Living in France taught this nutritionist that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy during the holidays.

You may have felt great following the Whole30 or cutting down on sugar this year, but now the holidays are just around the corner. Instead of keeping a strict diet or giving into another winter season of mindless eating, the French are living proof that you can enjoy what you really want and feel great this holiday.

When I lived in France, I admired the way the culture celebrated food rather than worrying about having dessert or a couple glasses of wine. This was especially true come the holidays, when traditions and food co-mingle for the festivities. Combining my studies in nutrition with what I learned from the French, I discovered the secrets to balancing nourishment and pleasure. Because who wants to feel restricted during the holidays? Here’s how to navigate the coming months with grace, feel amazing, and not miss out on the sugar cookies and champagne you look forward to all year long.

01. Start each day with protein, wholesome fats, and veggies.

Balancing blood sugar (glucose) is key to keeping your appetite in check and feeling in control of your food choices. When you start your day heavy on sugar and refined carbs, you’ll crave even more sugar and have a raging appetite later in the day. Instead, load up on protein, fats, and lots of veggies. Let the fat-free craze of the nineties go, and embrace healthy fats. Foods such as avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, coconut, and even grass-fed butter balance your blood sugar, tame your nervous system, and leave you feeling full for longer. You will be more satiated and energized, which curbs cravings for sugar and refined carbs for the rest of the day.

Pro tip: Some simple blood-sugar-balancing breakfasts include: scrambled eggs with sautéed spinach and avocado; a low-sugar green smoothie (e.g., frozen berries, protein powder, spinach, almond butter, and almond milk); and my personal favorite French breakfast of plain whole-milk yogurt with a touch of honey and sliced almonds.

02. Be picky and eat slowly.

The French taught me that each bite is to be savored. That is a difficult task when you eat fast or overindulge. Base your food decisions on knowing what you will enjoy wholeheartedly, and leave the rest for others to enjoy. Being mindful will help you stay in control of feeling your best. If you want to indulge in desserts (e.g., freshly baked pie or a warm sweet beverage), enjoy each bite or sip, and do so slowly.

Pro tip: You don’t have to finish the whole thing if it starts to not taste as wonderful halfway through. When you are fully present and enjoy a treat to the max, you need less of it to feel truly satisfied.

03. Pair alcohol with the right foods.

During the holidays spent with my French friends, no one opted for a sugary cocktail. Instead, they would almost always enjoy one or two glasses of wine, which is high in the disease-fighting antioxidant resveratrol. That said, you can enjoy your favorite cocktail with smart pairings. If you’re having a sweet drink, for instance, pair it with protein and low-glycemic foods, so you don’t send your blood sugar through the roof. Balanced blood sugar is the key to being more in control of your choices. Nutrient-dense, good-quality fats and protein from whole foods help maintain normal blood sugar, resulting in a lessened desire and need for constant snacking.

Pro tip: Harvard Health has a useful guide on how to swap high-glycemic foods for low (e.g., brown rice for white, steel-cut for instant oatmeal).

04. Manage your stress levels.

The holidays can be overwhelming. One thing the French and nutrition experts agree on is the importance of cutting stress and creating down time for you to slow down, reflect, and recenter. Constant stress increases sugar and carb cravings. When we take time to tend to our self-care over the holidays by getting enough sleep and managing our expectations,  cravings are more manageable and our hormones are more easily kept in check.

Pro tip: Enjoy life outside of your plate. Schedule time to chill on your couch with a good book, meet a friend for restorative yoga, or take a walk.

The French culture enjoys the heck out of pretty much whatever they want (in moderation), and they feel fabulous while doing it. Yes, savor your favorite foods, but don’t forget that the holidays are also a time to savor fun, generosity, and connecting with the people you love.