How to eat healthily over the holidays

How to eat healthily over the holidays

‘Tis the season for family, festivity, and food—lots of food. Temptations are everywhere, and parties and travel disrupt daily routines. What’s more, it all goes on for weeks.

How do you stick to your diabetes meal plan when everyone around you seems to be splurging? Here are 5 tips that can help:

1. Holiday-Proof Your Plan

You may not be able to control what food you’re served, and you’re going to see other people eating tempting treats. Meet the challenges armed with a plan:

  • Eat close to your usual times to keep your blood sugar steady. If your meal is served later than normal, eat a small snack at your usual mealtime and eat a little less when dinner is served.
  • Invited to a party? Offer to bring a healthy dish along.
  • If you have a sweet treat, cut back on other carbs (like potatoes and bread) during the meal.
  • Don’t skip meals to save up for a feast. It will be harder to manage your blood sugar, and you’ll be really hungry and more likely to overeat.
  • If you slip up, get right back to healthy eating with your next meal.
  • Have pumpkin pie instead of pecan pie. Even with a dollop of whipped cream, you’ll cut calories and sugar by at least a third.
  • Break physical activity up into smaller chunks so it’s easier to schedule, like walking 10 minutes several times a day.
  • Schedule some “me” time every day—a nap, dog walk, or hot bath to get your energy back for the next celebration.

2. Outsmart the Buffet

When you face a spread of delicious holiday food, make healthy choices easier:

  • Have a small plate of the foods you like best and then move away from the buffet table.
  • Start with vegetables to take the edge off your appetite.
  • Eat slowly. It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to realize you’re full.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol. If you do have an alcoholic drink, have it with food. Alcohol can lower blood sugar and interact with diabetes medicines.

Also plan to stay on top of your blood sugar. Check it more often during the holidays, and if you take medicine, ask your doctor if the amount needs to be adjusted.

3. Fit in Favorites

No food is on the naughty list. Choose the dishes you really love and can’t get any other time of year, like Aunt Edna’s pumpkin pie. Slow down and savor a small serving, and make sure to count it in your meal plan.

How to eat healthily over the holidays

If you plan for it, no food needs to be on the naughty list.

4. Keep Moving

You’ve got a lot on your plate this time of year, and physical activity can get crowded out. But being active is your secret holiday weapon; it can help make up for eating more than usual and reduce stress during this most stressful time of year. Get moving with friends and family, such as taking a walk after a holiday meal.

5. Get Your Zzz’s

Going out more and staying out later often means cutting back on sleep. Sleep loss can make it harder to manage your blood sugar, and when you’re sleep deprived you’ll tend to eat more and prefer high-fat, high-sugar food. Aim for 7 to 8 hours per night to guard against mindless eating.

Most of all, remember what the season is about—celebrating and connecting with the people you care about. When you focus more on the fun, it’s easier to focus less on the food.

How to eat healthily over the holidays

It’s easy to get swept up in the holiday season. This combination of religious and national celebrations can help keep the cold winter away. But the feasts and parties that mark it can tax the arteries and strain the waistline. By eating just 200 extra calories a day — a piece of pecan pie and a tumbler of eggnog here, a couple latkes and some butter cookies there — you could pack on two to three pounds over this five- to six-week period. That doesn’t sound like much, except few people shed that extra weight in the following months and years.

You don’t need to deprive yourself, eat only boring foods, or take your treats with a side order of guilt. Instead, by practicing a bit of defensive eating and cooking, you can come through the holidays without making “go on a diet” one of your New Year’s resolutions.

  1. Budget wisely. Don’t eat everything at feasts and parties. Be choosy and spend calories judiciously on the foods you love.
  2. Take 10 before taking seconds. It takes a few minutes for your stomach’s “I’m getting full” signal to get to your brain. After finishing your first helping, take a 10-minute break. Make conversation. Drink some water. Then recheck your appetite. You might realize you are full or want only a small portion of seconds.
  3. Distance helps the heart stay healthy. At a party, don’t stand next to the food table. That makes it harder to mindlessly reach for food as you talk. If you know you are prone to recreational eating, pop a mint or a stick of gum so you won’t keep reaching for the chips.
  4. Don’t go out with an empty tank. Before setting out for a party, eat something so you don’t arrive famished. Excellent pre-party snacks combine complex carbohydrates with protein and unsaturated fat, like apple slices with peanut butter or a slice of turkey and cheese on whole-wheat pita bread.
  5. Drink to your health. A glass of eggnog can set you back 500 calories; wine, beer, and mixed drinks range from 150 to 225 calories. If you drink alcohol, have a glass of water or juice-flavored seltzer in between drinks.
  6. Avoid alcohol on an empty stomach. Alcohol increases your appetite and diminishes your ability to control what you eat.
  7. Put on your dancing (or walking) shoes. Dancing is a great way to work off some holiday calories. If you are at a family gathering, suggest a walk before the feast or even between dinner and dessert.
  8. Make room for veggies. At meals and parties, don’t ignore fruits and vegetables. They make great snacks and even better side or main dishes — unless they’re slathered with creamy sauces or butter.
  9. Be buffet savvy. At a buffet, wander ’round the food table before putting anything on your plate. By checking out all of your options, you might be less inclined to pile on items one after another.
  10. Don’t shop hungry. Eat before you go shopping so the scent of Cinnabons or caramel corn doesn’t tempt you to gobble treats you don’t need.
  11. Cook from (and for) the heart. To show family and friends that you reallycare about them, be creative with recipes that use less butter, cream, lard, vegetable shortening, and other ingredients rich in saturated fats. Prepare turkey or fish instead of red meat.
  12. Pay attention to what really matters. Although food is an integral part of the holidays, put the focus on family and friends, laughter and cheer. If balance and moderation are your usual guides, it’s okay to indulge or overeat once in a while.

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

They say taxes and death are the only two constants in life, but it sure seems like the holidays circle around all too quickly each year. And with those sacred and merriment-filled days comes a familiar angst: the eating, drinking and family gathering seem endless, while sleep and normal stress-management routines take a back seat. This year, take a different approach-one that allows you to enjoy your favorite holiday foods-and keep your health and sanity in check.

1. Find New Ways to Move

If your exercise routine feels laborious or tedious already, chances are you won't get excited about doing it when you're tired, overworked and overbooked. Instead of sticking to the same 30-minute jog or routine gym session, branch out and find new ways to move that sound fun to you.

Try a new workout class or online video. Recruit a friend or family member to join you. Organize a family activity like ice skating, a hike or even a scavenger hunt. Find an indoor climbing or swimming facility that has holiday-friendly hours. Or, if your head just isn't in it for a traditional workout, keep your body moving by cleaning out closets, digging out the holiday decorations or volunteering for physical prep tasks like hanging up holiday lights. Moving big boxes, bags and piles can help you work up a sweat, too.

Keep Reading: 5 Ways to Walk More

2. Make Protein the Star

Holiday party spreads may offer a plethora of dips, chips and vegetable or fruit platters, but one way to actually fill up and feel satisfied when faced with all those endless little bites is to make protein one of your plate's primary features.

Higher-protein diets increase satiety (compared to lower-protein diets), meaning you're more satisfied and less likely to overeat. Opt for plant-, fish- or animal-based proteins, egg-based dishes, sliced meats or cheeses, bean salads or bean-based dips, yogurts and nut mixes. Then add the sides of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains or finger foods.

3. Go Meatless for One Meal a Day

Ample research shows that plant-based diets promote health. Go meatless for one meal a day to add some variety to your plates and enjoy foods that can help lower blood cholesterol levels, promote blood sugar control and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.

This may mean having a black bean burger instead of a beef patty, topping salads with chickpeas instead of grilled chicken or steak, or having a vegetable stir-fry over brown rice with roasted tofu instead of shrimp for dinner. If your friend or family holiday parties tend to go heavy on the meat-based entrees, try balancing your day with a plant-based lunch or breakfast.

4. Stock Up on Sleep

While it's not effective to bank sleep hours during the week in preparation for late nights out on the weekend, it is helpful to make a habit out of prioritizing sleep as often as possible. Adequate sleep is associated with better stress-management abilities and a healthy balance of hunger and satiety hormones (ghrelin and leptin, respectively). Inadequate sleep, which is defined as less than the recommended seven to nine hours per night, may lead to changes in appetite and mood.

On the flip side, chronic high stress levels may impact quality of sleep. It can be a vicious cycle. Try to avoid this by getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night as often as possible. Develop a sleep routine to help reduce stress levels before bedtime and improve sleep quality. Yes, that might mean putting the phone down.

Celebrate while sticking with your healthy habits this holiday season! Take time to eat well and move your body to help you feel your best. Use these five tips from Nutrition.gov to make your holiday with your household a healthy one.

  1. Start the day right with a healthy breakfast. Get energized with recipes like Applesauce French Toast or Breakfast Burritos, and check out our Healthy Eating resources for more nutrition tips.
  2. Make fruits and vegetables part of your holiday plate. Browse our Recipes page to find dishes that are packed with flavor, including Roasted Root Vegetables and Baked Acorn Squash with Apples. You can also sneak fruits and veggies into your holiday cookies with these Banana Oatmeal Cookies and Healthy Carrot Cake Cookies.
  3. Choose nutritious cooking methods. Find ingredient substitutions and recipe makeovers that can boost the nutrition of your holiday recipes on our Meal Prep and Cooking Tips page.
  4. Add exercise to the calendar. Just like you would schedule a holiday activity with your household, schedule time for exercise that you enjoy. Get outside for some fresh air, or stay warm inside and follow along to one of our Exercise Examples and Videos.
  5. Remember to hydrate. It can be easy to forget to drink water during this busy time. Learn how much water to drink each day and what beverages can help you stay hydrated on our Water, Hydration, and Health page.

Looking for more support with your healthy habits? Follow us on Twitter for other holiday eating tips, or contact our Registered Dietitians for answers to your basic nutrition questions.