The Art of Healthy Holiday Eating: How to Indulge the Right Way

Traditional holidays bring about thoughts of spending time with your loved ones and something hard to avoid tons of holiday treats. From the spread of food at family gatherings to office parties, the traveling, and the out-of-ordinary schedule, it’s oh-so-easy to get off track and totally lose focus on your fitness and health goals. What starts as good intentions to eat only a few extra carbs and maybe one tempting, sugary treat can turn into an all-out indulgence and a lot of guilty feelings.

Almost everyone does a little over-indulging during the holidays. And you don’t want to start the new year with a resolution to get back in shape because you feel off the wagon during the latter part of the year. So, how do you maintain healthy eating habits and still get to indulge on occasion? Here are a few good tips to get you started:

1. Moderate Your Meals

The average person has many dinner invitations and occasions to indulge in throughout the holidays. To counteract the added intake, moderate your meals and your plans accordingly. If you know you will be having a heavy turkey dinner one day, build a light meal plan for the rest of the day (or week). If you know there is no way you can make it to two big food fests on the same day and not over-indulge, then decide to visit one briefly and only eat at the next.

2. Fill Your Plate with Veggies

When faced with a smorgasbord of food, a simple trick is to heavily lean on veggie portions to fill your plate. For example, adding steamed broccoli, green beans, and a nice serving of leafy greens won’t leave a lot of room for high-calorie and high-carb salads and casseroles. Lean meat is another go-to if it’s available during a big meal. Lean roasted turkey breast, for example, is a good dose of filling protein.

3. Opt for Homemade When Possible

Stores are filled with ready-made processed foods you can grab during the holidays, but it’s always best to opt for homemade when possible. If you’re trying to eat clean, even something as simple as store-bought pumpkin pie can be loaded with preservatives.

4. Use Substitutions When You’re the Cook

If you’re doing the cooking for a big meal, you have free reign to make everything a little healthier, and there are so many inconspicuous substations you can use to cut fat and calories. For instance, you can make chocolate fudge with honey or bananas for natural sweetness, and mashed potatoes can be just as good without heavy cream or loads of butter.

5. Eat a Little Slower Than Usual

Eating slower can make you feel full faster. The problem, during the holidays, is you can be in such a rush to get down your food and get on with other festivities that you can end up eating faster than usual. Try not to fill your schedule so full that you must rush through big meals so you can enjoy each bite and keep your intake in check.

6. Retain Control Over Portion Sizes

Instead of letting anyone else fill your plate, do so yourself so you can be mindful of portion sizes. It can be OK to indulge a little, but going overboard can negatively impact every aspect of your healthy eating plan. For example, candied yams can pack a lot of calories, but you could have a small tablespoon (an ounce or so) and stay well within your calorie intake guidelines.

7. Don’t Over Restrict Your Food Intake

We’ve all been there. You have a big meal with your folks this afternoon, so you barely eat all day in anticipation of what’s to come. When you sit down to eat, you’re so famished that you naturally reach for carbs, large portions, and what your stomach says to eat instead of your health-conscious brain. The fact is, you don’t think straight when your body has kicked into starvation mode, and your body doesn’t function the same either. If you restrict your food intake before a big meal, not only will you be tempted to eat the wrong things, but your metabolism may even slow down1.

Holidays Don’t Have to Mean Hefty Consequences for Your Health

With a little out-of-the-box thinking, some consciousness about what and when you eat, and a little pre-planning, you can enjoy some of the indulgences of the holidays without wrecking your healthy eating plan. Start planning early, especially if you will be doing the meal prepping for yourself and others and set your own boundaries. By the time New Year’s rolls around, your only resolution could be to stay on the right track.

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