December 1


The Ultimate Guide to Balanced Holiday Eating!

By Cassie

December 1, 2023

balanced eating, balanced holiday eating, holiday eating, holiday eating guide

Let’s all be honest here!  For many of us the holidays are an excuse to splurge.  We pretend we want to be health conscious and read blog posts like this one but really, we want to eat all of the Thanksgiving Pie and Christmas cookies!  I’m here to tell you that’s OK!  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some holiday treats.  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying ALL the holiday treats!  You just need to work on balanced holiday eating!

If you have a balanced approach and a good strategy and mindset you can go through the holidays feeling like you really indulged without packing on the pounds and inches.  Because let’s face it, who wants to start their new year’s resolution 15 lbs heavier than they were before Thanksgiving!  Who wants to spend the first 2 months of the new year simply working off the holidays?  NO ONE!!! 

The BEST tips for Balanced Mindful Eating Through the Holidays

Not only are these the BEST tips but this is the most extensive list I’ve ever seen!  So, there’s something here for everyone and for every occasion!  Read on and pick a few strategies to employ this year!  NO, you don’t need to do them all!  Even just one or two will make a big difference to your satisfaction level and waistline.

1. Eat Before Your Event

I know this might sound counter intuitive.  Many people use the save your calories philosophy, meaning they don’t eat anything all day and then splurge at the event.  It sounds like a great idea but it isn’t!  You are messing with your metabolism here.  Telling your body that you’re starving just makes it want to store everything you eat.  And it also makes you crave fast energy sources like sugar and refined carbohydrates!  You are going to eat WAY more calories and WAY more junk and you’re going to store it all if you starve yourself throughout the day!  Not only that but because you’re famished you won’t even enjoy it!

Instead, eat a little protein and veggies before your big feast.  Studies show that people who eat eggs in the morning consume less calories all day than those who skip breakfast or eat carbs.  Protein gives your body long term energy and is very satisfying.  So, eat quality healthy foods throughout the day!

2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep is now the 2nd biggest factor in weight loss and maintenance.  It’s even beat out exercise!  Truth is, we make poor decisions when we don’t get enough sleep.  And it has a particularly strong impact on food choices!  Again, your body will want energy from the easiest sources, and you’ll end up consuming a lot of carbs and sugar even if you don’t particularly care for the dishes!  So, get a good night’s sleep before your big event!

3. Exercise

This one is twofold!  Make sure you move your body the day of your event AND try to make a point of moving after!  Sure, intense cardio can cause carb cravings, but it also burns a lot of calories and reinforces healthy choices (as does other kinds of exercise).  So, get your body moving to encourage mindful healthy choices.

If it’s possible move your body at or after your event as well!  If there’s dancing join in!  Offer to help with the clean up or just make your rounds mingling!  It’s also a great idea to include an activity in your holiday celebration.  Create a new tradition!  Get everyone to go for a walk or head to the park for some sledding or skating after dinner.  Do whatever you can to avoid the food coma that often follows a big holiday feast!

4. Bring a Healthy Dish

Don’t rely on your host to have healthy nutritious options (or choices that accommodate your food sensitivities).  Instead bring a dish to pass.  Of course, the polite thing to do is to check with your host first and let them know what you plan to bring.  And be sure to bring enough to share!

With close family I sometimes bring an alternate meal for my self or my daughter.  I’m dairy and gluten free and she’s a vegan so it’s difficult for others to accommodate us.  The first time I called ahead just to clarify and avoid hurt feelings but now I just do it.  If I’m going to an event where this would be inappropriate (think a work dinner party), I eat a meal beforehand.  If there’s anything I can have, I’ll grab a small plate when I’m there (usually plain protein or veggies).  And if food is served to me already plated, I sometimes just push it around as if I’m eating it.  Unfortunately, it’s still considered pretty rude to simply turn the plate away, but I won’t eat something that will make me sick and you shouldn’t either!

Point is… be prepared and bring a dish (or a meal if that’s an option).

5. Visualize Indulgence

This one might sound a bit nutty to you, but the thing is, it really works!  If you visualize indulging on all your favorites before you even arrive your appetite will decrease!  WHAT?!?!  That’s right, research shows that simply visualizing can physiologically change your hunger hormones.  So, get excited about that big beautiful feast. Imagine it in detail!  What will each item smell like and taste like?  How satisfied will you be eating it?  When you have a good picture of this in your mind, you’ll enjoy your meal that much more!

6. Use a Plate

Regardless of the format of the meal, use a plate if one is available!  Grazing off a buffet table is a bad choice (and bad manners)!  You are likely to eat a lot of stuff you don’t even care about and still not feel satisfied!  When you make yourself a plate you prioritize the things you really love because you have limited space.  You are also aware of what and how much you are eating.  So grab a plate and load it up with all of your favorites!

7. Eat LOTS of Veggies!

Whenever possible, try to make half of your plate vegetables!  They are the most nutrient dense food you’ll find anywhere so prioritize them!  The other nice thing about veggies is that they aren’t likely to make you feel stuffed and miserable!  Plus, they are a great source of long term energy and insoluble fiber (so your micro-biome can feast too)!

8. Eat What You Love, Skip What You Don’t

You don’t HAVE to try everything!  There are some things that we all know are holiday favorites and some we really don’t care for or about.  Eat what you love (and eat the veggies… don’t forget the veggies).  If you’re not a big fan of green bean casserole, skip it!  If you’re like my husband and “don’t like candy in your food” go ahead and pass on the sweet potato casserole!  No worries… I’ll eat your share… there are few things I love more than the combo of s’mores and sweet potatoes that grace my Thanksgiving table every year!  There’s no pressure to eat a little bit of everything!  Eat what you love!

9. Underfill Your Plate

There is nothing wrong with going back for seconds!  Most hosts are flattered when this happens so plan on it!  Make their day!  Intentionally underfill your plate and go back for whatever you want more of.  This strategy will make you a welcome guest and help you avoid accidental overeating!  And for bonus points make sure that those veggies show up on your first plate!

10. Make Your Plate Beautiful

There are few things more satisfying than a beautiful plate!  The act of eating is nourishing in ways that go beyond filling our stomachs.  And it involves a lot more than just our taste buds!  We all know that the smell of cooking can trigger hunger, or even happiness!  But we often forget about the visual component.  We feel far more satisfied when we look at and consume a beautifully arranged plate of food.  Not only that but to make a plate visually attractive we must avoid piling food on top of food in a giant heap. 

11. Distance is Your Friend

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If you’re at a party with a buffet table, distance is your new bestie!  Stay away from that table unless you are intentionally grabbing something to eat.  If you stand next to it, you’re likely to graze off of it!  We’ve all had that experience where we end up accidentally tipsy.  You know when you go out and someone just keeps filling your glass before it’s empty, so you have no idea how much you drank.  Well, the same thing happens if you stand next to a buffet table.  You just keep eating mindlessly until you are miserably stuffed and have no idea what you’ve done.  Honestly you probably didn’t even enjoy a single bite!

12. Sit to Eat

Whenever possible, sit at a table to eat (just not the buffet table).  You’ll eat more slowly and attentively if you’re sitting and especially if you’re at a table!  That way you’ll enjoy every bite and be satisfied with the indulgence.  There is absolutely nothing satisfying about juggling a plate and shoveling food in while standing or wandering around.  Take a seat and savor your meal!

13. Drink Water

Drink water or even sparkling water with a spritz of citrus to avoid A LOT of hidden calories!  I’m not just talking about alcohol here (that will be next).  I’m talking about mocktails and soda and virgin egg nog!  By all means, if you love it, drink it, but remember if you don’t like it as much as say a piece of pie you might not want to bother with it! 

14. Watch Alcohol Consumption

Disastrous drunken Christmas party behavior is cliché!  Avoid it at all costs!  Alcoholic beverages have tons of extra calories and they cause you to eat tons more as well.  Plus, you just don’t want to embarrass yourself at a family or work function by overindulging.  No one wants to be the obnoxious drunk at the holiday party and no one wants to be around them either!

To avoid this fiasco, try alternating water and alcohol.  And, stick with drinks you’re familiar with!  If you don’t know what’s in it or haven’t ever had that type of alcohol avoid it!  Many people get hammered by trying the signature drink.  They don’t even consider that it may have twice as much alcohol or tequila.  I mean, for me gin is the problem, but a lot of people have very strong reactions to tequila, so you get where I’m going here.  This isn’t the time to discover that tequila makes your clothes fall off like the woman in that country song!

15. Enjoy Seasonal Treats

There are a few foods we only have at the holidays.  Either I don’t think to make them otherwise or they’re just difficult to prepare.  I’m sure you’ve noticed this too!  So, since you might only have pumpkin pie or gingerbread once a year, enjoy it!  Eat as much as you like!  Treating yourself to traditional holiday treats once or twice a year isn’t going to ruin your health!

16. Eat ALL the Dessert

Do you eat dessert daily or even weekly?  Yeah, me neither!  Go ahead and enjoy all the desserts this holiday season!  It’s a tradition in my family to have a small piece of every dessert offered.  My kids have never known anything different and think nothing of it.  Only having one kind of pie is just mind blowing!  Imagine what it’s like for guests who show up at our holiday celebrations!  I’ve been married for almost 20 years and my husband still can’t get his head around this.  He flat out refuses to participate and only has one dessert.  Every year he’s offered a slice of everything, and every year he refuses.  My in-laws love it though and have joined in on the fun!  I invite you to do the same!  Eat a little bit of every dessert!  YUMMMM!!!

17. Follow the 3-Bite Rule

You have to know the 3-bite rule to follow it, so here it is.  After 3 bites take a moment and ask yourself these two questions, “Am I still enjoying this? Do I want more?”  If the answer to both is yes, then continue but if the answer to either is no wait a minute.  You might have had enough.  You might be satisfied.  If you don’t check in with yourself, you won’t know that you’re actually done with whatever you’re eating.  You’ll overindulge and be miserable.  There’s a time lapse between your brain, your stomach and your taste buds so take a moment to check in.

18. Wait 10 minutes before getting seconds

You know that time lapse I mentioned above?  Well, it applies here too!  It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to signal your body that you’re full. So, before you get seconds take a few minutes to check in and be sure you actually want them.

Here’s another thing about seconds… you don’t have to clean your plate to get them.  There’s a special rule that applies to the holidays that allows you to get a bit more of one thing even though you haven’t finished another.  The truth is, you might love your mom’s stuffing and have gotten a good size serving on your plate at your mother in laws only to find out you’re not as much a fan of her recipe, but you love her mashed potatoes.  It’s ok, leave the stuffing and get more potatoes!

19. Say “No” to Food Pushers

You can politely decline seconds, or stuffing or dessert!  Believe me you will come across at least one person who wants your beautiful underfilled plate to become a giant heap and tries to pile more on.  It’s ok to say no.  You don’t owe anyone any explanation about what is or isn’t on your plate!  This is true regardless of your size!  The only time this doesn’t apply is if you’ve made an accountability pact with someone.  If that’s the case be sure to discuss the specific holiday expectations.

20. Use Gum, Hard Candy or Mints to Prevent Munching

If you’re trying to avoid grazing on appetizers and ruining your appetite for dinner or you don’t want to make another trip to the buffet.  Toss a piece of gum, hard candy or a mint into your mouth.  It will help transition you from mindlessly munching to done eating.  This is especially true if you go with something minty or cinnamon. The spicy flavor settles your cravings and munchies.

21. Eat Until You’re Satisfied Not Stuffed

The goal here is to indulge in everything you want.  It is not to make yourself miserable.  When you finish eating you shouldn’t have to unbutton your pants or take a nap.  You want to feel pleased and satisfied.  It’s ok to even feel a little full but you shouldn’t be 9 months into a food baby!  Not only will you feel better that evening, but it will make an enormous difference for the next few days or even weeks.  Eating to the point of pain can cause inflammation and discomfort that won’t just go away.

22. Enjoy the Company

I know it’s difficult to remember, especially at Thanksgiving but the holidays aren’t about food!  It’s about family and friends.  It’s about connection!  Try to keep your focus on enjoying each other’s company not gorging yourself!

23. Let Go of Guilt

I’m not sure how many days you celebrate the holidays but for most of us it’s 10 or less.  If you overindulge 10 times a year, it’s really not a big deal.  Think about the big picture when it comes to balanced holiday eating!  If you don’t stick to a single other thing on this list stick to this one!  Let go of guilt!  It doesn’t serve anyone for you to beat yourself up about your holiday food choices and eating habits.  That’s basically the opposite of creating balance!  And you’re much more likely to continue emotional overeating for days or weeks after!  So, seriously… let go of the guilt!

24. Enjoy

I saved the most important thing for last! 

Whatever you do, enjoy the holiday season!  Enjoy the treats, enjoy the company and celebrate your amazing life!  You deserve it and your family deserves the best you! 

Wishing you and yours an incredible holiday season filled with joy!

Share this post and write your favorite tip & treat in the comments!  Can’t wait to hear what all of your faves are!

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