8 Expert Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating – Enjoy Your Favorites and Still Feel Great


It is the holiday season, which is characterized by an abundance of delicious food, Christmas gatherings, and sparkling lights. 

It may feel as though there is no time to manage your health at the end of the year, what with events to plan, gifts to purchase, and family to visit. Possibly, you are among the 64% of Americans surveyed who intend to postpone their health goals until the beginning of the new year.

However, experts told that consuming healthily is not only feasible, but ideal. What else should be kept in mind this year?

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Healthy eating habits to follow during the holidays

Although health encompasses much more than what you eat, establishing healthy habits during meals can be a good starting point. If you are uncertain about how to begin your journey towards maintaining good health during the holiday season, consider the following advice provided by registered dietitians.

  • Eliminate the “all or nothing” mentality.

Certain individuals have an extreme propensity for holiday dining. One extreme entails adopting a permissive mindset during the latter part of the year and resuming regular activities in January. Conversely, some adhere to an extremely stringent diet and abstain from participating in any holiday activities.

This “all or nothing” mentality inevitably sets one up for failure, according to registered dietitian Kara Collier, vice president of health and co-founder of wellness technology startup Nutrisense.  

She suggests framing it according to the 80/20 rule as an alternative. This entails selecting foods that are abundant in nutrients 80% of the time and accommodating your body’s inclination towards consuming less nutrient-dense foods the remaining 20%.

“Allowing yourself a little bit of freedom and wiggle room built into your plan for meals that are maybe outside of what is ‘ideal’ so that you’re building flexibility into your plan as opposed to feeling like a failure.”

  • Prioritize nourishment and real meals

When one experiences hunger and observes unsold sweets arranged on the countertop, there is a temptation to prioritize candy or biscuits.

Abra Pappa, a licensed dietitian and nutritionist, cautions against grabbing one, however: Candies and cookies do not contain food. She emphasizes the need for three complete meals containing each macronutrient (protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates) throughout the entire year, but particularly during the holiday season when consuming is less nutrient-dense.

“Although it may seem elementary, one of the most significant adjustments we can make regarding our eating habits during the holidays is to ensure that we continue to consume breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” advises Pappa. “By consuming well-balanced meals, it becomes inherently simpler to regulate the portion sizes of sweets.”

  • Honor family traditions

We attribute emotive and cultural significance to food, which explains why our festive occasions feature social gatherings focused on cuisine. While also prioritizing comfort cuisine and family traditions, you can be on the lookout for balanced and nutrient-dense alternatives.

“Ensure that (you) respect that and that we do not disregard them, because that thread of connection to food can be a time of healing,” advises Pappa.

Previously, registered dietitians told USA TODAY that a healthy lifestyle encompasses not only physical health but also mental, emotional, and social well-being. Many diet fads stigmatize foods from Black, Asian, and Latino communities, which, according to experts consulted by USA TODAY, can damage the mental and emotional aspects of a healthy diet and induce feelings of shame. With the exception of the holiday season, give precedence to cuisines that hold cultural significance and customs.

  • Appreciate the preparation method

“Intention” commences in the kitchen, not just when you settle down to dine.

Pappa previously told USA TODAY, in reference to her family’s culinary method, that it is crucial to begin with fresh ingredients and create dishes from scratch. The advantages of preparing dishes at home are manifold: It is time spent with loved ones in the kitchen and also gives you the ability to determine the ingredients in the food you consume.

“There’s always been this honored tradition of valuing the ingredients and valuing the food that you’re starting with,” Pappa says. “And I think both from a culinary perspective and a nutrition perspective that makes a huge, huge difference.”

  • Avoid using insulting words

Previously, registered dietitian Kat Benson advised USA TODAY to approach holiday nutrition with inquiry, compassion, and context. How would you like this sustenance to affect your senses, digestion, and health? In what manner do you envision it benefiting you throughout the course of your day? 

Additionally, Rose Britt, a registered dietitian, discourages the labeling of foods as “junk” or “bad.” Britt advises parents who wish to cultivate healthy behaviors in their children to serve tiny desserts concurrently with a meal, as opposed to following it. It helps children appreciate their entire plate; vegetables are not merely unpleasant substances to be eaten in order to reach the delicious food. 

“If we internalize the shame that ‘I ate this bad candy, therefore I’m a bad person,’ we can set ourselves up for binge eating.” Britt had earlier stated.

  • Maintain control of other aspects of your health.

Beyond the physical, mental, emotional, and social consequences of food, it is crucial to adopt a holistic perspective on one’s health amidst the pandemonium of the holidays. 

Experts recommend attempting to fit in a regular walk, run, or exercise into your week despite the hectic nature of this time of year. Physical and mental health benefits are associated with regular exercise, including the prevention of seasonal depression. 

Collier  told, “You’d be surprised at how much even 10 minutes of movement after eating can help.”

Additionally beneficial is monitoring your sleep patterns. Establishing a regular twilight regimen can enhance the quantity and quality of sleep, thereby preparing oneself for social engagements and hectic days.

What are your levels of stress? Feeling apprehensive about approaching family gatherings and purchasing gifts? Experts advise taking seriously the following advice: how to handle difficult inquiries at the dinner table; what to do if your family despises your partner; and strategies for managing chronic stress.

  • Guidelines for utilizing the celebration snack buffet

Occasionally, we consume our holiday party fare before the main course or side dishes are even brought to the table. With an abundance of appetizers and refreshment containers, developing unhealthy habits and overeating is simple. Pappa suggests that in order to adhere to the principle of moderation, one should eat for oneself and subsequently depart from the table. 

“When food is available at tables, prepare a plate for yourself and withdraw,” advises Pappa. “I believe that much mindless eating occurs when we spend the entire night leaning against that table.”

Additionally, she advises giving precedence to traditional holiday foods rather than year-round munchies such as crisps and pretzels.

  • Tips for managing diabetes during the holiday season

It is recommended that individuals with diabetes refrain from consuming refined carbohydrates and added sugars, two food groups that are commonly found in holiday offerings. According to Collier, an individual whose occupation at Nutrisense entails glucose monitoring, individuals with diabetes should exercise caution when selecting carbohydrates for their meals and give precedence to sources of fiber and protein.

Due to the high sugar content of desserts, she advises experimenting with keto and low-carb recipes.

“Bring a dessert that you enjoy that is sugar-free or low-sugar so you know there is something there,” advises Collier.


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