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How to Eat Healthier During the Holidays

Updated: May 28, 2023

a festive holiday table setting

Celebrating the holidays by eating a meal prepared with love, surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones is a tradition that just can't be beat. Unfortunately, for most of us, it results in unwanted weight gain. Does the dreaded extra 5 pounds sound familiar?

While we really don't gain 5 extra pounds during the holiday season, we do gain about 1-2 extra pounds each year from overindulging in all of those rich delicious holiday meals. 1 extra pound a year might not sound so bad but most of us never lose that extra pound. Over the course of 10 years, we find ourselves 10 pounds heavier.

Even if we do get through the holidays without gaining any extra weight, the tendency to overindulge could bring about some pretty unhealthy eating habits that we spend the rest of the year trying to undo.

Although, there's nothing wrong with indulging from time to time, there are ways to "have your cake and eat it too" without the guilt that is often associated with the extravagant foods we eat around the holidays.

So don't worry about overindulging or telling family and friends that you won't be participating in the holiday meal festivities this year.

You can enjoy the holiday season without eating too much simply by changing your mindset and incorporating some simple tactics.

When spending time with family over the holidays, focus on your family instead of the meal. Eating meals with the ones we love is a time honored enjoyable tradition that has been ingrained in our culture but try to shift your focus to the ones you love and not eating.

friends eating at an outside table together

Pace Yourself to Eat Healthier During the Holidays

This means spending more time talking at the dinner table than waiting to get seconds.

Pacing your eating will give your brain and stomach more time to interact. This helps you realize when you are full and you may even feel fuller quicker.

Focusing on the company and conversation instead of the candied yams leads to less eating overall since you're main goal will be to catch up with family and friends not the dessert table. You may even decide to skip on getting a second helping as you become enthralled with Uncle Joe's tall tales.

Speaking of seconds, it can be hard to say "no" to Grandma when she's adamant on giving you an extra serving of mashed potatoes. These situations need tact. So suggest that she packs you some hearty left-overs instead. Explain that you are just about stuffed and that you would love for her to pack some food to take home since you enjoy her cooking so much.

This tactic helps you avoid hurting anyone's feelings and expanding your waistline.

Focus on Portion Control

Also focus on portion control. If given the chance, opt to serve yourself instead of having a family member pack your plate. If you come from a large family or one that prides itself on large meals, it's almost impossible for you to get an accurate portion when letting someone else serve you.

Serving yourself prevents someone else from overfilling your plate.

Choose a small salad plate instead of a full size dinner plate to avoid serving yourself too much food. You may get strange looks from your relatives but it's worth it to avoid the looks of frustration you'll be giving yourself in the mirror on New Year's Day after a month or two of overindulgence right?

And don't just stop at choosing a small salad plate.

Research shows that you can increase a feeling of fullness and eat less when choosing smaller utensils, like spoons, too. When offered the choice, choose smaller plates and eating utensils, to prevent overeating.

pumpkin tarts

Have a sampler style dessert instead of a full dessert. If there are an array of goodies on the table, opt for a small bite of two or three. This way you get a taste of the all the holiday goodies without overloading on sugar.

If you are going to your family's home for a holiday meal, offer to bring a dish, especially a dessert, that you can make yourself.

This way you can make the recipe to your standards, substituting extra sugars for stevia and carb laden crusts for gluten free nut crusts.

Making (and bringing) your own dishes, will help you have more control over the ingredients and you might even impress your family with a new healthy flavorful dish.

Some suggestions to make healthier dishes include using protein packed quinoa in place of a more traditional bread based stuffing, using avocado or banana as a base for creamy dishes, and substituting dark chocolate for milk chocolate when you can.

When it comes to beverages, limit your consumption of sugar laden drinks and alcoholic beverages. While these drinks are staples of the holiday season, they contain a lot of calories and those hidden calories quickly add up.

Eggnog has 233 calories per one cup serving!

What's worse is that these drinks do absolutely nothing for your appetite! So you still end up consuming more calories than planned due to these rich holiday drinks.

So instead of the rich sugar laden beverages, choose water instead or opt for one sweet or alcoholic beverage and no more. If you know that you’ll want to consume more alcohol, volunteer to be the designated driver so that you’ll have to exercise restraint.

Try Physical Activity After Your Meal

After the meal, instead of sitting around and watching tv, suggest that your group of family and friends, go for a walk around the neighborhood in the brisk evening air to enjoy all of the holiday lights.

Don't try to turn this into a sprint walk or a marathon. The purpose of this walk isn't to burn any calories although that may be an added bonus!

The real propose of taking a walk is to get you up, out of the house, and away from the food. Many of us have a habit of grazing or eating small snacks or portions of food during the holidays while we sit around the fireplace and reminisce with family and friends.

Getting out of the house by walking around the neighborhood removes that option. You'll enjoy spending time with family and perhaps even meet new people in the neighborhood. Maybe you'll start a new family tradition!

couple looking at Christmas lights

Eat Before You Have Dinner

Also try eating before you come to your family gathering. If you have already eaten before arriving, then it will be easier to put smaller portions on your plate. Most of us wait until meal time and then tend to overeat.

This is because we eat a lighter breakfast or lunch than normal in anticipation of the holiday meal. When we finally get to the dinner table, we eat too much too quickly not giving our bodies a chance to process the feeling of satiation.

If you choose to eat a healthy filling meal with fiber, fat, and protein, then you won't as tempted to eat everything in sight during your family get together. If you really don't want to eat before your family gathering, you can always try protein shakes or protein bars to help quell your hunger. Just be sure to choose protein shakes and bars that are low in sugar to avoid extra calories.

Incorporating these tips in your holiday meal times will allow you to enjoy the company of family without overeating or feeling guilty. Plus it doesn't place any unnecessary restrictions about your meal choices on your family.

Did you find any of these tips helpful to eat healthier during the holidays?

Which ones will you choose?

Do you have any of your own to add?

Let me know in the comments!


Woman in watermelon dress holding a piece of watermelon
I'm Dr. Candace Mathers, a naturopathic physician,helping you repair, restore, and renew your health and life to new heights! I'm a Christian, a mother, and lover of the outdoors.

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