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9 Steps for Sticking to Your Healthy Lifestyle This Holiday Season

by Madeline Waters, RDN


The holidays are filled with family, friends, and food. The seasonal food-filled environment may seem like an invitation to overeat. However, by following a few simple tips, you can continue leading a healthy lifestyle through the holiday season and long after.

1. Be mindful about your eating. Mindful eating may help you find the balance between restricting yourself and eating too much during the holiday season. Honor your cravings, savor the flavors, pause and ask yourself if you are still hungry or just mindlessly eating. You may just need to stop and take a sip of water. Remember to enjoy your meals slowly – it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register the feeling of fullness! Most importantly, do not restrict yourself this holiday season. Restricting may lead to overindulgence, binging, and other unhealthy behaviors. You can enjoy your favorite foods—mindfully. Mindful eating can and should be practiced year-round—not just during the holidays.

2. Focus on family and friends, not solely the food. This time of year is about spending time with those you love. Enjoy the moment and don’t focus solely on food or drinks. Don’t feel guilty about having a cookie or two—food is to be enjoyed (in moderation). If you do have a few extra calories, get back on track with your healthy lifestyle the next day. Don’t give yourself a pass for the month.

3. Make exercise a priority. Although it may be hard to find the time to exercise during this busy season, exercise provides physical and mental health benefits. You can find exercise in different activities—take the stairs instead of the elevator, go on a run, vacuum the house, or help Santa out by wrapping some presents.

4. Don’t go to a party on an empty stomach. Avoid skipping meals on the big day. When hungry, we tend to overeat. Rather, eat balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day leading up to holiday get-togethers.

5. Create a plan for eating when you get to the party. When you arrive at a party, look over all of the food choices. Use a small plate and fill it once. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Fill up your stomach with those nutrient-dense options first. Then, move away from the food. The closer you stand to the food, the more likely you are to graze.

6. Eat before you drink alcohol. Eat a full meal before you start drinking your holiday cocktails to ensure the body is getting the nutrition it needs. Don’t substitute alcohol calories for nutrition. Additionally, alcohol can stimulate your appetite, and if you start on an empty stomach, you are more likely to overeat.

7. Avoid hidden sugar. Be mindful of the sweet treats you find everywhere. Limit yourself to a couple of treats or make a plate sampling tiny portions of each dessert. Slowly savor and enjoy the desserts. Also, be aware of serving size for alcoholic drinks. At holiday parties the drinks are usually bigger than a typical serving, which could add several hundred calories. Also, fruit juice mixers can add hidden calories and unwanted carbohydrates to your diet—try sparkling seltzer.

8. Drink plenty of water. Make sure you are drinking your recommended eight servings of water a day. If you are drinking alcohol, have three to four glasses of water for every cocktail. Alcohol is a diuretic—water will counteract the dehydrating effect.

9. ENJOY. The holidays are a time for celebration. Enjoy the holiday season with mindfulness and moderation.

If you’re having trouble sticking with a healthy lifestyle, consider establishing a partner in health. Talk to your primary care physician about how to get started on your wellness journey.

Madeline Waters is a registered dietitian nutritionist with UPMC Susquehanna. Registered dietitian nutritionists are the food and nutrition experts who translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions to help individuals make unique, positive lifestyle changes.