25 Healthy Holiday Choices

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on December 09, 2013
yogurt parfaits

Want to enjoy a tasty and fulfilling December, without all the regret come January? Here are 25 tips that will keep you on track this holiday season.

  1. Eat early. Don't skip breakfast, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietitian. “Don’t let last night’s big meal keep you from having a healthy breakfast today, and every day,” she says. If you don’t commit to breakfast, you may spend the rest of the day overeating.
  2. Graze. Eat small meals throughout the day. It helps you keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady. You'll be less likely to feel moody or stressed, and you’ll be less likely to overeat at parties. Also, if you don’t arrive at the party with an empty stomach, alcohol won't hit you as hard.
  3. Work out. Exercise keeps your metabolism going, helps you digest and burn off calories, and can stabilize your mood.
  4. Do a trade-off. “For every alcoholic drink you have during the holidays, tell yourself you need to be physically active for 30 minutes to burn it off,” says Jamieson-Petonic, who's also an exercise physiologist.
  5. Stay hydrated. Choose water or low-calorie drinks . A handy tip: “Twenty ounces of water 20 minutes before each meal keeps you hydrated while reducing cravings and calories when you eat,” Jamieson-Petonic says.
  6. Pack snacks. Heading to the airport? Make sure to bring some healthy snacks, like trail mix, whole-grain crackers, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  7. Map it out. Road tripping? Plan ahead, so you can stop where healthy food is available.
  8. Ditch the comfy pants. Loose-fitting clothes make it easier to overeat, Jamieson-Petonic says. Wear form-fitting garments that will let you know you're overdoing it.
  9. Lighten your drink. A wine spritzer is a festive way to keep calories and alcohol content low. Or consider light beer or a mixed drink with half a shot in it -- make sure the mixer is low- or no-cal.
  10. Simply sip. Make that drink last all night by taking tiny sips. You'll cut down on calories, and also keep a clear head all night.
  11. Window shop. Buffet time? Cruise the food before digging in. Think through what's offered, and pick only the things you really, truly want.
  12. Veg out. Hit the crunchy vegetables. Hard. They'll fill you up, making you less likely to overeat.
  13. Go lean. Choose lean proteins: turkey (without the skin), fish (skip the fatty sauce), and pork. They can fill you up and give you lots of energy.
  14. Embrace the season. Enjoy the festive holiday fare you can't get any other time of year, like stuffing and pumpkin pie. Have those special foods in small amounts, but avoid things you can get all year, like mashed potatoes.
  15. Give in. If a tiny portion of pie won't cut it, then eat a full slice, just this once. But consider leaving the crust, which is filled with saturated fat and calories.
  16. Think small. Always use a small plate if there’s a choice. That helps you keep portions modest.
  17. Don’t crowd your plate. Play that game you used to play as a kid -- don't let your foods touch.
  18. Do it yourself. Bring your own amazing, low-cal dish. Make your contribution something super-healthy and extremely tasty that you love. If all the other offerings are too rich or fatty, you can rely on your own cooking.
  19. Step aside. When you’ve had your fill at the buffet table, move away. The farther you are from the food, the less you'll try to get back to it. If you have to stand in the same room with the food, keep your back to it.
  20. Have one bite. Eat all the desserts you want -- but just a bite of each. That, Jamieson-Petonic says, is a way to not feel shortchanged -- but also not go overboard.
  21. Choose fruit. Contribute to the party by bringing a big fruit salad. The sugars in fruit can squelch your desire for other sweets.
  22. Get chatty. Look for chances to catch up with friends and family you haven't seen in a while, Jamieson-Petonic says. Focus on conversation, and you’ll eat less.
  23. Savor your food. Taking time to appreciate each bite can help you eat less, Jamieson-Petonic says.
  24. Take stock. When holiday food cravings hit, stop and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Just a few seconds might reveal that you’re really just tired or sad, or feeling something else that's not hunger. A little talk with yourself can spare you some unwanted calories.
  25. Breathe and have fun. Remember that the holidays are about spending time with relatives and friends. Take a deep breath, smile, and connect.

Eat all the desserts you want -- but just a bite of each. -- Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD

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Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; president, Nutrition Today with Amy J.

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