Easy Tips to Help You Come Out of the Holiday Season As Healthy As You Go In

Eat, drink, and be merry—without compromising your health.
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Eat, drink, and be merry—without compromising your health.

healthy eating

Art Credit: Regina Leah

The holiday season is notoriously bad for any health-conscientious woman. Greasy hors d'oeuvres, cookies with mountains of frosting, festive cocktails—it's delicious, but tough to make good choices! With a few mindful eating (and drinking) practices and awareness of seasonal decadence, we can come out of the holiday season as healthy as we go in!

This should be a season of joy, not guilt, and food is a welcome part of that experience. We give a lot of emotional power to our food choices. They sometimes make us feel like we’ve failed at healthful eating if we allow ourselves even one (or two or three) decadent meals. What we eat should do strike a balance between providing physical nourishment and emotional enjoyment. Allow yourself a wide lens to think about your food choices this season. Pre-party prep, smart drink choices, portion control, and selectivity will help you enjoy holiday foods without overdoing it.

PARTY PLANNING

What you do before the holiday party can set you up for healthy success once you get there. A few rules of thumb:

01. Stay balanced on the regular.

When not at a party, maintain healthful habits with regular exercise and balanced, plant-focused meals. Stock up on healthy, quick-prep grocery items, so you can eat healthfully and enjoy all the festivities knowing you have a balanced diet.

02. Don’t arrive famished.

You don’t need to eat a snack right before you head to the party, but avoid saving up calories all day long for that party fare. It may lead you to overeat heavier items and prevent you from making balanced choices. Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day. Show up ready to enjoy the party’s offerings—but don’t burden yourself or other guests by letting that hungry persona out.

03. Offer a healthy addition.

Contact the host in advance to offer to bring an appetizer or side dish to contribute. Try a simple fruit salad with honeydew and pomegranate seeds for a beautiful, seasonal color scheme. Prepare Belgian endives filled with white bean dip or a hearty salad for a more formal dinner affair.

04. Stay hydrated throughout the day.

It’s easy to confuse signals of hunger and thirst. Keep yourself quenched all day long to prevent yourself from downing a cocktail as soon as you arrive.

THE BEVERAGE STATION

Whether hot chocolate, egg nog, soda, wine, or cocktails, holiday beverages can pack quite a few empty calories. Enjoy without overdoing it by treating them like a treat and not as a hydrating drink. If a tasty beverage is what you fancy, opt for that instead of a dessert, or go with a half pour and split a dessert with a friend. So what drink is the best choice? Red wine offers resveratrol, a compound shown to have heart-protective effects. Regular soda packs in refined sugar, while egg nog is full of saturated fat. Whether your drink is alcoholic or not, stick with the one-drink rule to keep those empty calories under control. A few more tips for sticking to the healthy limit:

01. Nurse your drink.

Choose a beverage that you’re more inclined to sip slowly like a spiced hot cider or glass of wine.

02. Fill up on H2O.

Drink water alongside your beverage—pour or order still or sparkling to stay hydrated and to keep you from sipping your treat for thirst.

03. Relax naturally. 

Take a minute to enjoy the party before you hit the punch bowl. Say hello to friends, peruse the buffet, check out the décor. Giving yourself some time to relax and unwind first may keep you from nervous sips the moment you arrive.

THE BUFFET OR MEAL

With your pre-party plan in place and thirst satisfied, it’s time to navigate the main event! This part is the most difficult, as we're typically a bit hungry as we approach the buffet, and they look so darned tasty. Keep these tips in your back pocket to keep your indulgence reasonable.

01. Survey the whole buffet—and be picky.

Check out the whole buffet before you dive in. Select which of the more decadent items are must-haves, and skip the rest. You don’t need to sample every item at every party—there are sure to be repeats this year or next.

02. Know the “hidden gems.”

These are items often at parties that are exciting, nutrient-dense, and lower in fat and calories than a lot of other options. Think lean fish, like shrimp cocktails, scallops (not the bacon-wrapped kind!), or tuna; bean or vegetable-based dips, like hummus or pico de gallo; or fruit salad and skewers. These items are higher in vitamins and minerals. They're lower in fat and calories than heavier items like sausage, cheese, cream-based dips, and bacon-wrapped anything.

03. Go 50/50.

Make half your plate fruits or vegetables to fill up on lower calorie, higher fiber foods, and allow the other half for your curated indulgences.

04. Control your portions.

Heavier apps like meats, cheeses, and cream-based dips pack a lot of fat and calories in a small portion. Besides loading up on veggies, keep the cumulative of these portions to about palm-size.

Be sure to check out more healthy eating strategies for travel and work events from Verily readers here.