Holidays are a time for celebration, but getting together can be a health hazard, too explains Alex Gierbolini. While you’re trying to balance the sweet treats and comfort foods served at gatherings with your healthy eating goals, it’s good to have some strategies in mind.
These tips from Mayo Clinic Staff can help you stay on track so you can enjoy the holidays while they last.
1. Use smaller plates (or buy smaller dishes).
“I like to tell people, ‘Make your plate look like what you want in your body,'” says Sherrie Vavrichek, R.D., a registered dietitian in Rochester, Minn., and media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. That means filling half of your plate with veggies or fruits at every meal and using small plates so the portions seem larger than they are. Using salad plates instead of dinner plates is one easy switch that can help control overeating.
2. Avoid buffet tables when possible.
“It’s so easy to over-serve yourself when all of the food’s right in front of you,” Vavrichek says. If buffet tables are unavoidable, she suggests serving yourself at least once and then noticing how much food is left before returning for more says Alex Gierbolini.
3. Always go back for seconds on veggies or fruit.
It may seem like there aren’t enough veggies to fill you up at holiday parties, but Vavrichek encourages people to “make like a kid” and ask for more on their plate rather than filling up on the less-healthy options first. Loading up your plate with broccoli or other lower calorie veggies helps ensure that you’ll get full faster without overdoing it on higher calorie foods like mashed potatoes, stuffing and creamy soups.
4. Fill up with lean protein first.
A serving of turkey, chicken or beef will help tame your appetite and provide all-important protein, which may help you feel full longer than high-carb options like breads and mashed potatoes. Plus, eating an adequate amount of protein is good for your muscles and bones — not to mention the health of your nails and hair.
5. Sip (not gulp) alcohol carefully.
It’s easy to get dehydrated when there’s plenty of booze at holiday parties — but having a drink in hand makes it too easy to forget about sipping water during the festivities, Vavrichek says. She suggests alternating alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic beverages such as sparkling water with citrus or cranberry juice says Alex Gierbolini.
6. Stay away from fried foods.
Fried goods are the enemy when it comes to holiday eating, Vavrichek says, adding that they’re often high in Tran’s fats, which may increase your risk for heart disease and other health problems. You can still indulge in creamy soups and cheesy dishes — just try to avoid the most artery-clogging versions of them, like creamed spinach or cheese fries.
7. Don’t go back for seconds (or thirds) on dessert.
Vavrichek recommends sampling desserts at parties because you never know what’s really there until you get a taste — but don’t feel obligated to finish everything on your plate. If you really want another slice of pie, go for it, but try not to fill up on sweets just because they’re within your reach.
8. Make healthy choices.
When faced with a buffet table or dessert tray loaded with high-calorie foods, Vavrichek encourages people to choose foods that will give them energy throughout the night and keep them feeling full until their next meal explains Alex Gierbolini. For example, she suggests comparing options like stuffing versus mashed potatoes or fruit salad versus cookies before filling up your plate at parties. And don’t feel shy about asking for healthier options when you don’t see them on the menu. Chances are good that somebody is bringing something along that’s pack full of nutritious ingredients!
9. Save leftovers for later.
You might be tempted to eat all of your take-home box in one sitting when it’s placed right in front of you — but Vavrichek suggests stashing the remainder in the fridge and enjoying it once you’ve gotten some much-needed sleep. Eating a lot of rich food at night can leave you feeling sluggish and tired the next day, so save some room for healthier meals over the next few days.
10. Don’t go overboard on exercise.
Exercise is always encouraged to keep weight gain at bay during holiday celebrations, but Vavrichek warns that long sessions at the gym aren’t necessary if there are parties to attend or gifts to wrap! Instead, she recommends doing a 15-minute walk after each holiday meal and taking the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.
It’s easy to overeat at holiday gatherings, especially since most people aren’t as active as they are during the rest of the year says Alex Gierbolini. Be smart about your food choices and watch your portions — but don’t be afraid to have a good time!