10 Strategies for Healthy Holiday Eating

healthy holiday feast on a table for Thanksgiving or Christmas

During this time of the year, it can be tough to maintain control over your weight—especially with food everywhere! It’s disheartening for me to witness people being derailed by the same obstacles every year. And often, it’s just a single day of struggle that spirals into destructive negative self-talk. But it’s crucial to remember that a bad moment, day, or even week, isn’t the end. The key to having a healthy holiday is getting yourself back on track and recognizing the support around you, especially from the team at Medical Weight Loss. 

I want you all to understand that our holiday weight loss goal is not about losing tons of pounds. The real aim is to maintain a weight close to what you had in early December, avoiding the trap of a binging cycle that can spiral out of control. Our focus now should be on maintaining the weight loss you’ve achieved and carrying it into the new year. So, let’s begin by addressing the challenges people face during this time and exploring my 10 strategies to effectively navigate them.

1. Have a Party Plan

Say you have an event like your aunt’s Christmas party, where tempting foods will be plentiful. It’s important to go into events like this with a plan rather than blindly navigating the spread. A practical approach is to bring something you can comfortably snack on, like a veggie tray. This lets you fill your plate with healthy holiday options, allowing you to mingle without the urge to constantly dip, snack, or grab more food. Plan ahead, perhaps deciding to skip the bread or limit yourself to just one glass of wine. Having a clear idea of what you will eat helps in managing your choices effectively.

2. Never Go to an Event Hungry

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is deciding not to eat during the day so you can indulge at a party later. What happens then is that you arrive at the party starving, your blood sugar drops, and you’re much more likely to overeat. You often do this later in the evening when it’s harder for your body to metabolize the food. A better approach to eating healthy during the holidays is grabbing something nutritious beforehand. Have a protein shake or fruit with a bit of protein to help avoid overindulgence.

3. Fill Your Plate Wisely

At a party, a smart strategy for filling your plate is to dedicate half of it to protein, which fuels your metabolism. The next third is for fruits and vegetables. The remaining portion should be reserved for carb-rich foods that you want to savor in moderation. Remember, it’s okay to have some, but avoid overloading your plate with these. This plate approach isn’t limited to just holiday gatherings. It’s a good practice to adopt in general, whether you’re at a party or serving yourself at dinner.

4. Exercise the Morning of an Event

Make it a point to work out the morning of an event, even if it means just going outside for a walk. Don’t use the weather as an excuse. Instead of thinking, “Oh, it’s snowing, I can’t do anything,” switch to a more proactive mindset: “It’s snowing, so I’ll put on the right clothes and go for a walk.” Making sure you get some movement, even for a short period, not only boosts your mental motivation to eat healthy but also benefits you physically by giving you a bit of extra leeway in your diet.

5. Be Careful with Alcohol

It’s easy to overlook the calories in what we drink, especially if someone keeps refilling your glass. But this can add up to hundreds of calories. So when someone is constantly offering you a new drink, take control and manage your own glass. Opt for smaller glasses, since larger ones often lead to more wine, beer, or stronger mixed drinks. Being mindful of alcohol consumption is important not just for the calorie count, but also because alcohol tends to increase snacking and eating while socializing. It also disrupts sleep, causing us to eat more carbs the next day because we’re so tired. 

6. Journal During the Holidays

Journaling is much more than counting calories. It’s a tool for identifying behaviors that might hinder your holiday weight loss success. When I began journaling, I noticed patterns like skipping meals, which often led me to hastily grab snacks just to boost my glucose—usually not the healthiest option. Without journaling, I wouldn’t have been aware of these habits. Interestingly, a study we conducted in our office revealed that individuals who journaled just twice a week were significantly more successful at losing weight compared to those who didn’t journal at all. In fact, regular journaling can lead to 50% more weight loss.

7. It’s a Holiday, Not a Week, Not a Month, Not a Year!

I’ve noticed a trend where people choose to go alcohol-free in January. But why are we really doing this? Because from my perspective as a physician, I’ve noticed that this approach often leads to increased alcohol consumption in December. And the more you drink in December, the more likely you are to consume extra food. It’s important to remember that each event is just one day, one that can lead to indulging in carbs and other junk foods that you’d normally avoid. The key is not to open the door to these temptations too wide. Mindful eating means closing this door at the end of each event and making a conscious effort to get back on track the following day.

8. Follow the Three Bite Rule

Here’s a simple rule for eating healthy during the holidays: allow yourself three bites of anything, unless it’s a trigger food for you. This guideline is based on how our limbic system, the pleasure center of the brain, responds to enjoyable foods. Take chocolate, with its addictive mix of fat, salt, and sugar. The first bite is heavenly, and the second is still enjoyable, but by the third, you’ll notice the flavor isn’t as intense. If you find yourself unable to stop after three bites, put that food in the no-no category. Alternatively, try switching to something like dark chocolate, which is less addictive and might satisfy you in just two or three bites. The key is to stop at the third bite, closing the loop. This way, you won’t feel deprived and will still enjoy the experience.

9. Take the Focus Off Food

Here we are in the holiday season, a time when many of us are reconnecting with people we haven’t seen in a while. It’s a wonderful opportunity to catch up, spend time talking, and enjoy activities together. Whether it’s going for a walk, watching a movie, or bowling, there are so many ways to have fun. The key is to engage in activities that shift the focus away from food, emphasizing enjoyment through bonding experiences. 

10. Watch the Negative Self-Talk

Ditch negativity and celebrate your successes instead. For those who completed the 8-week challenge, this means reflecting on the positive changes you’ve made since then. Ask yourself how you can carry your new habits into the new year and apply them to your everyday eating. Weight loss is a journey, and maintaining it can be challenging. So it’s crucial to establish certain behaviors, recognize that setbacks may occur, and then get back on track. You should also be mindful of how different foods make you feel. For instance, I notice that bread makes me feel inflamed and less sharp. It’s important to make beneficial changes like this and reinforce them with positive self-talk. 

Embracing a Mindful Holiday Spirit

The holidays are such a beautiful time, but it’s important not to get swept away in the frenzy. Try turning off your phone, stepping away from social media, and truly being present with the people you love. Simplify your focus to the essentials, like enjoying healthy holiday dinners with your family. Embrace and cherish the moments that aren’t centered around food and reflect on the 10 tips we’ve discussed. Even adopting just one of these strategies can transform your holiday season into an immensely more fulfilling and joyful experience.

Want to learn more? Join me Live on Facebook every month and check out our YouTube channel for the replays!

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