With a nearly endless array of healthy eating landmines from, oh, Halloween through New Year’s Day, it’s no wonder many people stray from their healthy eating goals during the holiday season. However, with a little smart planning, you can avoid common holiday eating mistakes and keep your nutrition game on point through NYE.
Here, nutritionists break down the biggest faux pas, and share their tried-and-true strategies for keeping your diet balanced during the most wonderful time of the year.
Mistake #1: Skipping Breakfast To Save Room For Later
Whether you’ve got the office holiday party, a Hanukkah celebration, or Christmas Eve dinner on deck, the same advice applies: Eat your breakfast. “Showing up to a smorgasbord on an empty stomach may make you more likely to overdo it—and feel generally fatigued and irritable,” cautions Los Angeles-based registered dietitian and best-selling author of The MIND Diet, Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D. “Instead, enjoy a balanced breakfast so you’re adequately nourished and able to make mindful choices come feast time.”
Mistake #2: Going Rogue At Holiday Parties
Speaking of that upcoming office party, it’s key to walk into any holiday party or dinner with a game plan. “Without a plan, there are no limits and all foods are fair game, which leads to overeating,” say Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D.N., C.D.N., C.F.T., and Lyssie Lakatos, R.D.N., C.D.N., C.F.T., co-authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure.
On a regular evening at home, pigs in a blanket, shrimp tempura, bruschetta, stuffed mushrooms, and eggnog likely aren’t on the menu. However, at a party, “because they’re being passed around, you have them all,” say Lakatos and Lakatos Shames.
Before you arrive at a party, jot down a few guidelines to help you stay on track. Some good ideas include:
- setting a limit of two appetizers
- drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume
- splitting your dessert with someone
You’ll feel more in-control and able to enjoy the party.
Mistake #3: Not Getting Enough Probiotics
You know probiotics, the good-for-you bacteria living in your gut, can help with digestion—and they’re especially important over the holidays. “Since your gut microbiota are working overtime this time of year, be sure to take probiotics or get them from yogurt and sauerkraut,” suggests dietitian Brocha Soloff, R.D., creator of iHeart Health.
Incorporate probiotic-rich foods regularly to show your gut some love.
Mistake #4: Avoiding Fats
The healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids found in foods like avocados, nuts, and olive oil are an important part of any balanced diet. In addition to supporting heart health, these fats also help you feel satiated.
“Many people are afraid of fat, but along with protein and fiber, healthy fat can help you stay fuller for longer,” explains dietitian Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. As long as you choose these unsaturated fats (and avoid unhealthy trans fats), they can help you feel fueled and satisfied—and less likely to fall face first into the first tray of Christmas cookies you see.
Gorin recommends consuming one serving healthy fat with each meal, especially throughout the holidays. A few examples: a quarter of an avocado, one tablespoon olive oil, one tablespoon of no-sugar-added almond or peanut butter, or two tablespoons of nuts. Include these at the beginning of holiday meals to help you feel satisfied.
Mistake #5: Failing To Focus On Nutrition On Days You Don’t Have Holiday Parties
This is perhaps the biggest holiday eating mistake you can make. Not every single day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s needs to involve a sleigh ride circuit of sweets and treats. However, we often give ourselves a pass to overindulge all season long.
“It’s so important to set yourself up for success by planning for the ‘regular’ days when you’re not at a holiday celebration,” offers Chelsey Amer, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., dietitian and author of Thrive in 5. This means eating smart the rest of the day on which you do have a soirée on deck and sticking to your regular routine as much as possible on days you don’t.
Mistake #6: Not Snacking Before Attending A Holiday Party
If you want to avoid completely overdoing it at the buffet table, munch on a wholesome snack before the fun.
A couple of good examples:
- an apple with almond butter
- whole-wheat toast with probiotic-rich sauerkraut and a drizzle of hot sauce
Or, take The Nutrition Twins’ slightly non-traditional approach: “We have our clients drink tea and eat steamed veggies before holiday parties. The warm tea pacifies you, takes up space in your stomach, and eases nerves,” they say. “Meanwhile, the steamed veggies take the edge off hunger and fill you up with fiber for very few calories.”
Mistake #7: Driving Yourself Crazy About Avoiding ‘Unhealthy’ Foods
Not all holiday eating mistakes involve going overboard on eggnog. Ultimately, overthinking your food choices throughout the holidays can suck the joy out of this festive time of year. Give yourself the much-deserved credit for trying to eat nutritiously, but don’t beat yourself up for overindulging.
“Stress itself leads to increased production of [the stress hormone] cortisol and the accumulation of belly fat, so stressing out about whether or not to eat that holiday cookie may do more harm than good,” emphasizes Moon. “Just eat the cookie, if that’s what you want. Give yourself permission to eat it—or not—but take the emotional stress out of it.”