Staying on track with healthy eating during the holidays can be challenging, but with some mindful strategies, you can enjoy festive meals without overindulging. Here are my top 10 tips for eating out during the holidays, and what I follow at holiday get-togethers and when dining out.
1. Plan Ahead:
If I know I’m going to a dinner where I’m tempted to overindulge, I’ll often check the restaurant menu online beforehand and pick a healthier option ahead of time. That way, it takes all of the guesswork out of it.
I also find that if I have a small, balanced snack before heading out to the restaurant, it helps me avoid overeating because I’m just slightly less hungry. Also, we all know it’s going to take some time for a large group to receive their meals, so it’ll help us all be less hangry while we wait.
2. Control Portions:
One thing you can do is ask for smaller portions or even share some smaller dishes with a friend. If you’re at a family gathering or pot-luck-style event, use smaller plates to help control your portion sizes.
The larger the plate, the more likely you’ll feel obligated to fill it up. Start small, and eat more slowly. It doesn’t mean starve yourself, it just means you go at a more reasonable pace.
3. Stay Hydrated:
This is something we should be doing year-round, not just during the holidays. Most of my patients simply don’t drink enough water.
Drinking water before and during the meal can help to control your hunger. As well, I recommend you reach for water or unsweetened beverages rather than sugary drinks.
Those extra sugary calories do no good for you. They don’t fill you up (sometimes the opposite), and they don’t provide you with healthy calories.
They’re often called “empty calories” for a reason!
4. Eat Your Veggies:
I like to start my meal with a salad or vegetable-based appetizer. That way, it gives me a little something in my stomach to tie me over until the mains arrive, and I get some healthy fiber as well as those vitamins and minerals we love.
By making vegetables the main focus of your plate, you’ll eat a bit less, but may actually feel satisfied for longer. Veggies and leafy greens are packed with vitamins A, C, K, folic acid, antioxidants, and more to help keep you feeling healthy and energized.
They say “You are what you eat” for a reason - your body is using the fuel you give it to do absolutely everything. You wouldn’t put canola oil in a sportscar (I mean, it probably wouldn’t run, but I’m a doctor, not a mechanic), so don’t put the wrong fuel in your engine.
Using the wrong oil in your car can actually shorten its lifespan (I think you see where I’m going with this analogy so I’ll stop here).
5. Choose Lean Proteins:
My favorite meals are often grilled. They taste fresher, and I feel better after I eat them. Opt for grilled or baked lean proteins like chicken, fish, or tofu rather than fried or breaded options.
Fried choices might taste great at the time, but if you’re anything like me, you get hit with post-meal tiredness after a fatty fried meal.
On the other hand, I feel more energized and more alert after a healthy, light, grilled meal with a hefty side of veggies.
6. Try To Limit Alcohol Intake:
Enjoy alcohol in moderation, since it can make you more likely to overeat. If you can, alternate alcoholic drinks with water. The more I drink, the more appealing that apple pie or cheesecake looks.
I lose most of my food willpower and end up overeating, leaving me feeling sluggish and tired.
Have a few if you like, but try to spread them out, and keep hydrated with water. Even if you do drink a bit too much, the extra water will help reduce your hangover. That brings us to number 7…
7. Be Selective with Desserts:
Share desserts with others to indulge without overdoing it. I love bringing out a few spoons and sharing a piece of cake with friends. That way I don’t feel obligated to eat an entire piece myself.
I get to have my cake and eat it too…
Another way to make healthier choices when it comes to dessert is to choose fruit-based desserts. They might only be slightly better, but every bit counts.
8. Practice the 80/20 Rule:
This is what I usually do. I try to make healthy choices 80% of the time, and I allow myself to indulge about 20% of the time. This approach is a more balanced and sustainable approach to eating.
You shouldn’t have to feel like every meal needs to be perfect, because it doesn’t. There is always room for moderation. You can have that sweet, or chocolate you’ve been eyeing. Just try not to make it a habit, but an occasional treat.
9. Listen to Your Body:
I find this to be the most important aspect of eating. Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues. If you’re satisfied and full, stop eating, even if there's food left on your plate. Don’t feel as though you need to finish every item on your plate.
This is also where using a smaller plate is extremely handy. You can’t really overload it, so it forces you to pick small portions of the items you’re interested in.
If you find you’ve finished and you’re still quite hungry, you can always go back for seconds but use the same plate. I would even recommend making your second plate about half as full as the first.
And before you head back to get seconds, sit for a bit, have some water, and allow yourself to relax. Your stomach will settle and you’ll feel more full, making you less likely to overindulge.
10. Stay Active:
If you’re looking to keep fit and keep off those holiday pounds, it’s important to include physical activity in your holiday plans to help balance calorie intake.
We’re all naturally going to eat a bit more around this time. It’s almost inevitable. What we can do is make better lifestyle choices to balance it all out.
Take a post-meal walk with family or friends. You’ll feel better, and it will help your gut digest all of that holiday goodness.
As I wrap up this guide, I'm reminded that the holidays are about more than just what's on the plate. It's about the people, the memories, and the joy of the season.
So here's to navigating the holiday spread with better food choices, a healthy dose of indulgence, and a whole lot of gratitude. Wishing you a season filled with good vibes, good food, and even better company!