Navigating a Healthy Holiday

Holiday season is here and there’s no doubt that this time of year is the HARDEST time to make smart food choices. Temptations are everywhere. Office parties, family get-togethers, and seasonal events fill our schedules. The problem is that all of these gatherings involve food and our favorite holiday foods are just so good (and usually not the most nutritious).

We already have the normal holiday stresses of finances, family time, and lack of time and daylight. This year, we can add the continuing worry of a pandemic as the icing on the 2020 cake. I think we can all agree that we just can’t add anything else to our plates. This is a really common response when people talk about their health and wellness goals this time of year and this is also the reason that so many goals are put off until after the New Year.

So, let’s talk about how to take one thing OFF of your plate this season and help you reach your health goals. Let’s get rid of the stress around your food choices. Food should never be something that causes stress or anxiety. Simply put, it’s merely a lump of calories on a plate, some of it more nutritious than others. There is a way you can still enjoy all of your favorite seasonal treats and still work toward your goals (and no, this isn’t some gimmick or FAD diet).

You can accomplish this through a habit-based approach to your nutrition. When you focus on your habits surrounding food, rather than only the foods you’re eating (or not eating), you’re able to apply these habits to any situation you’re in.

To make sure you’re able to enjoy your holidays without stressing about your food choices, you need to start with a plan!


Tip #1: Eat close to your usual times to help stay on schedule. 

Try to stick with your regular schedule as much as possible. This is especially important for your eating schedule, but also for other routines such as sleep and physical activity. With a number of holiday gatherings coming up, it’s important to think about your goals. A few ideas include setting a goal for a specific number of times to exercise this month and setting a goal to drink water instead of alcohol. These two things can really help you manage the added stress of holiday gatherings.

You need to plan for some consistency during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I often find that when my nutrition clients throw their entire routine out the window during the holidays, they tend to backtrack on their progress.

You can stick to your normal eating schedule by creating a plan for your day. If your holiday meal is served later than normal, eat a small snack at your usual mealtime and eat a little less when dinner is served.


Tip #2 If you’re invited to a party, offer to bring a healthy dish. 

One great option is a raw veggie platter paired with hummus or Greek yogurt dip. Veggie platters are an easy and obvious option, but there are also TONS of healthy holiday side dish options that are sure to be a hit. Plan ahead by practicing a few healthier alternatives to the classic holiday dishes we all love.


Tip #3 Don’t skip meals to save up for a feast. 

When we skip meals and snacks, we can become overly hungry, and way more likely to overeat. When we don’t pay attention to our hunger cues, we are more likely to ignore our fullness cues too. Do you skip breakfast to “save room” for your big meal later in the day? I have absolutely been guilty of this. When we finally make it to our meal, we’re starving, and we end up having multiple plates of food. Take a moment to think about how you feel after overeating. Do you feel good and satisfied? Or do you feel uncomfortable, groggy, tired, bloated?

The best strategy going to a holiday feast is to make a plan for consistency with your eating routine. Don’t arrive at holiday gatherings hungry. Start your day with a healthy, balanced breakfast, and drink water prior to your big holiday lunch or dinner. This may decrease the temptation to overindulge. Be mindful while you are eating. Enjoy each bite. Take time to digest your food before you decide if you’ll go back for seconds. Remember that it takes about 15 minutes for your brain to catch up to your stomach.

You also want to make sure that you’re keeping your holiday plate balanced. We’ve talked about the Plate method before. You want to make sure you are choosing healthy sources of protein, carbs, and fats. Aim to keep things colorful with a lot of different vegetables. Shoot to have half of your plate filled with vegetables, quarter of your plate your lean protein and the last quarter of your plate your starchy carbohydrate. Fill up on your veggies first!


Tip #4 If you have a holiday treat, enjoy it and move on.

Who doesn’t love a treat? I know I do, and the holidays come with SO many delicious sweet treats: pies, cookies, candies and cakes. The key here is not to overdo it. Decide which sweet treat you will enjoy, have it and then move on. It’s all in moderation y’all!


Lastly, let’s talk about alcohol consumption. Alcohol CAN be part of a healthy lifestyle if you enjoy drinking. Drinking often goes hand in hand with celebrations and holidays, and it pairs well with food.

If alcohol is consumed, it should be in moderation, up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, and of course, only by adults of legal drinking age. If you choose to occasionally drink alcoholic beverages during the holiday season, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Choose alcoholic beverages with little added sugar. To avoid excess calories from alcoholic beverages, choose drinks with minimal added sugar. Wine, champagne, light beer, or spiked seltzer are great options for a lower sugar alcoholic beverage.
  2. Maintain boundaries for yourself with drinking. Think about setting up boundaries for yourself when it comes to drinking. You want to keep your relationship with alcohol healthy and manageable. Set a limit for 1-2 alcoholic beverages per drinking occasion.
  3. Drink water when you drink alcohol. A good rule of thumb is to drink one glass of water or seltzer water before each alcoholic beverage. Drinking alcohol can cause dehydration so we want to be sure to rehydrate. Drinking water in between alcoholic beverages can also help slow down the rate of consumption.
  4. Don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Without any food in your stomach, alcohol is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. This is because the food in your digestive tract helps to slow down the alcohol absorption rate. When you drink on an empty stomach alcohol’s effects are intensified. To avoid this, eat a balanced meal before or while enjoying your drink.


Diets are the WORST. They are easy to start and really difficult to maintain, especially during the holidays. Many of today’s diets, in addition to being very restrictive and unsustainable, don’t create lifelong habits. You don’t need a diet. You need a new way of thinking about nutrition and food. Don’t wait until after the holidays to start focusing on your fitness and nutrition goals. Learn how to navigate the holidays, while enjoying yourself AND staying on track with your health.


Enjoy your holidays, stay safe, and stay healthy!

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