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My Healthy Living Game Plan for Holiday Parties

Claire Walsh - MS RD LD CHC
November 14, 2019
Family meal with woman, child and man sitting at a table with a bowl of salad and a roasted chicken.

While each season of the year brings its own challenges when it comes to eating healthfully, the holiday season seems to be the hardest to control. With family gatherings, pie making traditions, neighborhood parties, work parties, and not to mention candy everywhere, it certainly doesn’t make it easy to focus on health.

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Health Coach, I focus on how to help people make better nutrition choices to improve their health. This holiday season I’m taking a football-inspired approach.

6 Tips for Healthy Holidays

  1. Fuel up in the pre-game: I frequently hear people say they’re fasting all day to prepare for a big night out. While I can understand the logic behind trying to save all your calories for the big party, this is not the smartest idea. First, being hungry is miserable and this plan leaves you with little to no energy throughout the day.

    If you arrive to a party offering treats and alcohol, you are at risk of overindulging since your blood sugar is so low. Next thing you know, you’ve eaten two plates of sugar cookies for “dinner,” your stomach hurts due to the lack of real food and you end up with a “sugar-crash” wondering what went wrong since you were so disciplined all day. Have snacks or small meals (with protein) before you go to a party will help you stay in the game and make it easier for you to turn down multiple plates of sweets. 

  2. Read the defense: It is always good to know what you’re up against before you start the game. Building your meal is no different. Prior to serving yourself, survey the options and make note of the things you like and don’t like. This helps you leave room for your favorites (chocolate and cookies) and prevents you from filling up on dishes you don’t love (looking at you, fruitcake). 
  3. Manage your playbook: Of course we all have favorites, but you can’t win a game running the same play over and over again. The same goes for foods. Balance and variety are so important in building a healthy plate. This gets a little tough at most parties, but consider the plate method and build a plate half full of veggies, a fourth full of protein, and a fourth full of starch or grains. The protein will help balance out the potential for a blood sugar surge that comes with holiday treats, and the veggies provide necessary nutrients and fiber to help you stay full longer. 
  4. Stay hydrated: Every good athlete knows dehydration means a decrease in performance. Limit your alcohol intake, keeping in mind that alcoholic beverages pack a lot of empty calories. If you do choose to indulge, drink one glass of water after each alcoholic beverage. 
  5. Support your team like you’d support yourself: You are not the only person struggling with healthy eating during the holidays. Your friends and family will probably thank you for bringing a healthier dish at your next gathering. It can be intimidating to change your routine, turn down the extra cocktail or bring a new dish, but if you know that’s what’s right for you, go for it. Trust me, someone else there will thank you.
  6. No matter what, try your best: Even the best players have off nights, and we will, too. Sometimes we go in prepared, we survey the options and make a plan to create a balanced plate. But one way or another things get out of hand and we don’t follow through the way we hoped. THIS IS OK. Life and celebrations happen, but tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start. Take a deep breath in and forgive yourself. Nobody is perfect. There’s enough external pressure for perfection during the holidays without the guilt that can come with overindulging. Inhale, exhale, and move forward. 

Claire Walsh, MS, RD, LD, CHC is a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, and Senior Nutrition and Lifestyle Modification Program Director  for the YMCA of Greater Kansas City.