How To Eat Smart During The Holidays

by Samira Adams - November 19, 2012

Healthy eating during the holidays like thanksgiving

It’s the busy holiday season again! Your inbox is filling up with Evites, your family members are booking their flights, you’re expected at your job’s holiday party, and you still have to figure out which decadent dish to bring to each one. With all of this excitement, we can naturally expect physical activity levels to plummet and caloric intake to soar.  Who has time to exercise and plan healthy meals at a time like this, anyway? Looking ahead at the inevitable and preparing ourselves will keep us focused through every calorie-laden event we grace with our presence.

The ugly truth about what you are actually eating:

They look so pretty, don’t they? Beautifully glazed meats, decorated desserts, rich, thick eggnog with whipped topping. Once you get to know them, though, you learn who they really are. Holiday meals can pack up to 2,000 calories (Gustafson). Since the general population’s exercise and activity levels drop during the holidays, it is a must to be prepared for the food choices that will likely be calling out your name at each and every function you attend. The tips below will help you eat smart during the holiday season.

1. Eat Before You Go:

It’s not as rude as it sounds. Eating a healthy snack before going to an event where you know there will be lots of delicious, fatty food will better equip you to fight off temptations (Academy of Nutrition and Dietics). You’ve heard not to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, but here’s another one: Don’t ever, ever go to a holiday party on an empty stomach. Period.

2. Set Realistic Expectations:

Indulging your cravings without going overboard exercises your self-control and rewards you with sensible servings of delicious treats. Telling yourself you must abstain from sweets completely, however, communicates negatively to your subconscious, creating a feeling of lack or deprivation. If you give into your temptation while you’re feeling deprived, you’re more likely to jump out of your seat, grab the first thing with sugar and have an “I can’t take it anymore” meltdown. Save yourself the embarrassment and the calories by practicing moderation – not deprivation (Hudnell).

3. Use Smaller Plates:

The eyes are tricky. If your plate is full, it looks better to a hungry stomach. This goes for huge plates and small plates. Using a smaller plate forces you to have smaller servings. You can always go back and get more if you didn’t get enough the first time, but at least you’ll have a little while longer to think about it (Academy of Nutrition and Dietics).

4. Eat Slowly and Mindfully:

Benefits to slow, mindful eating are plenty. Paying attention to the food you’re eating and taking the time to taste and experience it, actually makes you more satisfied. That’s the point anyway, right? You like the way it tastes not the speed in which it attaches to your thighs. Think about the mindless eating that happens in front of the television. Sure, you may have scarfed down an entire container of ice cream, but did you really take the time to taste and savor every single bite? What if you took away all the bites you didn’t pay attention to? Other than a possible belly ache and some regret, you might not even feel like you ate it.

If it’s good enough to put in your body, it should be good enough to pay attention to and experience fully. Having the full experience of savoring delicious food will cause you to need less of the food to feel satisfied.

5. Watch What You Drink:

This includes but is not limited to alcohol.  Between the eggnog, hot cocoa, champagne and cocktails, it’s possible to drink your daily allotment of calories without even realizing it.  What a shame it would be to carefully select each food and meticulously plot out how you weren’t going to overeat and then gain weight because of what you drank.

Is it really worth it? A calorie calculator to help you decide:

Taking mindfulness a step further, has a great tool that allows you to calculate how far you would need to walk to burn off the calories from an entire list of popular holiday food and drinks. To find out if the indulgence is worth it, just check the boxes next to what you’ve eaten or are thinking about eating, and the tool does the math for you. For instance, if you check the box next to pumpkin pie and click the “Do The Math” button, you would learn that it takes almost a two-mile walk to burn the calories off. How many extra two-mile walks are you willing to take this season?

Looking ahead:

The official holiday season lasts about 6 – 8 weeks, yet it takes only takes three weeks to form a habit (Aitchison). If we will be proactive in creating healthy habits now, think about how easy it will be when the holidays are all over and we’re not being tempted with all of this amazing food. So, take a moment to really think about the type of habits you want to create, and give yourself the option of using your New Year’s resolution for something different this year.


Aitchison, Steven. “A New Habit.” Change Your Thoughts. N.p., n.d. <>.

Gustafson, R.D., Timi. “Weight Gain During the Holidays Is Hard to Undo.” The Huffington Post., 15 Nov. 2012. <>.

“Holiday Calorie Calculator.” - Distance to Walk Off Holiday Calories. N.p., n.d. <>.

Hudnell, Jolynne. “How to Avoid a Binge When Dieting.” Yahoo! Voices. N.p., 4 Jan. 2011. Web.

“What Are Some Ways to Eat Healthy during the Holidays?” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, n.d. <>.

Samira Adams Samira Adams is a freelance writer and health enthusiast who resides in San Diego County. She has earned her degree in communication studies with a writing emphasis. Among her other work, Samira has health and fitness articles in publications such as the San Diego Entertainer Magazine.
by Samira Adams