The holidays are a time for friends and family to come together to share gratitude and enjoy some of their favorite foods. From mashed potatoes and gravy to latkes, brisket, candied yams, or pumpkin pie—there's no shortage of meals to appreciate.
But if you're striving to eat healthier, you may find it challenging to maintain healthy eating habits through the holidays.
So how can you stay healthy over the holidays while still enjoying yourself?
In today's article, we'll share nine healthy eating tips for your holiday feast. Keep reading to learn more.
9 healthy eating tips for your holiday feast
Get enough sleep
Sleeping habits can affect the amount of food you eat, and the types of food you're drawn to. Not getting enough sleep can make it more difficult to manage blood sugar—and may increase your desire for more high-fat and high-sugar foods.
Healthy sleep also helps your body produce hormones that control appetite, specifically leptin and ghrelin.
What do these hormones do?
- Leptin regulates the body's balance of energy by regulating feelings of hunger and fat storage.
- Ghrelin, which is secreted in the stomach, acts as a counterpart of leptin—boosting appetite, growth, and fat production.
Normal and sufficient sleep keeps these hormones balanced. When you don’t get enough sleep, these hormones can become imbalanced, which can increase your appetite. This sets the stage for a higher calorie intake throughout the day.
Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night to maintain this balance and avoid overeating.
Staying active in the days leading up to, after, and during the holidays can help keep stress levels at bay.
Research links weight gain to stress. And when stressed, your body produces the hormone cortisol. Because the brain thinks it needs energy to fight off whatever’s causing the stress, cortisol creates cravings for fatty, sugary, and salty food.
But staying active doesn't just help with stress.
Adding some additional activity to routine can be a great way to make up for the higher caloric intake throughout the holidays. Light to moderate physical activity can burn anywhere from 240 to 460 calories per hour. Some quick ways you can stay active during the holidays include:
- Going for a walk
- Dancing with family
- Getting a workout in
Don’t skip meals
Skipping breakfast to save room for the holiday dinner may be a bad idea as it can lead to a greater appetite later in the day. This puts you at risk of overeating during the holiday feast and makes it harder to manage blood sugar levels.
Unhealthy food choices are also more likely to occur when you’re hungry.
You’re more likely to mindlessly eat when you’re hungry, instead of slowing down to consider healthier food choices. When hungry, the body craves foods that also tend to be quick and easy fixes like unhealthy, sugary snacks.
Skipping meals can also cause you to:
- Gain weight
- Feel sluggish and tired
- Burn less energy (calories)
Bring healthy dishes
Whether you’re hosting or visiting, you can create healthy dishes that are still festive.
Some healthy holiday dishes ideas include:
- Green beans
- Sauteed carrots
- Sauteed kale or collard greens
- Vegetable salad
- Baked yams
- Butternut squash soup
Ideally, consume a balance of:
- Healthy protein foods (poultry, beans, and nuts). Choose options with less salt and with little to no bad fats.
- Good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocado, almonds, and pecans)
- Healthier sources of carbs (unprocessed whole grains, vegetables, and fruits). These have more nutrients than simple carbs and their higher fiber content allows them to digest more slowly.
Eating a balance of healthy proteins, carbs, and good fats is a simple way to feel satisfied, avoid overeating, and give you energy for your day.
Drinking water helps your body digest more easily by breaking down foods and helping you absorb nutrients.
Harvard suggests a daily water intake of:
- 4 to 11 cups for kids and teens 18 and under
- 13 cups for men 19 and older
- 9 cups for women 19 and older
Take a break
When you’re eating, your stomach may take a few moments to signal to the brain that it’s getting full. So it’s wise to take a break before helping yourself to seconds.
Instead of going for your second plate—try talking with family, drinking more water, or enjoying some fresh air.
Keep your distance
When at a get-together, try to stay away from the snack table if you’re prone to indulging. Staying close to food makes it easier to mindlessly eat, which can cause overeating.
Instead, try chewing a piece of gum or eating a mint—or bring your own healthy snacks to share and enjoy.
Some healthy snacks could include:
- Roasted chickpeas
- Vegetables with hummus
- Pumpkin and sunflower seeds
Try to limit calories from drinks
The holidays offer a variety of drinks—most of which are high in calories:
- Apple cider
- Mixed drinks
One glass of eggnog can contain up to 500 calories. And one cup of apple cider has around 28 grams of sugar.
One can of beer contains up to 350 calories, and a mixed drink, like a rum and coke, contains around 185 calories. If you’re drinking alcohol, it may be best to limit your intake, not only for the high calories, but also because it can affect your decision-making, behavior, and reaction time.
Whatever you’re drinking, try alternating with glasses of water to decrease the overall amount of unhealthy drinks you consume.
Look before you eat
Before you start putting food on your plate, pause and look at everything on the table. This can help you make more proactive choices about the foods you eat. And it may help you lower the number of calories you consume during the meal.
The holidays are a time to celebrate family, friends, and gratitude.
It’s ok to enjoy holiday food, drinks, and desserts in moderation. And by taking a more mindful approach, you can celebrate the holidays while still maintaining your health.
We hope you learned some tips to stay healthy this holiday season amid all the tempting foods and treats being served. Consider sharing this article with friends and family and help create a healthier holiday environment for all.