Plus: Six tips on how to relax and stay sensibly healthy.
The holidays can be insanely stressful. Between buying gifts (read: going broke), traveling, the inevitable family drama, and a full social calendar, it can be easy to forget about your diet entirely. That’s why Cooking Light’s Assistant Nutrition Editor, Jamie Vespa, MS, RD, says ditching your diet during prime feasting season isn’t really such a bad thing.
“If you can maintain your weight during the holidays,” says Vespa, “you’re ahead of the game. There’s enough pressure [right now], and dieting can actually stress you out more, leading to overindulging.”
Instead of restricting yourself or feeling guilty as you hover by the cookie table, Vespa offers up the following suggestions on staying healthy during the holidays. The best part? There’s not a treadmill or “handful of almonds” in sight.
Plan for Parties Strategically
Appetizers are typically tiny, not healthful, and definitely not filling. Vespa says, “It’s easy to overindulge, so I’ll eat a meal beforehand or make dinner plans after the party so I’m not tempted to munch on high calorie foods that won’t satisfy me.”
Bring Your Own Dish
Potlucks are a fun way to gather with loved ones—but, let’s face it, the spread usually consists of creamy dips, cheesy casseroles, and super sweet desserts. Bringing a festive salad or other fresh element often adds a welcome counter to traditionally heavy dishes. That way you’ll know you have at least one accessible healthy option—and the other partygoers may appreciate it as well.
Divide Your Plate
Going to a dinner party, and don’t know what to grab? Vespa says she follows the MyPlate rule: “I mentally divide a small dinner plate into sections—I dedicate ½ of my plate to fruits and vegetables, ¼ to carbs or grains, and the other ¼ to protein. So, for example, your plate could include ½ salad, ¼ roasted potatoes, and ¼ chicken breast. That keeps it healthy and delicious!
Take a Breather
Still hungry after you finished your meal? Vespa says, “Wait 15 minutes before heading back for a second serving; it takes that long for satiety signals to reach your brain.” Translation? You may not really want that extra scoop of mac and cheese—but if you do, that’s okay too.
Shift Your Focus
Holiday activities are typically focused on one thing: food (ok, and drinks.) If you want to catch up with a friend or family member without being tempted, suggest going on a hike, heading to a yoga class, or catching a movie instead. You’ll still get some quality time with the fam, which is what the holidays are really about anyway.
Follow These Exercise Rules
Vespa says, “Don’t try to out-exercise your diet. Adding that extra stress is unnecessary (note: exercise is a “good” stress, but still stress.) Keep up with your pre-holiday routine if possible, but don’t punish yourself for having an extra cocktail or Christmas cookie.” Feeling a bit sluggish or bloated? Vespa suggests taking a walk with your family (or dog, if you need to escape for a bit!), drinking lots of water, and focusing on whole foods whenever you can.
The Bottom Line: Listen to your body—if you’re hungry, go ahead and eat. Don’t deprive yourself of delicious holiday fare, but also tune in to why you’re eating that Christmas cookie. Are you a little hungry, craving something sweet, and you only get grandma’s cookies this time of year? Then go for it! If you’re just hanging out by the dessert table because you’re bored, consider pumping the brakes and catching up with a family member instead.