Enjoy all your favorite foods without ever feeling like a stuffed turkey.
The holidays don’t exactly sneak up on us, but extra holiday pounds sure do. That’s because, for most of us, the holidays are a party—complete with an infinite buffet—that lasts for more than a month, says Laura Georgy, R.D.N., a dietitian in Denver.
“Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day,” she says, “people have a marathon of social food-and-drink-focused events that leave them low on sleep and sacrificing healthy routines.”
Thankfully, you can still enjoy all your favorite holiday fare without putting on extra pounds. Try these dietitian-approved tips.
1. Prioritize Sleep for Stronger Willpower
Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep before a holiday party or event, and ideally every night. “Research shows that you will make better food choices, be able to recognize appetite cues, and consume fewer high-calorie foods when you’re well-rested,” Georgy says. No matter how busy your days get, try not to skimp on sleep.
If you have trouble sleeping, be sure to check out our guide to five sneaky reasons you might be up at night—and what to do about each.
2. Create a Party Playbook
Tracking what you eat and drink in a food journal can help you be aware of what you’re putting into your body. But why not use a food journal to help you avoid overeating in the first place?
“At the beginning of each day, write down what you plan to eat that day,” Georgy says. “We have the most self-control in the morning, so this is the best time to draft a meal plan.”
Think about what parties or events you’ll be attending later that day, and research your food options as much as possible ahead of time. “Be realistic with what you will eat and drink,” she says. “Then work backward to healthfully fill in the rest of your day.”
Need some help? Check out this plan for a perfect day of eating.
3. Pre-Game with Vegetables and Tea
Before you head to holiday festivities, have a pre-meal of vegetables and tea, say Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D., and Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure.
Vegetables, such as sliced bell peppers, carrots, or cucumbers, will fill you up with fiber for very few calories so you won’t arrive at the party hungry. And tea contains the amino acid theanine, which will bring on a mental alertness and calmness so you can make a mindful decision about your food choices when you get to the party.
4. Eat and Enjoy—Really!
Mindful eating can help you avoid extra calories all year, but it’s especially helpful during the holidays. “Pay attention to your food,” says Sarah Mirkin, R.D., a dietitian in Beverly Hills, California. “Eat slowly, and savor it.”
Simple trick: Always move away from the food. Instead of standing over the chips and dip while talking to your friend, put a handful of chips and a tablespoon of dip on your plate and find a spot to continue your conversation. Bonus: It’ll be easier to catch up with your friend if you don’t have to keep moving out of the way for others.
5. Keep Liquid Calories in Check
It’s certainly possible to have fun without alcohol, but if you do choose to drink, remember that alcohol has calories too. “Steer clear of cocktails with many ingredients that can really pack a lot of calories,” says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., a nutrition expert in New York City. “Instead, choose a five-ounce glass of wine or a 12-ounce bottle of light beer, which counts as one serving of alcohol.”
It’s also a good idea to drink a glass of water or seltzer between each alcoholic beverage to keep yourself hydrated, she says. As you age, your body’s ability to conserve water is reduced and your sense of thirst weakens, so it’s especially important for older adults to sip H2O. Watch for these lesser-known signs you might be dehydrated.
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