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Healthy Holiday Eating Habits

How to Navigate Nutrition During the Holidays

Healthy holiday eating is a battle on two fronts, with indulgent food options at home and at parties. From sugar cookies and eggnog to buffets and multi-course meals, the time between Halloween and New Year’s Eve is a minefield for eating well.

Even before the first invitation arrives, it’s helpful to set some realistic expectations. The holiday season is almost inevitably caloric and indulgent. In order to enjoy what friends, family and office parties have to offer, as well as lower some diet-related stress, focus on maintaining your weight rather than losing weight. Allow yourself more flexibility this time of year. There will be temptations in every direction, and with a little planning, you can indulge in your favorite foods while still eating well. If you’re currently on a weight loss plan, talk to your nutritionist or primary care physician about how to best approach — and enjoy — eating during the holiday season.

Increasing, or at least prioritizing, exercise can be beneficial during this period. Parking a little further away, walking when possible — even in the cold weather — can not only help you de-stress, but it can also help you keep your weight stable. But time during the holidays can be as scarce as sugar is plentiful. If you’re finding it hard to fit in fitness, break up your exercise into shorter 10‐ to 15-minute segments.

At the Holiday Party

No matter if they are sit-down family dinners or buffet-style office parties, social gatherings during the holiday season are full of indulgent foods that challenge healthy eating habits.

1. Eat Beforehand

Eat breakfast, lunch and any of your usual energy boosters throughout the day as well as something small immediately before your event. When you skip meals in an effort to reserve calories, you often end up overeating, not to mention feeling sluggish and hungry throughout the day. A light snack before the party, such as fruit or raw vegetables, will help you manage your appetite. If you’re attending a party where there may not be a full meal, eat a nutritious and protein-filled dinner before arriving — that will save you from trying to sustain yourself on high-calorie finger food.

2. Survey the Options

When you arrive, take some time to see what’s offered. Identify your healthy options and what will be your big indulgences. Then formulate a quick plan that will allow you to enjoy your favorite holiday foods without abandoning your healthy habits. Naturally low-calorie party foods include raw vegetables, grapes, salsa, chicken kebabs and shrimp.

3. Avoid Grazing

If given the option of buffet appetizers or passed hors d’oeuvres, wait for the food to come to you. Not only do the more interesting options usually appear on passed platters, the staggered service will also slow down your eating and help you eat less.

When the party is buffet or bust, distance is key. After you’ve filled your plate, step away from the table so you’re not too tempted to graze or go for seconds. Out-of-reach is also a strong strategy for snacks like nuts, chocolates or chips that may be placed in bowls around the room.

Using a small plate can help you control serving size by limiting how much of each food you choose.

4. BYO Health Food

While you may not always have the option to contribute a dish, when the opportunity presents itself, bring the healthy food you want to see at the party. At potlucks in particular, there will be desserts and rich dips a-plenty. Volunteer to bring a healthy spin on comfort food, especially if dietary restrictions present an added concern.

Want to bring something nutritious that’s still a seasonal classic? Pick from these healthy twists on holiday recipes.

5. Beware of Booze

Eggnog is the notorious beverage threat to your diet, but alcoholic drinks in general are rich with added sugar, so keep those glasses of punch in mind when you’re calculating calories. Moreover, alcohol can diminish your inhibitions and lead to overeating — a double danger. Treat holiday cocktails like a dessert and you should be in good shape.

6. Decide About Dessert

Speaking of dessert, there’s no avoiding it at a holiday parties — it’s almost the main event. Some strategic eating, such as starting with low-cal vegetables or broth-based soups to fill you up before a light dinner, can leave both room and calories to indulge in dessert.

7. End With a Mint

It can be tempting to keep eating after we’re full or as long as there’s good food in sight. When you’re satisfied or want to stop yourself from overindulging, have a mint or a piece of gum. Not only will it freshen your breath, but the mint also can act as a mild appetite suppressant.

On the Home Front

Your everyday lifestyle is not immune to the sweet — and less than healthy — temptations of the holiday season. While you may face fewer indulgent options at home, there are still plenty of opportunities for your healthy diet to get off track.

Choose Your Indulgences

If you usually keep some guilty pleasure snacks around the house, now’s the time to clear them out. With peak indulgence at holiday parties — and so many cookies and treats on offer everywhere you go — an extra effort to cut back on your usual cheat foods can help keep your nutritional balance.

Bakers Beware

The holiday season presents a plethora of new recipes and old favorites to prepare. Keep one day’s worth of treats and share the rest of the batch with your coworkers, neighbors, friends and family.

Plan for the Sneak Attack

The holiday season is particularly busy with errands, party prep and shopping. When you’re out, try to make time to refuel at a proper restaurant rather than a grab-and-go food court option. If you’re hoping to keep things moving, bring a bag of nuts or dried fruit; these energy-boosting foods can fill you up until you find time for a healthy meal.