It’s hard to believe that the end of the year is already upon us, and here we are in the thick of holiday celebrations with Santa himself. It’s a magical time to make memories with family and friends, but many of us are wondering how we can enjoy the magic without losing sight of our healthy eating habits. The good news? It’s totally doable.
Eating healthy during the holidays doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the fun. But with so many parties and foods out of the norm, it can’t hurt to have a few tricks up your sleeve to stay on track with your healthy habits this season.
In this article, we’ll talk about ways to enjoy the holiday festivities while staying true to your health and wellness goals. We’ll break down the science behind mindful eating, blood sugar management, and other tips for staying healthy during the holidays and as we head into the new year.
A Memo: What Is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating, the art of being present while you eat, is knocking diet culture on the back burner. And in this season of indulgence, it’s the real MVP of healthy holiday eating tips. So often, we get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of life that we rush through our meals and end up overeating, throwing our blood sugars out of whack, or missing out on important nutrients altogether.
During the holiday season, try to practice mindful eating at mealtimes to avoid eating empty calories. Go ahead and have that slice of pumpkin pie at the holiday party, but actually sit and enjoy it. Take in all the senses and savor every bite. And, of course, listen to your hunger cues and stop when you feel full. (Those hunger cues are key for weight management and blood sugar control, but we’ll touch on those healthy holiday eating tips later.)
Blood Sugar vs. Holiday Season
Ever wonder what Santa’s blood sugars must look like on Christmas Eve? Christmas cookies and other desserts are everywhere this time of year, and overindulgence can wreak havoc on blood sugar management efforts.
With so many food choices to navigate during the holiday season, it’s important to prioritize healthy eating habits. For example, avoid skipping meals to “save up” for a holiday feast. Skipping meals makes you more prone to overeating and can make it difficult for your body to keep your blood glucose under control.
Instead, plan ahead and know what foods you’ll enjoy at the holiday party and what foods might serve you better on another day. And, of course, keep a glass of water handy to ensure you stay hydrated during the celebrations.
Eight Holiday Tips to Stay Healthy this Season
When the eggnog is flowing and the holiday foods have taken over the menu, here are a few wellness tips for the holiday season that we can rely on to keep our health at the top of the list:
Recognize signs of appetite
While you’re listening to Jingle Bell Rock, be sure to listen to your hunger cues, too. Recognizing signs of appetite can help you navigate the balance between food cravings and nutrition needs.
Sit to eat
When we sit at meal times, we’re more aware of our food choices and feelings of fullness, making it less likely for us to overeat.
Mind sensory cues
It’s easy to get overstimulated around the holidays. Focusing on sensory cues can help you enjoy your meal and practice mindfulness at meal times. Take note of a food’s smell, taste, texture, and temperature.
Make a plan (and stick to it)
Planning ahead is one of the biggest proponents of health, no matter the time of year. But during the holidays, meeting our food and nutrition needs may require a little more effort on the front end. So make time for meal planning and keep a stock of healthy snacks on hand to satisfy food cravings or hunger cues.
When it feels like there are a million and one things to do during the holidays, it’s not uncommon for the workout routine to move to the bottom of the list. But physical activity is key to staying healthy, especially during the holiday season.
Take a walk after meals
The CDC recommends logging 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, and taking a walk after dinner can be a great place to start!1 Save the dishes for later and consider taking the family out for a walk in the fresh air. The movement can help you reach your exercise goals and even improve digestion.
Stick to your sleep routine
Sleep hygiene is often overlooked, but it’s essential for many aspects of health. Research indicates that sleep is critical for maintaining immune health, mental cognition, and energy levels.2 So be sure to get your zzzs!
Give yourself some grace
There’s no such thing as a perfect diet, and no matter how diligent we are, no one can get it right 100% of the time. Mindful eating is a spectrum. Cut yourself some slack.
Eight Healthy Holiday Eating Tricks to Apply
Healthy eating during the holidays doesn’t mean you have to follow a low-calorie diet. Small changes can make a big difference.
Make healthy swaps
Making healthy substitutions when possible can help minimize unwanted weight gain or blood sugar spikes around the holidays. However, your holiday food swaps don’t have to eliminate foods altogether. Sure, you can eat a handful of pecans instead of a slice of pecan pie to cut down on calories and sugar. But if you enjoy things like pecan pie, consider substituting certain ingredients (like table sugar for a sugar substitute) to limit its effects on your health.
Remember portion control
Aim to eat three medium meals daily with small snacks in between. This portion control can help improve digestion and prevent us from overindulging on empty-calorie foods that may affect our blood sugar management. If you aren’t sure where to start with portion control efforts, consider using smaller plates at meal times or serving fewer holiday foods at your events.
Include more veggies
Keeping healthy choices on hand, like a variety of vegetables, can help you satisfy your hunger without overdoing it on more calorically-dense foods. For example, a small plate of veggies with hummus can be an excellent addition to your list of appetizers served before a big holiday meal.
Opt for homemade food
Homemade everything can feel like a lot when you’re cooking for everyone and their mama, but if you’re preparing Christmas dinner, consider opting for homemade where possible. Processed foods tend to be higher in sodium and sugar. Making food from scratch will also help you be much more aware of what foods you enjoy at the dinner table.
Slow down your eating
There’s so much fun to be had around the holidays, but don’t rush through your meals to make it all happen. Practicing mindful eating requires us to slow down and be present at meal times. Slowing down at meals gives us the chance to listen to our hunger cues and adjust our intake accordingly.
Don’t skip meals
Although you may be tempted to skip a meal to enjoy holiday foods “guilt-free,” research indicates that skipping meals can work against health and wellness goals. For example, a study published in 2022 found that those who skipped breakfast had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.3 But in the short-term, skipping meals makes us more prone to overeating later in the day, which can skew our calorie intake and blood sugars.
There are seven calories in every gram of alcohol, making alcoholic drinks one of the more calorically-dense parts of a holiday meal. Enjoy alcohol in moderation, and consider how your drinks may affect your nutritional intake.
Hydration, hydration, hydration
Staying hydrated is key to our health, but researchers have found that it can be especially helpful in reducing overall energy intake and sugar and salt intake.4 If you need help eating mindfully around the holidays, don’t forget to drink your water!
Healthy Holiday Recipes You Can Try Out
If you’re in the kitchen this holiday season, consider trying some of these delicious holiday recipes with a healthy twist:
Vanilla Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet, so you can save the marshmallows for that occasional cup of hot chocolate. Instead, cut your sweet potatoes into wedges, add some vanilla bean and a dash of maple syrup, and roast until they’re crispy and caramelized.
Pork Tenderloin With Quinoa Pilaf
Top a scoop of delicious quinoa with a few slices of citrus-glazed pork tenderloin for a nutritious holiday meal rich in whole grains and lean protein. Sprinkle in some fresh pomegranate arils for a pop of festive color.
Roasted Salmon and Veggies
Roast salmon and broccoli in one pan and for a delicious meal rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber. You can also throw roasted potatoes in the mix if you need to add a carb!
Learn More About Healthy Eating Habits with Signos’ Expert Advice
This is such an exciting season with so much to celebrate. You and your body did some amazing things this year, and your healthy choices are carrying you into the new year, ready to embrace what’s next.
We’re excited to see all the things you'll accomplish this year and all the good you’ll share with the world. And if you need support along the way, check out how Signos can help improve your health and learn more about nutrition and healthy habits. Signos registered dietitian nutritionists can help you learn how to stay fit during the holidays and give you other Christmas health tips.
Curious if Signos is a good fit for you? Take our short, three-minute quiz to see how continuous glucose monitoring can help support your wellness goals as you finish this year strong.
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Topics discussed in this article:
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.
- Binks, H., Vincent, G. E., Gupta, C., Irwin, C., & Khalesi, S. (2020). Effects of Diet on Sleep: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 12(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12040936
- Sun, Y., Rong, S., Liu, B., Du, Y., Wu, Y., Chen, L., Xiao, Q., Snetselaar, L., Wallace, R., & Bao, W. (2022). Meal Skipping and Shorter Meal Intervals Are Associated with Increased Risk of All-Cause and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality among US Adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, S2212-2672(22)00874-7. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2022.08.119
- AN, R., & McCaffrey, J. (2016, February 22). Plain water consumption in relation to energy. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jhn.12368