15 easy tips for healthy holiday eating without skipping dessert

Do you feel like you gain weight every holiday season? If so, you’re not alone. Research shows that between mid-November and mid-January, adults tend to gain weight, even those who actively attempt to lose or maintain their weight. 

Many people develop an all-or-nothing mindset when the holiday season rolls around, telling themselves they’ll just hop back on the healthy eating train when the New Year passes. On the flip side, some people spend the holidays in fear of food, saying no thanks to every offer for stuffing or dessert. 

Good news: You don’t have to fit into either of those categories, because it’s totally possible to stick to your healthy eating plan while fully enjoying the food and festivities that make the holidays so fun. Here’s how. 1. Bring your own meal to the party

There’s no better way to share your healthy intentions with friends and family than by making them a nutritious meal. These days, you can find all sorts of healthy recipes online that comply with any diet you can think of. For example, try these paleo Instant Pot recipes or these Whole30-compliant dishes.  

Oh, and if you’re looking to save a little money on the healthy ingredients you need, here’s how to navigate Whole Foods (and other grocery stores) for the best deals. 2. Practice mindful eating

Eating while distracted can have a big impact on your weight and overall health. That’s not to say you must eat alone and in silence all the time (because, boring), but you should make it a point to pay attention to your food. 

Appreciate the scents, tastes and textures while you’re eating, as well as the environment you’re in and the people you’re with. You might just find that mindfulness helps you eat less.  3. Beware kitchen counters and office break rooms

If there are two hotspots for holiday treats, kitchen counters and office break rooms take the cake — literally. It’s so easy to grab a handful of whatever treat is lying around as you walk by, but resist the urge. You’ll enjoy food more when you actually sit down to eat a meal rather than shovel mouthfuls on the go, anyway. 

During the holidays, treats are readily available and easily swiped from kitchen counters. Resist the urge to grab one on-the-go and instead enjoy it with or after a meal. Getty Images 4. Don’t skimp on sleep

Ever notice how you crave sugary or salty foods when you’re exhausted? That’s not just in your head: Lack of sleep can seriously alter your appetite. Research shows that poor sleep is associated with increased food intake and an increased risk for weight gain, so make sure you’re getting enough Z’s at night. 5. Keep stress levels in check

During the holidays, all of our normal duties and responsibilities are compounded by holiday shopping, extra cooking, caring for children who are out of school, hosting guests and attending functions. If it all feels like too much, it probably is. Try to carve out some time for yourself and decompress — high stress is linked to overeating, especially of hyperpalatable foods, which tend to be high in fat and sugar. 6. Pack on the protein

Of all the macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat), protein is the most satiating. Studies suggest that eating lots of protein can reduce your appetite and assist in both weight loss and weight maintenance — so don’t feel bad about going back for seconds on the turkey. 

Filling up on turkey and veggies is never a bad idea — protein and fiber help keep you full. Getty Images 7. Fill up on fiber 

Fiber helps keep your digestive system regular and, like protein, helps to keep you full. Fiber-rich foods also tend to provide fewer calories with more volume, meaning you can become satisfied on fewer calories. 

For example, one cup (about 100 grams) of broccoli contains just 31 calories and offers 2.4 grams of fiber. Fibrous foods like veggies and whole grains also provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to keep you healthy.  8. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry 

Going to the store while hungry may result in you doing a real-life version of the shopping cart dance: swiping anything and everything off of shelves as you walk by. This is extra risky during holiday season, when the aisles brim with cookies, cakes, candy and other treats. 

Make an effort to eat a snack or meal before grocery shopping, so you don’t end up with a cart full of peppermint patties and snickerdoodles — you’ll save money and calories.9. Likewise, don’t cook while hungry

A taste test or two can make turn a good meal into a fantastic one. However, when you’re hungry, a couple of taste tests can easily expand into what would constitute an entire meal. Fight temptations to prematurely eat the meal you’re cooking by having a snack before you set up shop in the kitchen. Bonus points if it’s got fiber, protein or healthy fats that keep you full.

Taste testing your holiday meals is all good until you’ve eaten enough to constitute a whole meal. Try to avoid cooking on an empty stomach so you can save room for the real deal. Getty Images 10. Limit liquid calories. 

During the holiday season, it seems like every weekend (and many weeknights) are scheduled with get-togethers, from friendsgiving to work parties to family functions. All of these events usually involve alcohol, and I’m not talking skinny margaritas. 

Nope, it’s all eggnog and spiked hot chocolate and pecan pie martinis. While one or two won’t make or break your diet, try making simple drinks of liquor, a low-calorie mixer and berries or citrus. For example, vodka and sparkling water with smashed raspberries and blackberries makes for a refreshing, low-calorie (and pretty!) drink. 11. Stay hydrated

Sometimes your body sends your brain hunger signals when you’re actually just thirsty. There’s no one-size-fits-all number for water intake, but a good approach is to drink at least 8 ounces of water every one to two hours, and more if you exercise. Staying hydrated can fend off false hunger cues and prevent you from eating food you don’t really want or need. 12. Don’t let others influence you 

If you often find yourself dodging comments like “That’s all you’re going to eat?” or “Really, no dessert?”, tell friends and family when enough is enough. No one should have to endure shame for their diet preferences, whether they’re eating healthy or not. Don’t let judgement of others sway you — stick to your guns and eat the way you want to eat. 13. Everything in moderation 

Even if you are on a diet, allow yourself some room for indulgence if you want to. It is the holidays, after all, and it’s not every day you can eat Grandma’s homemade pumpkin pie. You shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying the foods you love while spending time with people you love. Plus, restricting yourself from certain foods can lead to you wanting those foods more and eventually overeating them.14. Use smaller dishes 

People tend to fill up their plates no matter the size, so you may end up packing a larger plate with way more food than you need. This trick also works if you love to go back for seconds — if your first plate was small, going back for seconds won’t necessarily derail your healthy intentions. 15. Plan ahead 

If you’re really serious about sticking to your healthy routine during the holidays, plan ahead for events. For example, if you’re going to a sit-down dinner at a restaurant, look up the menu online beforehand. This gives you a chance to spend time looking at ingredients and nutrition facts, rather than choosing a meal under pressure at the restaurant.

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