Healthful Holiday Eating

The holiday season can be the most challenging time of year to maintain a healthy diet. Feelings of fear, anxiety and guilt around overeating and weight gain can obscure the true meaning of the season. Instead, set yourself up for success. From family dinners to cocktail parties, follow these twelve tips and get through the holidays healthier than ever.

Follow the Same Basic Guidelines

To your stomach, a holiday is just another day. So the same rules still apply: one half of your dinner plate should be vegetables, one quarter should be 3 to 4 ounces of protein (roughly equivalent to the size of a deck of cards), and the remaining quarter should contain grains or legumes. Whenever possible, choose whole grains over refined grains and if you eat meat, seek out products from animals raised on pasture. Choose fruit for dessert.

Exercise Portion Control

If there are several dishes at a special event that you want to taste, select a small portion of each. Derive pleasure from savoring the flavor and texture of every bite, not from eating a large amount. Choose quality over quantity.

Limit Sweet Foods

It’s always best to limit foods that contain refined flour and sugar. However, there can sometimes be room for small holiday indulgences (you wouldn’t want to offend grandma by passing on her famous pumpkin pie). Limit yourself to small servings of sweet foods, equivalent to one-half cup each day or less. If you are given more dessert than you can eat, share it with someone or save what you didn’t eat to take home with you. Of course, if you are diabetic or have another medical reason to eliminate high glycemic foods from your diet, always follow the advice of your doctor. And if you have a hard time sticking to small servings, do not eat these foods at all.

Eat Slowly

Chew your food thoroughly and eat slowly. This will support good digestion and give your brain better feedback from your stomach about how satiated you are. Taking time to enjoy meals makes it less likely that you will eat more than you should.

Drink After You Eat

For optimal digestion, drink beverages after you eat, not during mealtime. Excess liquid in your stomach can dilute gastric acid, slow digestion and contribute to feelings of fullness. If an event calls for a drink, avoid sweetened beverages. Choose water or wine instead. When consuming alcohol, be aware that it can lower inhibitions about overeating.

Stop Eating When You Are Full

After meals you should feel satiated, not stuffed. Consuming too much is uncomfortable and unhealthy, so when you’ve had enough food, stop eating and clear your plate. If you have leftover food, make yourself a plate for later, when you’ll appreciate it much more.

Bring Your Own Dish

If you anticipate that an event you plan to attend won’t have healthy foods on offer, bring your own dish to share. If you don’t have time to cook, assemble something nutritious: a variety of raw vegetables and hummus for dipping, a colorful fruit plate, or a smoked fish platter with lemon wedges, whole grain crispbread, and thick, creamy Greek yogurt.

Don’t Skip Meals

If you are anticipating eating a large meal, don’t skip other meals in preparation. Your body needs a certain amount of food each day to function optimally, but only a limited amount at any given time. If you fast to prepare for a big meal, you will arrive at the table feeling extremely hungry, making overeating and weight gain much more likely. Having a light lunch before a larger dinner is fine, but skipping lunch completely is not. Eating meals at regular times helps your body maintain balanced blood sugar and healthy metabolism.

Exercise Regularly

Regular physical activity also supports a healthy metabolism. Exercise not only helps prevent weight gain and relieve holiday stress, it improves cardiovascular health, energy levels, quality of sleep, balance, coordination and overall mood. But before you start any new physical activity, always ask your doctor for permission.

Eat Before You Go

If you plan to attend an event offering hors d’oeuvres rather than a full meal, eat something healthy before you go. If you have a big salad prior to the party, not only will you be sure to get your vegetables, but you’ll be more content to eat smaller portions of rich foods on offer.

Don’t Stand by the Food

If you are standing next to a food buffet at a holiday party, you will be more likely to continue eating even after you are no longer hungry. Instead, position yourself away from the food and focus on connecting with other people in the room.

Plan Other Activities

When you gather with family and friends for holiday meals, don’t make food the only focus. Plan other activities too. Go for a walk, build a snowman, make holiday decorations and play games.

Host It Yourself

It can be a lot of work, but when you host an event yourself, you have control over the food, beverages and activities. If you’re cooking dinner for a group, keep things simple: find healthy recipes you feel confident making and prepare as much as you can ahead of time so you will be able to enjoy your company when the event arrives.