Dietician Digest: Staying Healthy During the Holidays

by Christi Bowling, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD

The holiday season is here again, which means fun-filled festivities, time with family and friends, and food—LOTS of food. By consuming just an extra 200 calories a day (i.e. a small slice of pecan pie, a small cup of eggnog, or a couple of small cookies), you could pack on an extra two to three pounds over this five- to six-week period. However, by enjoying holiday treats in smaller portions, making healthy substitutions where you can, and planning ahead for meals, you can limit or even avoid those extra pounds. Here are some tips that can help you stay healthy during this food-filled season:

  •  Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals or “saving” calories for a big holiday party or feast may actually result in overeating. It is especially important to have breakfast, as research shows that those who eat this morning meal may consume fewer calories throughout the day. Include foods rich in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fiber-rich foods also increase satiety and are lower in calories.  
  • Keep moving. Instead of the same 30-minute jog or routine gym session, branch out and find new ways to move that sound fun to you. Try a new workout class or online video, organize a family activity like skating, hiking, or even a scavenger hunt, or find an indoor climbing or swimming facility. Taking a walk after dinner is also a great way to catch up with family members while burning calories.
  • Pick a strategy to avoid overeating—and use it! There are several strategies to help avoid overeating. Using a smaller plate, for instance, does not allow for as much food and encourages smaller portions. Start by filling your plate with vegetables and fresh salad before entrees and dessert. Vegetables contain insoluble fiber, which can help reduce hunger. A balanced snack before a meal will also aid in reducing hunger, which will result in fewer calories consumed during dinner (examples: 1 slice whole grain bread with 2 Tbsp almond butter or 1 cup plain Greek yogurt with ½ cup berries). 
  • Slash unwanted calories with easy swaps and substitutions. Learn where there are excess calories, sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars in traditional holiday foods and beverages, and try some easy swaps to avoid them. Have pumpkin pie instead of pecan pie, and you’ll reduce calories by at least a third. Have sparkling water instead of mixed drinks to avoid excess calories from alcohol. Choose turkey or fish instead of red meat to reduce saturated fat and calories for a more heart healthy choice. Prepare roasted sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper instead of the classic butter and sugar-laden sweet potato casserole.
  • Get plenty of Zzz’s. Going out more often and staying out later usual typically equates to less sleep. Sleep loss can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar and satiety hormones (ghrelin and leptin), which can lead to overeating higher fat and higher sugar foods. In addition, holiday stress can also impact sleep quality. Develop a sleep routine to help reduce stress levels before bedtime, and also make sure to carve out enough time to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night as often as possible to help guard against mindless eating.  

Most importantly, use this time of year to connect with the people you care about. When you are able to focus on having fun and connecting with the ones you love, it’s easier to focus less on the food!


  1. 5 Healthy Eating Tips for the Holidays.
  2. Smart Ways to Eat Healthy During the Holidays- Eating Well.
  3. 12 Tips for Holiday Eating.
  4. 5 Tips for Enjoying the Holiday Without Gaining Weight.
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