Fill up before you go out. Yes, it’s something of a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason: It works. When faced with a buffet table loaded down with tempting choices, it’s all too easy to mindlessly graze until, before you know it, you’ve gorged yourself full of empty calories. Preparing a healthy meal or snack for yourself before you leave will curb your appetite and keep you from filling up on unhealthy party food.
“The worst time to be hungry is at a gathering loaded with junk food,” Honeycutt comments. “If you’ve had something nutritious to eat beforehand, you won’t give that fattening snack table a second (okay, maybe third) glance.”
Don’t go straight for the food. Yes, that buffet table looks amazing…but it’s not the only thing worth your attention at this party. Make the rounds and say hello to your friends before grabbing a plate. Find the host and thank him for inviting you. Sit down with your nieces and nephews and ask them what they hope Santa will bring this year.
“When you’re in the middle of an enjoyable interaction with someone else, you might forget all about eating for 15 minutes, or half an hour, or more!” Honeycutt says. “Nourishing your relationships with the people you love can be even more satisfying than nourishing your body.”
Limit yourself to one plate—but make it one GREAT plate. Making healthy choices is not just about what you eat, but also how much you eat. (Honeycutt challenges you to research recommended portion sizes for your favorite foods. You’ll probably be shocked!) Learning how to limit your portions (especially at a holiday party where unhealthy foods are so plentiful) is essential to maintaining a healthy weight. A good first step is resolving to eat only one plate of food—but make that one plate count.
“Scope out the entire buffet line before going through it and put only the dishes you reallywant to eat on your plate,” Honeycutt recommends. “If you’re still hungry later on, you can always make yourself something at home. When you feel lean and refreshed the next morning, rather than bloated and groggy, you’ll be glad you stopped before dipping seconds or thirds.”
Take your time and savor the flavor. It’s a natural inclination to eat quickly when you’re hungry—and that impulse is heightened when you’re in a party atmosphere with other fun activities you’d like to participate in. But Honeycutt reminds that it takes around 15 to 20 minutes for the brain to realize that the stomach is full—so enjoy your meal slowly.
“Taking the time to savor your food lets you realize when you’ve had enough, and it also enhances the entire experience,” he comments. “You’ll be surprised at how much more you enjoy eating your favorite seasonal treats when you take it slowly.”
Give the veggie tray a fair shake. As Honeycutt has mentioned, you don’t have to limit yourself to carrot sticks and cucumbers, but if you do spot fruits or veggies among the cookies, meatballs, and cheese cubes, put a few of these healthier options on your plate. They’ll fill up space that (be honest) would otherwise be piled up with high-calorie fare.
“It’s okay to partake in some of the more decadent offerings available—it is a party, after all—but do your best to find a healthy balance,” he advises. “Good health is about doing the right thing most of the time.”
Take it easy on the toasts. Whether it’s alcohol or sugary soft drinks—or worse, alcoholand sugary soft drinks—what you drink at a holiday celebration can sabotage a healthy diet just as quickly as what you eat. Everyone knows that sodas are packed with sugar and can wreak havoc on teeth and waistlines alike, Honeycutt says, but sometimes we tend to conveniently forget that alcohol can also be a major culprit in weight gain.
“Alcohol contains lots of empty calories, slows down the metabolism, and can weaken inhibition, which can then lead to overeating (and possibly some other embarrassing behaviors),” he reminds. “Since you’re at a party, you may not want to go the teetotaler route—and that’s fine!—but does every drink have to be spiked eggnog? I suggest replacing at least every other drink with water. This strategy will keep you hydrated and save you the many unwanted side effects of alcohol.”
Use the buddy system. As with many things in life, making healthy choices is easier when you don’t have to go it alone. Ask a friend or spouse to help you stay on track if your willpower starts to waver.
“If you can convince someone else to party healthy with you, you won’t feel like you’re the only one missing out—and the two of you can remind one another of why you want to make smart choices,” Honeycutt comments. “Remember, it’s not about deprivation—it’s about making healthy decisions you can maintain for life.”
Sneak healthier recipes into your celebrations. If you’ll be hosting a holiday celebration or attending a potluck, prepare a dish that uses healthier but still satisfying ingredients. For instance, instead of using bread stuffing (which might have as many as 358 calories per cup), prepare an equally tasty pan of homemade cornbread stuffing with mushrooms, sage, and parsley—at only 95 calories per cup. The Internet is full of more healthy substitutions, and Honeycutt’s own Get Lean program offers dozens of appetizing, healthy recipes by registered dietitians. Note to Editor: See attached tipsheet for Cornbread Stuffing recipe.
“Also, be aware that home-cooked dishes are often healthier than pre-prepared store-bought options—so plan ahead and create holiday staples from scratch,” Honeycutt advises. “In your own kitchen, it’s easy to make healthy alterations to your favorite recipes, like using olive oil instead of butter. And definitely take advantage of all the fresh fruits and vegetables you can find. For instance, citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and several kinds of squash are all in season this time of year.”
Save your weight loss goals for the new year. Sure, you might have “only” 10 or 15 more pounds to lose before you reach your goal weight, but let’s be honest: This time of year isn’t exactly known for its salads. Since low-calorie options might be even less plentiful than usual—and high-calorie treats will definitely be tempting you at every turn—be realistic and resolve to simply maintain your current weight.
“The fact is, the holidays are probably the hardest time of year to lose weight,” Honeycutt confirms. “If you can make it to New Year’s without adding any new pounds, consider that a win. You can resume chasing that goal weight on January 1st. And bonus—a weight maintenance strategy (as opposed to weight loss) will give you room to selectively sample your favorite seasonal dishes.”
If, despite your best intentions, you still lose control, cut yourself some slack. If you do happen to overeat at a celebration with a particularly tempting spread, remember that it’s not the end of the world. One mistake won’t ruin a healthy lifestyle unless you allow it to. (Just don’t overdo it at every gathering this holiday season.)
“Everyone slips up from time to time,” Honeycutt confirms. “Whatever the circumstances are, it’s important to understand that tomorrow really is another day. You can’t change the past, but you have full control over the future—so when you’ve slipped up, direct your mental energy to planning your next meal or workout instead of dwelling on your mistakes. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend. Encourage the most important person in your life…YOU!”