How to Eat Smart This Holiday Season

The holiday season is, in many respects, truly the most wonderful time of year – full of friends and family, joy, excitement and love. The one downside? It’s easy to go overboard at all the parties, where food is the centerpiece and so many of the offerings that look delicious may not always be the healthiest options. What’s more, social obligations can threaten to crowd out your workout sessions. Not this year, though! Here’s your game plan for having it all – food, fun and fitness – this holiday season:

Eat something ahead of time

Arriving to a party with a rumbling stomach is a bad idea, says Amanda Carlson-Phillips, vice president of nutrition and research at EXOS. If you don’t allow yourself to get to the point of starving, it is much easier to stick to a healthy amount when you’re faced with a platter of mouth-watering options. (Not to mention that arriving hungry might lead you to drink too much.)

Before you head out, have a handful of almonds or maybe a sliced apple with peanut butter – both will keep your hunger in check so you can focus on choosing the stuff that truly looks appealing and then have a moderate amount.

How to Eat Smart This Holiday Season

Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast

If you decided to forgo a meal earlier in the day in the hopes that you can “spend” those calories later, your approach may backfire, says Carlson-Phillips. Beyond your body being hungry for energy, you will also miss out on opportunities to provide your body with the nutrients it needs. The holidays are stressful enough – don’t add additional stress to your body by embarking on a starve binge cycle or skimping on nutrients that help your body work most efficiently. This advice all goes double if you’re planning on working out on a party day; giving your body fuel at steady intervals is essential for staying on track with your fitness goals.

Stick to your workout routine

Keeping consistent with exercise will make you less likely to overindulge during the holiday season, says Carlson-Phillips. Besides, there are tons of really fun seasonal races this time of year to pencil into the calendar – from Turkey Trots to Jingle Bell Jogs to New Year’s Eve runs.

Size does matter

How to Eat Smart This Holiday Season

You truly can eat anything you want – the question is always about how much, says Carlson-Phillips. As long as you’re mindful about portions you can keep even the most decadent treats or party-packed evenings from impacting your waistline. Know these key portion sizes:

  • 3 ounces of protein (such as ham, fish, turkey) = a deck of cards
  • 1/4 cup of gravy or sauces (such as cranberry sauce) = a little larger than a golf ball
  • 1/2 cup of starchy sides (such as corn, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese) = a tennis ball
  • 1 cup of vegetables (salads, collard greens, green beans) = a large fist or a baseball
  • 1 slice of pie = 1/8 of a 9-inch pie

Find a spot away from the buffet

When you’re at a party, try to position yourself far away from the food spread. “Research suggests that having a strong visual image of food can heighten food cravings, and a table piled high with tasty treats, holiday pies, and other fattening foods can be a diet danger zone,” says Carlson-Phillips. Gather up what you’d like and find an area to socialize where you won’t be tempted to reload with every lull in the conversation.

Have a next-day plan

How to Eat Smart This Holiday Season

Instead of greeting the next day with a groan, be ready to get back on track with a snack or meal that’s your “reset” meal. Perhaps that is a power smoothie blended with greens, a large salad with chicken and lots of colorful veggies, or a grilled piece of lean protein with quinoa. The results: you’ll feel better physically and emotionally-reconnect to your healthy lifestyle.

Don’t forget the doggy bag

Whether you’re the host or the party guest, one way to decrease the amount of food on party plates is with an opportunity for taking extras home. When you know there’s a second chance to enjoy leftovers, it can inspire more moderate servings the first time around.

To recap, the most important things to keep in mind:

*Eat something before you go to a party.
*Avoid skipping meals.
*Keep up your workout routine.
*Memorize ideal portion sizes.
*Don’t hang out near the food.
*Make a plan to get back on track the next day.
*Take leftovers home so you don’t overindulge on-the-spot.