We’ve all been there: walking out of a holiday get-together holding our bellies thinking “whyyyyy did I eat so much?!”. Overindulgence once in a while isn’t really a problem, but during the busy holiday season, those extra treats can really add up. So how can you enjoy your holiday parties without overdoing it? Here are my healthy holiday party tips.

Step 1: Eat normally before and after

Very often, I hear people saying that they compensate for big food events by eating very little or restricting what they eat beforehand. Here’s the thing about that, it doesn’t really work that way and it can slippery slope into disordered eating habits. Here are a couple facts that might shock you: 1. what we know as caloric values for certain foods are just approximations, not exact measures, 2. what a food’s calorie measures are outside the body aren’t necessarily the same as what they are once we consume them. So, first, your math is probably off. Second, if you go into the party starving, aren’t you just going to eat even more high-calorie food than you would have before?

My advice is, eat like you normally would before and after the party. This means you’ll be going into it with a normal appetite and not coming off of a day of deprivation and misery. Eat a balanced breakfast, drink enough water, eat a balanced lunch, have some small healthy snacks, go for walk or to the gym of whatever you usually do. If you don’t treat the gathering as a huge make-or-break to-do then it won’t feel like one and it will take a lot of pressure off of you.

Step 2: Plan Ahead

Set a goal for yourself going into it to help you stay on track. For example, “I’m going to have one glass of water for every glass of wine I have” or “I’m going to stick with just one dessert treat.” Note that this isn’t bargaining with yourself – the tactic isn’t to say “if I don’t eat this, then I can eat that.” That strategy can backfire quite quickly. What this strategy is is setting limits for yourself but making them reasonable and providing enough room for enjoyment.

Step 3: Know Yourself and Strategize

Are you a mindless eater or a grazer? Do you need external accountability? It’s really important that you know yourself and how you function at events like these.

If you know that you like to pick at foods or are a mindless eater, then choose a place away from the food table to station yourself to socialize. When you get food, portion out what you want onto a plate, even if it’s chips and dip, and walk away. Give yourself some time before returning for the table for more. Removing yourself from the source will decrease the odds that you will eat out of compulsion and will make it easier for you to tune into your hunger and satiety cues.

Maybe you really need accountability. If you’re working with a health coach, tell them what your goals are for the party so the next time you see them, they can check in on how it went. Or you could tell your partner or best friend. Just make sure that it is someone who can help you hold yourself accountable without shaming you.

Step 4: Stay Hydrated

Making sure you drink plenty of water throughout the gathering is key. Not only will it help pace your drinking, it will also help you control your eating as water can make you feel more full. Drinking water between drinks or plates or even bites can also help slow you down so you can check in with yourself and see if you really want/need more of whatever treat you’re thinking of.

Step 5: Bring Something Healthy

If it’s a gathering where people are pitching in by bringing different dishes, why not bring something healthy you will want to eat? You will be guaranteeing yourself a healthy option that you enjoy that can buffer against all those treats.  (Click here to download my favorite healthy holiday appetizer recipes).

Step 6: Take it Easy on Yourself

Going back to step 1 in a way here, if you do overindulge, you can’t compensate for it by restricting your food intake or overexercising the next day. All you can do is simply do better. Go back to your normal healthy eating habits, exercise like you normally would, drink plenty of water. And, most importantly, don’t beat yourself up about it. You are human and you had fun, like you’re supposed to.

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