‘Tis the season to fall off the weight-loss wagon. With treats abounding and cold weather rolling in, it’s prime time for overindulging and skipping workouts—which can ruin that healthy momentum you’ve been building all year long.
In order to keep your health goals intact and still enjoy yourself during the holidays, you need to think strategically about how to approach eating and drinking this time of year. So, yes, prepare yourself for snickerdoodles, pecan pie, eggnog, cocktails and sweet potato casserole—just not all at once, portioned wisely, and eaten with a side of self-awareness. Here’s how to navigate the endless holiday buffet without gaining any waistline bulge.
Plan Treats in Advance
If you’re headed to a holiday party, decide if you’re going to have a cookie, a cocktail, or one of each—and then stick to the plan when you’re there. “If you’re not sure what’s going to be served at a restaurant or a friend’s party, check the menu online or call in advance,” says Lauren Popeck, RD, a dietitian at Orlando Health. “If you like dessert, stick to just a few small things so you can taste, or opt for one cocktail when you walk in.”
Say No If It’s Not Special
Pre-packaged cookies might be more festive when they’re frosted red and green, but that doesn’t mean they taste any different than they do in March. If it’s not a once-a-year treat—like Aunt Ellen’s famous pecan pie—then pass on it. “If you love it and it’s really special, then eat it and enjoy it,” says Popeck. “Just be smart with your portion size.” That way, you’ll feel better about digging in.
Keep Cocktail Calories in Check
No matter how “skinny,” cocktail calories add up. If you want a drink to unwind this season, try cutting it with club soda or seltzer water—think wine spritzer, vodka soda, or gin and soda with lime. “That way, you get the flavor and the volume without the extra sugar and calories,” says Popeck. And always, always alternate drinks with glasses of water to cut down on calories and stay sober enough to make smart choices while snacking.
Send Leftovers Packing
Your guests are more likely to rave about the pumpkin pie or cranberry relish than your veggie side or classic turkey—so send them packing with the special stuff. “Keep only what you can reuse in a healthy meal for your leftovers, like veggies and lean protein,” says Popeck. “Send the rest out the door with your guests, in to-go containers.” Still have leftovers and don’t want to waste ‘em? Stash pre-portioned meals in the freezer to enjoy at a later date, after the holidays.
Counter Heavy with Light
If you overindulge, don’t panic, says Popeck. Mindlessly stuffing yourself on a heavy, carb-loaded meal can happen this time of year. Just think light the next time you sit down to eat (and until you feel better). “Don’t skip meals, but lighten up the next one with a salad, or a little bit of lean protein and veggies with high water content to flush the bloat,” Popeck says. Some good ones: lettuce, cucumbers, celery, and bell peppers.
Don’t Stand Near the Snacks
The closer your hands are to the appetizers or snack table, the more likely you’ll reach for the yummy goods—and the more you’ll eat, according to 2006 research from Cornell University’s Food Lab. “Focus on socializing at parties,” says Popeck. “Go play the game, and keep moving past the snack table.” If you’re cooking and can’t get away from food’s siren call, she suggests keeping a veggie tray on the table. When you’re tempted to taste test the mashed potatoes (over and over again), reach for pre-cut, low-cal cucumbers, carrots, or celery instead.
Hike, Don’t Hibernate
The yule log is burning, but before you cozy up to it with a mug of cocoa, hit your step goal. To do that, Popeck suggests making that extra effort during the hustle and bustle. While running errands, take an extra lap around the parking lot. When you’re cleaning the house before guests arrive, do a couple sets of stairs. And plan to take a quick walk after your healthy, pre-party lunch. “A few extra minutes of activity each day can really adds up by week’s end,” she insists. For instance, if you can squeeze in an extra 10 minutes of walking a day, you’re looking at 70 minutes extra a week—the equivalent of an extra solid workout.
Stick to Your Normal Sleep Routine
It’s tough to get everything done during the hectic holiday season, but skimping on sleep to wrap presents isn’t going to do your waistline any good. According to research, just one night of sleep deprivation can lead to higher activity in the region of the brain that controls our motivation to eat—meaning, you’re more likely to indulge. So, hit the sack at your normal bedtime. And if you have the urge to snack in the late evening, “A mug of peppermint or chamomile tea can take the edge off the munchies,” says Popeck.
What’s your strategy for sticking to healthy habits during the holidays? Join the conversation!
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.