The holidays don’t exactly sneak up on us, but extra holiday pounds sure can. Why? The “holidays” are actually celebrated over a span of more than a month, says Laura Georgy, MS, RDN, a dietitian in Chicago. “Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, people have a marathon of social food-and-drink-focused events that leave them low on sleep and sacrificing healthy routines.”
Thankfully, you can enjoy delicious holiday fare without overdoing it. Try these expert tips.
1. Rest to boost your willpower
Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep before a holiday party or event. “Research shows that you will make better food choices, be able to recognize appetite cues, and consumer fewer high-calorie foods when you’re well-rested,” Georgy says. No matter how busy your days get, try not to skimp on sleep.
2. Create a party playbook
Tracking what you eat and drink in a food diary can help you be aware of what you’re putting into your body. Why not use a food diary to help you avoid overeating in the first place? “At the beginning of each day, write down what you plan to eat that day,” Georgy says. “We have the most self-control in the morning, so this is the best time to draft a meal plan.” Think about what parties or events you’ll be attending later that day, and research your food options as much as possible ahead of time. “Be realistic with what you will eat and drink,” she says. “Then work backward to healthfully fill in the rest of your day.”
3. Have an appetizer of vegetables and tea
Before you head to holiday festivities, have a “pre-meal” of vegetables and tea, say Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, and Lyssie Lakatos, RD, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure. Vegetables, such as sliced bell peppers, carrots, or cucumbers, will fill you up with fiber for very few calories so you won’t arrive at the party hungry. “Tea contains the amino acid theanine, which will bring on a mental alertness and calmness so you can make a mindful decision about your food choices when you get to the party.”
4. Eat and enjoy—really
Mindful eating can help you avoid consuming extra calories all year, but it’s especially helpful during the holidays. “Pay attention to your food,” says Sarah Mirkin, RD, a dietitian in Beverly Hills, CA. “Eat slowly, and savor it.” Try this: instead of standing over the chips and dip while talking to your friend, put a handful of chips and a tablespoon of dip on your plate and find a spot to continue your conversation.
5. Think about your drink
It’s certainly possible to have fun without alcohol. But if you do choose to drink, keep in mind that alcohol has calories, too. “Steer clear of cocktails with many ingredients that can really pack a lot of calories,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, a nutrition expert in New York City. “Instead, choose a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 12-ounce bottle of light beer, which counts as 1 serving of alcohol.” It’s also a good idea to drink a glass of water or seltzer between each alcoholic beverage to keep yourself hydrated, she says.