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by Joanna Foley, RD, CLT December 08, 2021 3 min read

There are many ways to maintain your healthy habits during the holiday season while still allowing for the occasional festive treat. That's right, being healthy during the holidays doesn't have to mean forgoing a traditional dish or favorite food. After all, the holidays are meant to be enjoyed!

Thankfully, healthy holiday eating doesn't have to feel like you are depriving yourself. Keep reading for simple strategies you can implement to enjoy this season while staying healthy.

What Does Healthy Holiday Eating Look Like?

The holidays are often associated with bottomless drinks, large three-course meals with cheese and desserts, sometimes overeating to a point of discomfort. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Believe it or not, you can enjoy the holidays without gaining all the unwanted pounds or completely straying from your usual healthy eating plan. It all comes down to the choices you make. Being intentional with your actions and making simple swaps can make a big difference.

Healthy Holiday Eating Tips

Here are some healthy holiday eating tips to keep in mind this season:

  • Look for the healthier option. Not every dish has to be loaded with sugar or fat. Look for recipes made with whole-food ingredients and that incorporate vegetables or are naturally sweetened. Examples of healthy holiday foods include sweet potatoes, turkey, pumpkin seeds, pecans, cranberries, pomegranate, and Brussels sprouts. Or try a recipe for something less traditional but still warm and comforting for this time of year, such as vegetable, lentil and garbanzo bean stew or orange-rosemary roasted chicken.

  • When in doubt, make it yourself. Homemade recipes can be better for you than store-bought foods, as you can limit or avoid the use of potentially harmful preservatives or artificial ingredients.

  • Balance your holiday meals. It's also important to round out your holiday plate with a combination of vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats as much as possible. This will give you a wider variety of nutrients, help keep your blood sugar more stable, and keep you fuller for longer.

  • Don't obsess about your weight. Focus on maintaining, not losing, weight this time of year. While you want to avoid post-holiday regret from overindulging, you also shouldn't become obsessed with the number on the scale. Doing so is likely to only lead to more stress and potentially harmful behaviors like the restrictive dieting cycle. As tempting as it can be to skip meals on days when you know you will be faced with larger meals or tempting treats, this should be avoided. Doing so is likely to backfire and can lead to overeating in the end. If you want to promote a healthier metabolism, there are nutrients you can take in supplement form for support.

  • Choose what you really want. You don't have to say "no" to your favorites, but it's important to practice moderation. After scanning your options, pick the items that sound the most satisfying to you, and enjoy them without guilt. This may mean choosing a festive alcoholic drink in place of dessert or enjoying a smaller serving of each. Practicing mindful eating and giving yourself grace if you do eat more than you intended are also important habits to help keep you on track.

  • Get moving. Physical movement and exercise are important year-round, and having more downtime can mean more time to move your body. However, don't try to out-exercise your diet, since overworking yourself physically just adds more stress to your body. Instead, focus on activities you enjoy and that leaves your body feeling refreshed. Going on a walk after a meal or doing things like yoga, hiking, and lightweight training can all help reduce stress and burn calories while also promoting healthy digestion before and after eating.

The Power of Small Changes

Being healthy is important, but it shouldn't be an added source of stress this time of year. Keep the focus on celebrating and spending time with those you love. In addition, don't underestimate the power of small changes or having someone help keep you accountable in achieving your goals. Keep these tips in mind, and enjoy the holidays guilt-free this season.