Healthy Holiday Tips for a Fun and Festive Season

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Mel, our resident clinical research nurse, is back to share some great healthy holiday tips for the upcoming holiday season. Whether you’re hosting a holiday party or just generally trying to avoid holiday weight gain – some healthy tips from an industry professional are perfect for the season!  Mel has done the research and worked with the patients, so without further pause – here are some of her great tips!



The “heavy” hitting holidays are here – so we need to be armed with some healthy holiday tips!

It starts with Halloween and various fests (pumpkin and apple to name a few) then moves on to Thanksgiving, Christmas and other religious holidays.  Let’s not forget about birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, retirement parties, going away parties and on and on……

This translates into many occasions to eat, and, not the healthiest foods.  But why?  Why have these joyous occasions turned into reasons to eat so unhealthy?  Keep reading, we’ll get to that.  I read something recently that said, October is the least you will (potentially) ever weigh compared to the other months of the year.  Why? Because the heavy hitters come and go, but the extra weight we pick up does not!


The purpose of this post is to:

Complete the “healthy holiday” eating self-check.  This will help you to better manage unhealthy eating.  Foundational to healthy holiday eating is planning, purchasing and preparing.   Remember, when we fail to plan we plan to fail.  The holidays often leave us Hungry, Angry, Lonely and/or Tired (HALT) with all the preparation.   These feelings lead to less healthy anything, especially eating and activity.  The craziest thing is the New Year comes and the health resolutions start again.  It’s a cycle that can be broken… if you are 100% committed.

Next, this post will give you some strategies and skills to help you be successful.  Just knowing how many calories are in something does not keep the weight off.  You will have what you need to make healthier choices this holiday season.

Last, being prepared by planning ahead will help you take action that increases your confidence that you can have a happy and healthy holiday season.


Getting started with healthy holiday choices

Now, this self-check requires you to be HONEST about not only your “holiday” eating habits but eating habits at any “special” occasions.  Why?  Because it is very easy to be dishonest

1.  Is healthy eating a priority for you?

Or do you sometimes create or look for “special” occasions to overeat or eat less healthy?  For example, the occasions listed above.  REALISTIC priority setting is the first step.  Do you want to lose weight AND eat less healthy?  Obviously, those two priorities are opposite the other.  Be honest and admit what your priorities are.  This will help you stay focused.  There are many priorities during the holidays and its okay to make yourself one of them.  In setting priorities, connect a specific health goal to the priority, for example, eating healthier will improve one of your health numbers or help you lose those 15 you don’t want to gain back.  etc. (see – Three steps to trim your annual health numbers).


2.   What is your track record for making the healthier choice at special and holiday occasions?

Apples, strawberries, peanut butter toast??? Not bad.
Apples, strawberries, peanut butter toast??? Not bad.

If the answer is, not very good, then, show concern for yourself.  In some cases, depending on the situation, you may decide not to attend an event.  If that is not an option, then see strategies and skills below to help you be successful.  Showing concern for yourself is not selfish, it is a responsibility.  At this time of year, there are many “fellowship” occasions.  Celebrations are about fellowship with others.  More greeting
less eating!


3.  How can you stay on track?

There will be times when you make a less healthy choice.  To help stay on track, how you manage a diet mistake will make all the difference in helping you be successful.  It’s not that you made the mistake, it’s how you manage it.  The sooner you own up to it, the better.  Think about places and people that influence less healthy eating.  You know where and who specific to you.


4.  The next questions are easy to ask and hard to answer:

What do you tell yourself to “excuse” yourself when you make a diet mistake?

“Thanksgiving only comes once a year”.  “It’s just one piece of pie”.  “I should be able to eat whatever I want, and not gain weight, I’ve been good”.   Statements containing the words just, only, but, should, must, always, never are value-oriented, i.e. feelings.  It is important to follow the facts and not feelings.  Where’s the evidence that states you “should” be able to eat whatever you want and not gain weight?  Excuses are not helpful to staying and or getting back on track.    In the end, it’s your responsibility to use self-control.


What do you do to hide or cover up your less healthy eating?

Through away candy wrappers before anyone sees them?   Eat in your car where no one would see you?  Covering up adds to stress build up.  If you eat something you didn’t plan to, for example, a few cookies (2-3), you can recover from that much easier than a few dozen (12-24).  By taking responsibility for a less healthy choice, you don’t need to cover it up because you’ve owned up.  You know what you did, you are aware of the mistake, and you can move on.


What about stressful thoughts and feelings after eating less healthy?  Disappointment?  Guilt?

Slips can lead to getting you off track, cover up and stress build up!  To stop less healthy eating this self-check is to help you understand how it is easy to start eating less healthy at the holidays and why you keep it up.  No one is perfect!  All or nothing thinking, “I’m either on my diet or off my diet”, is one sure way you will have holiday remorse because you overindulged! Focus on the healthier choices you’ve made.  When you make more healthy choices than not, you are more likely to be successful.


12 Strategies and Skills to “keep it healthy” this holiday season


1.  Get support!

If you know someone else is also working to eat healthily, enlist this person’s support before you go to an event to help you stay on track.


2.  Keep a water bottle in your hand instead of food.


3.  Be ready with an answer for the person who says,

“You’ve got to try just one”.  Or “you look great, just one won’t hurt”.  You might respond with, “I’m sticking with healthier foods right now, so no thank you”.  Or, “my doctor wants me to eat healthier and I’m working on that”.  That way you can still be a part of the event and stay on track.


4.  Stick with your nutrition plan as closely as possible.

Use (see – How setting SMART goals can change your life) this is foundational to healthy eating.  Model your meals using my plate and you can create your own healthy plan.  If you don’t, here’s an example of how this might look on Thanksgiving.   Talk about a reality check!

A ”traditional” Thanksgiving meal:

It is estimated that the average American consumes over 3 times the daily number of recommended calories.Food:                                               Portion                    Calories (approximate)

Roast turkey:                                 8 oz                           424

Stuffing or dressing                      1 cup                         320

Green bean casserole                   1 cup                          161

Mashed potatoes & gravy            1 cup                         433

Cranberry sauce                            1 slice                         86

Cornbread                                      1 piece                       173

Roasted sweet potatoes               1 heaping scoop      609

White wine                                     1 glass                        122

Pecan Pie                                        1 slice                         503

Pumpkin Pie                                  1 slice                         316

Total                                                                                  6, 314

Recommended daily intake:

Calories 2,400 (men)  1850 (women)

This meal sample is 3 times what is recommended

Instead, choose the lighter version!  You will still enjoy the “traditional” foods with fewer calories from fat, carbohydrates, and sugars.

A lighter version:  If you are going somewhere offer to bring a “healthy dish”


5.  Do not skip meals!

This relates to sticking to your plan.  When we skip meals we get overly hungry which leads to overeating.  Eat enough lean protein at each meal.  Our body’s digestive system contains neurohormonal pathways that send signals to our brain.  It has been shown that lean protein sends satiety signals to the brain AND puts the breaks on hunger!  Lean protein helps keep you full longer because it digests more slowly.  Carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates stimulate our hunger pathways.  That’s why eating a lot of carbs, especially refined carbs (empty calories), leaves us wanting more.

6.  A word about alcohol

Alcohol contains empty calories, similar to refined carbs, like cookies, pies and cakes, for example.  The calories from alcohol are digested first and equal 7 kcals per gram.  In comparison, protein and carbohydrates have 4 kcals /gram and fat 9 kcals per gram.  Moderation is key!


7.  A word about “empty” calorie drinks

Here’s how to determine the amount of sugar in drinks.  Take the number of grams of sugar and divide by 4. That number yields the number of teaspoons of sugar in the drink.  For example, a 12 0z can of cola has 40 grams of sugar.  Divide by 4, you get 10 teaspoons of sugar in that one can!  The same math applies to juices as well.  One cup of unsweetened orange juice contains 25 grams of sugar.  Divide by 4, you get about 6 grams of sugar.  Just because something says “natural” or “no added sugar,” even if the food has natural sugar, it’s still sugar.  In the case of fruit juices, it’s better to eat your fruit than drink it.


8.  “Mindful” eating: Slow you’re eating down

Chew the food thoroughly.  This aids digestion and allows time for the stomach to signal the brain that you are “full”.  This takes about 15-20 minutes.  If you eat too fast, the sensation is delayed and you overeat.  Eating in front of the TV or getting caught up in the excitement of anything can be high risk for eating less healthy or too much.  When our attention is focused on other things during eating we are not “mindful” as to how much we are eating.


9.  Portion control

This is especially helpful for any less healthy choices.  Moderation is key!  It is important to note that eating too much of even healthy foods if not used as fuel for our body will be stored as fat.   There’s new research to support that it’s really the first few bites of the food that is most satisfying to us.  Our taste buds are cued into the temperature, texture, and flavor of the food.  If you decide you want to include a special holiday dish into your meal plan, then a 1-2 tablespoon option really is the way to go.


10.  If you log food and activity with an app, continue to do that!

It’s been shown that people who log their food lose twice the amount of weight than people who don’t.


11.  Weigh your self during the holidays at least once per week

There is evidence that suggests weighing yourself 3 x’s /week is an effective “self- monitoring  ”technique to manage weight loss maintenance.


12.  Leave the table when you are done

Offer to clean up, take a walk or engage in a board game.  The longer you sit where food is available, the higher the chance you will eat it just because it’s there!




Be aware of the high-risk situations that put you in danger of eating poorly during the holidays.  Think of places and people you will be around and how you will talk to yourself about less healthy eating.  “It’s just one,” when you know it’s never just one.    Use the tips to help keep you on track.   Avoid holiday remorse by planning, purchasing and preparing.   Last year, at this same time, I was working in a behavioral weight loss program.  Several of the participants lost weight and several maintained.  Maintaining is better than gaining.  You can do this too!

Commit to make the next few months a health priority for eating and exercise.  YOU can make your holidays happy and healthy!  I believe in you!  Believe in yourself!  Self-confidence is so important, especially, if you’ve tried before and not been successful or as successful as you’d like to be.  I was reminded recently that when we focus too much on the past, we focus on regrets, what “I should have done”.  When we focus too much on the future, we “worry” about what will happen.  I challenge you to focus on the “present” with healthy holiday eating.   One “healthy” step at a time.    One “healthy” day at a time.   Make 2016 a healthy holiday to remember!


Thanks for reading!


If you’re interested in discovering a better version of yourself – whether with fitness, finance, or family – then subscribe below to MikedUp Blog’s FREE newsletter and let’s improve together!


I’m glad you’re here. Thanks again and talk soon!


– Mike
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