindulging later.
Sit away from the buffet. Once you fill your plate, pick a spot in another room, or as far away from the tables of food as you can. You’re less likely to get up and go back for seconds if you have a long walk to complete. Also, if you can’t sit and watch all the delicious food, you boost the “out of site, out of mind” benefit of sitting elsewhere. Likewise, make sure you are actually sitting, not standing, while you nibble and chat. Sitting to eat helps you focus on your meal more than if you’re standing and juggling a plate and a glass.
Remember the rule of diminishing returns. The piece of chocolate cheesecake really looks tantalizing, doesn’t it? Grab a slice. No, seriously! Grab a slice. There’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy during this happy season. Keep one thing in mind, however. Food has a law of diminishing returns: The more you eat, the less delightful each bite will be. The first bite of cheesecake is almost euphoric. But the last? Your mouth might be on sugar overload. Eat a bite or two of cheesecake. Really enjoy it—close your eyes and truly relish the feeling of that creamy filling, crumbly crust, and fluffy whipped cream. This mindful eating trick will help you be just as satisfied (possibly more) with your treat without you feeling like you have to eat the entire piece to be satisfied.
Plan non-food activities for holiday events. Who says you have to eat to enjoy the holidays? Instead of another buffet or another platter of cookies and cake, plan something different and unique. Get your friends together for a crafting night—paint a picture at a local art studio, hire an expert knitter to teach you all how to make a hat or mittens, attend a community talk or book reading, or look for a trampoline park that hosts adults-only nights. You can still exchange the gifts, celebrate the season, and spend time together. You just don’t have to worry with the food, too.
Actually enjoy the holidays. Above all else, remember that the holiday season is a time for celebrating and rejoicing with the people you care for and love. Don’t restrict yourself. These once-a-year celebrations are a good time to enjoy your friends and family and leave behind the worries of calories and carb counts. Take a bite of Aunt Peggy’s caramel cake—she only makes it at Christmas after all. Let yourself truly enjoy it, and then you can look forward to it again next year.