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Commercials and some brands might tell you the only way to recover from holiday parties, sweets, foods and drinking is to buy into expensive juices or cleanses. If you’re as sick of it as we are, then this piece is for you.
Let this year be different and heed the following advice from 10 registered dietitians or nutritionists who’ve helped thousands of people navigate the chaos and excitement of the holidays without giving up holiday favorites, labeling foods as “bad” or feeling guilty. This is your reminder that you can eat (and enjoy) your holiday cookie or glass of wine — no extreme dieting required.
10 Ways to Stay Healthy for the Holidays
1. Alternate Adult Beverages With H2O
The holidays are a time for celebrating, and with that often comes adult beverages. Too much alcohol can result in overeating and dehydration, so here’s a trick on how you can stay hydrated and spirited.
Instead of refilling your wine glass after you’ve enjoyed one, alternate between an alcoholic drink and a nonalcoholic one (like sparkling water with a squeeze of lime) to help pace yourself and keep hydrated.
— Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, owner of Nutrition Now Counseling
2. Implement a 10-Minute Rule
You can — and should — give yourself permission to enjoy your holiday favorite snacks and treats guilt-free. But if you’re concerned that giving yourself permission to eat all the goodies will end in serious overeating and a consequential stomach ache, use the 10-minute rule.
If you see a holiday food that you can’t wait to enjoy, tell yourself you absolutely can have it but don’t impulsively eat it. Instead, enjoy the other party festivities for 10 minutes and then come back to the food. If you still want it, eat it. If you don’t, it may have just been an impulse to eat it because it was there and not because you truly wanted it.
— New Jersey–based dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, and author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet
3. Stock Up on Healthy Essentials
While it may be easy to forgo meal prep altogether during the busy holiday party season, you can still stock up on go-to essentials like canned beans or pre-chopped and washed veggies to make healthy happen amid the chaos of the season.
Stock up on convenient frozen fruits and vegetables for easy anytime additions. Salad mixes, pre-diced squash, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, and dried fruit can be tossed in or on just about any meal or snack.
— Elise Compston, RD, LD, of Compston Kitchen
4. Experiment With Alternative Sugar Sources in Baked Goods
Added sugar consumption often increases during this time of year thanks to the delicious goodies that surround us. Try experimenting with some of the tasty sugar alternatives on the market today to see what holiday classics can be revamped while maintaining that same delicious taste.
Given the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10 percent of total calories come from added sugar, it’s important to be mindful of how much added sugar we consume.
While I still enjoy the traditional goodies that my family has come to know and love, I will enlist the help of seasonal swaps, like using unsweetened applesauce or a lower-calorie sweetener like Swerve in my baking.
— Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, author of The Family Immunity Cookbook
5. Stay Hydrated Throughout Your Day
It’s easy to forget to hydrate when you’re running a million miles a minute planning dinners, parties and organizing holiday get-togethers. But your body needs fluid to function at its best (and we’re not just talking about coffee).
People often forget to drink water, especially during the holidays. When dehydrated, your cognitive function will decline and your brain will not work efficiently, among a slew of other not-so-fun effects. Carry a reusable water bottle with you, and use an app to remind you to drink water.
— Jerlyn Jones, MS, MPA, RDN, LD, CLT, owner of The Lifestyle Dietitian LLC and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
6. Properly Nourish Your Body Throughout the Day
Have a big party you bought that special dress for? Wonderful! But don’t restrict yourself the day of so you can “fit” into any holiday outfit.
While it might be tempting to “bank” calories for holiday get-togethers and soirees, I have three words: Don’t do it! Treat holiday party days like any other, and you’ll arrive properly nourished and ready to enjoy the festivities feeling more in control of your food choices and less of a Grinch.
— Nicole Rodriguez, RDN, NASM-CPT, EnjoyFoodEnjoyLife.com
7. Incorporate Snacks Between Meals
Make sure to include plenty of healthy plant-based snacks in your diet to keep you full between meals and prevent yourself from making poor choices later in the day.
Snacking on nuts such as almonds is a good choice because just 1 ounce (one handful) delivers 6 grams of natural, plant-based protein, 4 grams of filling fiber and good unsaturated fats, all of which are nutrients you need to stay energized and curb hunger. As a bonus, almonds are rich in magnesium, which aids in the production of energy in the body and also supports a healthy immune system.
— Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, owner of Greenletes and nutrition partner with California Almonds
8. Take Time to Savor Your Food While Connecting With Your Loved Ones
’Tis the season to enjoy the time with loved ones you may not get to see all that often. Allow yourself the opportunity to do so while mindfully eating those foods you truly love.
Eat consistently throughout the day rather than skipping meals before the big celebration so you can enjoy connecting with your loved ones while taking the time to savor your indulgences, not rush through meals.
— Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND, author of My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes
9. Eat a Variety of Plant-Based Foods Throughout the Season
The best way to promote a balanced diet (and healthy gut) is to eat the rainbow when it comes to produce throughout the year — and gut health experts agree.
Despite popular belief that health comes from restricting food or food groups, health actually comes from satisfying the body with what it needs. That includes a wide variety of plant-based foods not only to help foster our gut health but also to improve our immune health.
As we enter the holiday season, ditch the restriction mentality and embrace inclusion of variety.
— Jessie Wong, MAcc, RDN, LD, owner of Joy Nutrition Consulting LLC
10. Let Your Body Be Your Guide
If you’ve heard of the concept of intuitive eating, then this season consider reading up on it and working with a professional who can help you unlearn many of the popular diet culture beliefs ingrained in our food system. Savoring the foods you only get once a year will not derail your health goals, trust us!
Remember that the holidays include food … and food isn’t scary. Take a deep breath and remember to savor these delicacies you may only see once or twice a year. Try to tune into your fullness cues, but be kind to yourself if you push past it at times.
Give yourself permission to say no if you really want to the same way you’d say yes because there can be a lot of pressure around the holidays that include food or alcohol. Let your body and mind be your guide.
— Wendy Jo Peterson, MS, RDN, nutrition author and chef, Meal Prep Cookbook for Dummies