‘Tis the season for parties and, if you’re not careful, the pounds.
When it comes to the holidays, food is going to be the center of most celebrations. One of the best ways to keep overeating in check during this festive time is to first acknowledge and accept the bountiful temptations coming your way. Unless you’re the Grinch with zero friends, there’s really no way around it. Once you’ve recognized that fact, the next step is to arm yourself with an attitude:
I will enjoy holiday food, but without overdoing the holiday food.
As a certified clinical nutritionist, trust me when I say, “indulging a bit is perfectly okay and, actually, very healthy.” A healthy lifestyle is NOT about perfection but, rather, consistency. It’s meant to make you feel good, boost energy and confidence, not add stress or transform you into a Gluten-obsessed Scrooge spending time scouring ingredients instead of opening gifts and visiting with family.
Fortunately, my education and experience have helped me develop a plan to do both: Enjoy the holiday food, without adding New Year’s weight.
My pointers for before, during and after your holiday parties:
Before the Party
Let’s decide when we shouldn’t – and should – indulge.
In preparation for any holiday event, DO NOT deprive yourself! Over-restriction leads to over-indulgence or binge eating. When you know you have a dinner party or social gathering coming up, eat as you NORMALLY would leading up to the event. Focus on whole foods, such as fruits, veggies, and lean protein sources, which will fuel your body with proper nutrition and leave you feeling full and satisfied. That way, when presented with food temptations, you’ll have better self-control and be less likely to overeat.
Also, keep healthy food options on hand or even meal prep ahead of time. When we are unprepared and hungry, we are more likely to make impulsive, bad decisions. When we are stressed and busy at work and come home late after the gym, the last thing we want to do is cook. Planning or even prepping your food ahead of time can reduce stress during the week and make it much easier to stay on track.
During the Party:
- One plate fits all
Parties often serve food in a buffet, which makes it easy to graze all night. It’s that mindless nibbling that gets us in trouble, because our minds don’t actually register how much we have eaten.
When hitting the buffet, stick to a single plate so you can be more mindful of serving sizes and how much you are eating. Most of the time, we eat far more calories picking here and there than in eating just one plate of food.
- Don’t forget your veggies
Start by filling a quarter of your plate with lean protein. Some holiday party staples are roast beef, deviled eggs, aged cheese, shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon, turkey meatballs and hummus, which are all great options. Protein is very satiating, meaning it makes you feel full and satisfied and offers longer-lasting fullness.
Next, the veggies. Add as much as you want! Green beans, asparagus, bell peppers, mushrooms or a side salad. These are not only low in calories, but they are also loaded in fiber which will fill you up.
- Be choosy with your boozy
Alcohol increases appetite and can deter you from making sensible food choices. With that in mind, try my 1:1 rule — one alcoholic drink per hour, followed by a tall glass of water. Your liver can only process one drink per hour and the water will help you stay hydrated and clear-headed.
Carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram and alcohol has 7 calories per gram. That means, aside from fat sources, the calories from alcohol can add up fast, especially when we start mixing in juices, creamy liqueurs, simple syrup. Add sugar, add calories.
Still, it is a holiday celebration and it’s okay to enjoy yourself. Just choose wisely when it comes to the booze:
- Go Plain: Mix spirits with fresh fruit, club soda, or water and ice.
- Pop a bottle: Enjoy a lower sugar, dry red or white wine such as: sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, chardonnay, and pinot noir.
- Hit the Club: Opt for club soda as your mixer. It has zero calories and sugar, unlike regular sodas and tonic water.
- Don’t forget to breathe
It takes 20 minutes for you brain to realizes it is full, so eating slower will help you listen to your body and avoid overeating. And if you bite into something you’re not crazy about, don’t feel obligated to finish eating it. Be picky and save your calories for the items that you’re especially craving.
- Talk more, chew less
Often, we indulge because were on autopilot, feeling awkward, or just want something to do with our hands. Personally, I like to have a sparkling water with lemon or lime in my hand. Keeps me busy, and hydrated. Also, be sure to make conversation with the people at the party! If you’re busy chatting someone up, you can’t use your mouth to mindlessly eat.
- Don’t fear dessert
After you’ve filled up on some satisfyingly healthy options, go ahead and enjoy some holiday treats! If you follow my holiday guidelines and focus on healthy and filling options fist, you will be less likely to over-do it. Savor your sweets, one, slow, bite at a time.
After the Party:
As tempting as it is to want to stay inside on the couch and under a blanket on those cold Winter days, it’s vital to keep up with an exercise routine. Not only to burn off those extra calories, but also to put that extra food to good use building muscle. Staying consistent with your workout routine will also help tremendously with your energy levels and managing stress during the hectic holidays.
Cut yourself some slack if you over-indulge or eat something you didn’t plan on eating. The worst thing you can do is to beat yourself up physically and psychologically.
Remember, consistency is key, but balance is necessary.
Lastly, remember what the holidays are really about—family and friends. Make them – not food – your primary focus this holiday season!
Rachel Scheer is a Certified Nutritionist who received her degree from Baylor University in Nutrition Science and Dietetics. Rachel has her own private nutrition and counseling practice located in McKinney, Texas. Rachel has helped clients with a wide range of nutritional needs enhance their athletic performance, improve their physical and mental health, and make positive lifelong eating and exercise behavior changes.