holiday meals

Holiday Meals Can Be Healthy as Well as Satisfying

Well, we got through Thanksgiving, but Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year’s are still ahead. That means quality time with the family, and plenty of office or school holiday parties (even they’re only virtual). The holiday season brings a wide mix of emotions and stress—both good and bad—and the temptation of nostalgic holiday treats can add yet another concern: holiday weight gain (Who can resist pumpkin pie and eggnog, right?). While eating and merrymaking is both expected and encouraged during these special times, excessive indulgence can lead to health issues later.

For many people, the Holidays are synonymous with weight gain. But it doesn’t have to be that way—as long as you approach them with a sound game plan that addresses three important factors: nutrition, fitness, and stress management. Men’s Health Network has compiled a holiday eating game plan with strategies that can keep you from gaining those unwanted pounds.

Pre-Game Tips

  • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast, in anticipation of eating larger holiday meals later on. Research shows people who eat a healthy breakfast tend to consume fewer calories during the day.
  • Have a pre-meal. Don’t go to a holiday gathering on an empty stomach. Instead, snack on fruits or vegetables before heading out the door. This will give you a slight feeling of being full, which will help prevent overeating later.
  • Plan ahead. Think ahead about the all those tempting sights, sounds, aromas, and feelings that trigger your personal patterns of overeating, and then make plans to combat them beforehand so they don’t become overwhelming. Practicing awareness and mindful eating can reduce the potential for excessive indulgence.
  • Manage stress. The Mayo Clinic has some excellent strategies for managing stress during the holiday season.
  • Go for healthier alternatives. If you’re preparing or helping to prepare holiday meals, take a look at Kaiser Permanente’s excellent list of smartphone apps.

Once You’re in the Game

  • Stay Hydrated. Sipping on a glass of cold water throughout the event will help keep you feeling full, and staves off the dehydration that comes from eating too many high-sugar, high-salt goodies. Dehydration can actually mimic hunger; tempting you to eat more when in reality, you’re just thirsty.
  • Practice portion control. It’s nice to dig into your favorite holiday treats. However, those extra calories and pounds—and the extra effort you’ll have to expend to work them off—should serve as inspiration to think about portion control. So, eat what you want, just keep your portions reasonable. Chew your food slowly and think twice (or three times) before you go back for seconds. The Smartphone app, MyFitnessPal, is a useful tool to keep and stay on track.
  • Size matters! The bigger the plate you’re eating from, the more food you’re likely to put on it (and eat). So use smaller plates at the buffet line. There’s something about seeing an empty plate that helps us feel satisfied whether the container is large or small. That’s why using smaller plates is so effective.
  • Be Mindful. Eat food because you’re hungry, not because it’s there. Make a deliberate decision to control “recreational eating.” In other words, eat with your appetite, not with your eyes. Examine what’s available, then ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”
  • Eat slowly. The stomach needs about 20 minutes to tell the brain that it’s feeling full. But when food is gulped down, by the time the stomach sends its fullness signal to the brain, you’ve probably already eaten too much food and too many calories. Fill up your plate, eat slowly and then put the brakes on for a while so that your stomach can send its fullness signal to your brain. For a little more help, try using one of the smartphone apps recommended by Naturally Savvy.
  • Veg out on veggies first. Filling up on healthy, low-calorie, high-fiber vegetables instead of high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt and high-caffeine treats will make you feel full without the drawbacks of dehydration, nervousness, weight gain and overeating.
  • Share the holiday spirit—and your food. Save calories by splitting treats with another person.
  • Enjoy yourself. They don’t call it “the most wonderful time of the year” for nothing! But rather than focusing on food, allow yourself to enjoy the personal relationships, the meaning of the season, personal reflections, renewed spiritual dedication, holiday games, fun, and memories you’re blessed to have.
  • Stay physically active. Healthy eating is only half the battle. Try these easy steps to burn more holiday calories:
    • Maintain or slightly increase your regular exercise program. This will help decrease your appetite, keep your metabolism high and give you a little caloric leeway for those sweet treats.
    • When shopping for holiday gifts, park furthest away from the shopping entrance. Always take the stairs instead of the elevator.
    • Take a walk after a heavy meal. As tempting as laying on the couch afterward may be, taking a short walk instead will actually help your body digest your food.


Make Good Nutrition a Year-Round Thing

Because of the temptations, traditions, and higher-than-usual stress levels, it’s especially important during the holidays to pay attention to what and how much you eat. But proper nutrition—along with reasonable goals for fitness and stress management—are important components to a healthy life, all year long. Here are two great sources of advice, support, and encouragement.

Remember the key to winning is a good defense. Following this game plan for healthy eating will help you maintain good physical and mental health while celebrating with friends and family. Happy holidays!

Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels

Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES

View posts by Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES
Ramon holds a Masters in Public Health degree with an emphasis on health promotion and health education from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and a BS in biological sciences and biomedical engineering from the University of California, Irvine. He is a member of the Men's Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association. His background includes health promotion at the US DHHS in Washington, DC and Director of Programs for Men's Health Network.

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