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The six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve are some of the most fun-filled, busy weeks of the year. In addition to parties and get-togethers with friends and family, there’s extra cooking, extra shopping, extra cleaning – a lot of extras. Add it all up and you may find it difficult to maintain a healthy eating plan during the holidays.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t eat your favorite dessert at Aunt Gretchen’s yearly Christmas party, or can only eat carrots and celery sticks from the buffet table. But, even though it’s not as bad as most reports suggest, holiday weight gain is real. And, as many of us have learned from experience, taking off the pounds is a lot harder than packing them on, especially as we get older.

Healthy Eating at the Holiday Party

6 people arranged healthy eating party and talking about itParties and celebrations are what most people think of when they hear the words holiday weight gain. It makes sense; this is where you face tables full of foods you typically avoid and a seemingly unending stream of wine, eggnog, and other festive drinks.

By practicing a few tricks, you can enjoy yourself at the party without completely derailing your usual healthy eating plan.

  • Plan ahead: Many people follow diets that allow them one cheat day per week. If you follow this type of eating plan, make party day your cheat day.
  • Don’t fast: One popular ploy is fasting all day when you expect to indulge that evening. Don’t do this. How much willpower do you have when you’re starving? Also, if you plan to indulge in the evening, getting in your six servings of fruits and veggies during the day is even more important than usual. Don’t forget to also get some lean protein and whole grains.
  • Fill your plate strategically: Don’t hit the meat and carb offerings first. Instead, fill half your plate with vegetables before adding anything else. By the way, this is good advice for every meal, party, and buffet year-round, not just during the holidays.
  • Start with healthy offerings: During a sit-down meal, fill up as much as possible on the healthiest foods. A first course of soup (particularly broth) is an excellent option. Otherwise, attack your plate in the same order you fill it: fruits and vegetables first.
  • Avoid leftovers: If you’re hosting, send guests home with leftovers. If you’re the guest, respectfully decline if offered the proverbial doggy bag. It’s one thing to indulge during the party but you don’t want to carry that indulgence into the following day.
  • Enjoy your food: Many of us have a tendency to eat mindlessly even when we aren’t at a party. And, obviously, you want to enjoy chatting with other partygoers. However, one of the best ways to keep from overindulging on your “cheat” foods is to thoroughly enjoy the experience. Chew slowly and notice the texture, taste, and smell of your favorite dishes. Mindful eating also helps you not eat too much.
  • Drink responsibly: For most of us, there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a few cocktails or glasses of wine (assuming you aren’t driving and have no health issues that forbid alcohol). However, you can reduce the amount of empty calories you imbibe (and help avoid a hangover the next day) by following every alcoholic beverage with a glass or bottle of water.

Strategic Indulgence

Dessert Stand at a buffet | Healthy EatingThere are smart ways to indulge your sweet or savory tooth. Start by taking a moment to peruse your options. In the case of a buffet, you’ll likely see a lot more than one tempting dish. Choose your favorite (or two) and concentrate your calories there.

Do the same thing with the desserts table and other sweets. And, when you do indulge your sweet tooth, look for the smaller portions that satisfy your craving, which only requires about three bites if you take the time to truly savor each one.

Finally, when wandering and chatting with other guests, choose to sit or stand at least three feet from the hors d’oeuvres. This prevents mindless munching.

Smart Shopping and Healthy Eating

You may not have considered the dietary challenges of all that extra shopping but eating out adds as many calories, fats, and unhealthy eating choices during the holidays as parties do, and sometimes more.

Start by eating before your shopping trip, particularly when heading to the mall and its ubiquitous food court. Also, carry your own filtered water, a much healthier way to quench your thirst than the pretty much anything you’d find at the mall.

You can also map your route to help you avoid temptation. Take advantage of the mall directory and create a plan that doesn’t force you to continually walk past the food court. If your plans include eating out, choose a sit-down restaurant instead of the grab-n-go places at the mall, as these typically include much healthier menu options. If the food court is your only option, avoid “red” restaurants. The color red stimulates appetite, which is one of the reasons so many restaurant color schemes rely on it.

Healthy Habits

Diary with Pen of a Healthy Eating personResearch tells us that keeping a food diary is one of the smartest ways to maintain a healthy eating plan. It helps you stick to your goals and reinforces your efforts. Regular weigh-ins also help you stay on track. In short, self-monitoring helps you feel more in control over your health.

You can also build up your willpower muscles by exercising them in non-food areas. Every time you successfully engage your self-control – from not losing your temper during rush hour to maintaining your cool with a volatile coworker – you strengthen your willpower muscles, making it easier to resist that goodie basket in the breakroom.

When temptation is too strong, try distracting yourself – answer your emails, take a walk, unload the dishwasher. It only takes around 20 minutes for most temptations to release their hold on you.

It also helps to keep healthy snacks on-hand, whether you’re at the office or out shopping. Prepare ahead of time by portioning out single servings of veggies, nuts, and berries in plastic containers, preferably enough for at least a few days worth of snacks. Then, develop the habit of grabbing your healthy treats before you head out.

Finally, try performing a healthy action before indulging in a holiday treat. Eat a salad, take a walk, spend five minutes walking up and down the stairs – whatever works best. Not only do you get the benefit of your healthy action, your brain naturally wants less of the unhealthy choice.

Don’t Forget to Move

No matter how busy you are, do your best to maintain your fitness regimen, even if that means fitting in multiple, short workouts – a walk around the office, climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, a private dance party. Three 10-minute bursts each day get you your recommended 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and keep you from getting too far off track.

Don’t forget that all that extra housework counts as cardio, too, so break out the vacuum for cleaner floors and a trimmer waist. Grab a rake or shovel to clear the yard instead of using the snow or leaf blower. There are loads of ways to add physical activity to your day, even when you don’t have time to hit the gym.

With a bit of planning, you can have a great time this season and still maintain a healthy eating plan during the holidays.