There always seems to be a heavy dusting of guilt and shame that happens when the holidays roll around each year. Between Thanksgiving being a holiday solely dedicated to eating food, and all of the holiday parties that pop up during the Christmas season, many people seem to think there are only two options—ignore all the delicious food and try to eat healthily, or forget eating healthy and completely indulge.
The truth is, as Hannah Montana once said, you can have the best of both worlds. It is possible to enjoy all the holiday season has to offer and stay healthy through the process. It’s all about setting healthy eating habits during the holidays that will leave you feeling satisfied and good in your body—instead of overindulging and feeling groggy.
We spoke with registered dietitians to determine a few healthy eating habits you can follow this that will keep you feeling your best while still enjoying all of the deliciousness that the holiday season brings! Then, for some healthy eating inspiration, check out our list of the 100 Easiest Recipes You Can Make.
Focus on the positive.
Instead of focusing on negative self-talk—like trying to “avoid” certain foods—find positive ways to approach your meals that will make you feel healthy in the process.
“Think about what you can add to your eating plan as opposed to what you should take away,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author Finally Full, Finally Slim, and a member of our medical expert board. “For example, by being positive, and focusing on adding more healthier produce, you may no longer even want the junk food anymore.”
Live by the 80/20 rule.
Instead of saying you can’t have something, why not fit it into a holistic eating plan you can feel good about?
“Everyone deserves to splurge on their favorite holiday goodies, the key is that spurging does not become a way of life for the next two months,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook and a member of our medical expert board. “The 80/20 rule can help you keep some balance in your holiday routine while still enjoying what you love. The goal is to fill up on nutrient-rich food 80% of the time. This includes high-fiber carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy fat, dairy, fruit, and vegetables. And don’t forget that exercise routine as well! Then 20% of the time splurge on those comfort foods and satisfying desserts that only come around once a year. If the majority of the time you are fueling your body with nutrient-rich foods, the 20% is likely not to have as much of an effect.”
Don’t go hungry.
“Before I go to a holiday party or event, I enjoy a snack so that I’m not ravenous when I arrive,” says Young. “I may have a bowl of vegetable soup, hummus and veggies, or a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit to hold me. I leave room to enjoy holiday festive foods, but I’m not arriving so hungry that I can eat anything—and everything—in sight.”
Or stock up on these 25 Best High-Fiber Snacks to Buy That Keep You Full for a quick snack before heading to a holiday party.
Add fiber and protein.
“One of the best ways to be able to enjoy the goodies of the holiday season without overdoing it is to make sure your meals and snacks contain a good source of both fiber and protein to keep you feeling satisfied,” say medical expert board members Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, also known as The Nutrition Twins. “This way, you won’t be as likely to overeat and it will be easier to keep portions in check when you go to enjoy holiday treats that aren’t so healthy.”
“Never underestimate the power of cut-up vegetables, whole wheat crackers, and fiber-rich dips,” says Kim Rose, RD from Lose It!. “Not only do these specific foods contain vitamins and minerals, but these foods are full of fiber. Fiber can help you stay full for a longer period of time. Also, it can reduce your appetite, which also reduces your calorie intake.”
“We recommend pistachios as a snack because they’re a crunchy, indulgent-feeling, food that is a good source of fiber, complete plant protein (providing all nine essential amino acids), and unsaturated ‘good’ fat, for a trio of nutrients that may help keep you fuller longer,” say The Nutrition Twins.
Choose your treats in advance.
“One of the best ways to indulge in your favorite holiday treats without letting them get the better of you is to decide in advance which of your favorite foods and drinks you’re going to indulge in, and where you’re going to draw the line when it comes to the portion you’re going to have,” say The Nutrition Twins. “When there’s no limit set, it’s too easy to keep saying, ‘I’ll have one more.'”
“Yes, you can have dessert, and yes you can enjoy a starch,” says Young. “Just pick your favorite one and enjoy it. Rather than ban dessert altogether, when faced with an assortment, choose the one you like most and enjoy it.”
“When you set a limit in advance, you can fully appreciate your favorite indulgences and you’re more likely to savor it,” says The Nutrition Twins. “And after you’ve had your pre-designated portion, you know you’ve finished it, and you didn’t deprive yourself of your favorite foods. This way you also get to enjoy the holidays without feeling overstuffed or regretful.”
Sipping on water throughout the day can be helpful with keeping your body hydrated and healthy when making decisions for what to put on your plate.
“Did you know a lot of people tend to confuse thirst with hunger?” asks Rose. “When this happens, it’s common to grab an extra serving of stuffing or cookies. And if you’re not mindful, all those calories can add up. Instead, try drinking a bottle of water before eating anything.”
Plus, if you’re not drinking enough, here’s What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking Water.
Enjoy what you want—just portion it out!
You can absolutely enjoy all the foods you love—just make sure to portion it out and set your plate up for success.
“Portion control is a vital part of reaching your weight goals,” says Rose. “The amount of food that ends up on your plate and the portion of food you actually eat is important to take note of. It’s easy to eat one or two portions too many, especially when we aren’t practicing mindful eating.”
Rose says logging your meals and snacks into an app like Lose It! can be helpful for staying on track throughout the day and keeping an eye on your portions, while also still enjoying all of those holiday foods you love.
For even more holiday tips, read these next:
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