The holidays are filled with fun events, delicious food and quality time spent with friends and family. But all the parties filling the calendar can also take a toll on our health. From late nights out that steal hours of sleep, to imbibing on (one too many) cocktails, to eating heavy foods that leave us feeling bloated and sluggish — there's no shortage of obstacles to navigate for those who are trying to keep their diet and fitness a priority.
Luckily, enjoying the holidays and emerging from the season with your health intact isn’t an either/or decision. Registered dietitian Vanessa Rissetto shares her top tips for living in the gray area: That is, enjoying holiday parties and everything they have to offer (yes, even the cocktails and sweets), but in a way that keeps your health goals on track.
You don’t have to go to every single event
First of all, be picky about your RSVPs. “Just because somebody invites you to something doesn’t mean you have to go to it. You should pick and choose whatever is aligned with your goals,” Rissetto said during a TODAY segment on Dec. 6. “If weight loss is your goal, and you have five drink events and dinners, you can pick two to go to, or you can stay for only 5 or 10 minutes. There’s a lot of different ways for you to handle that so you don’t have to go to every single thing.”
And if you do have to hit all three holiday parties, a happy hour and a cookie swap in one week, Rissetto suggested following one rule: the sum of averages. “Make the choice not to drink at every dinner or omit the dessert at them if you’re choosing to drink,” she said.
Don’t arrive hungry
Always eat something before you go to an event. This is key to preventing overeating. “Make sure that you have protein and fiber, and a little bit of fat. That could look like a full meal before you leave your house … something like chicken, vegetables and maybe some potatoes,” said Rissetto. “Or let’s say you’re going to eat dinner at the party, but you know there are snacks beforehand, have a quarter cup of pistachios, which is six grams of plant protein per serving, with some fruit. That’s going to help keep you full so that when you get there, you’re not automatically going to wherever the cheese and crackers are.”
Try this smart plan to pre-game the party:
- Protein: Chicken, pork, turkey, fish (4-8 ounces depending on goals and the person’s size).
- Fiber: Fruit like berries, apples, oranges; starches like 1/2 cup beans; or veggies like 1 cup of kale, spinach or green beans.
- Snacks: A fruit plus a fat. For example, 1/4 cup pistachios + 1/2 apple; plain low-fat yogurt + 15 almonds + 1/4 cup berries; plain yogurt + dill powder to dip cut cucumber, carrots or celery; low-fat cheese slices with cut up fruit.
Divide your plate: 50% veggies, 25% protein, 25% starch
At the holiday buffet, Rissetto always goes for the veggies first. “That way, most of the room on my plate is filled by the time I see the other food options and that prevents me from eating too much of things that are not as nutritious,” she said. This also ensures you load up on fiber, which will fill you up and keep your portions in check.
After veggies, look for protein. “Look at the palm of your hand minus your fingers: That’s about 3.5 ounces, and most people need between 1.5 to 2 palms of protein ... usually 6 to 8 ounces of protein is sufficient for people.” said Rissetto. Protein also helps fill you up, so that when dessert rolls around you can have a manageable amount (we’re talking 1 to 2 cookies instead of the whole plate).
The room that is left on your plate is for starches like rice, pasta, corn, peas, potatoes and bread. “Sometimes I omit the starches at a party if I know there will be dessert later on and that’s what I want to enjoy,” said Rissetto. “So the other part of my plate would be either starches or dessert.”
Never drink on an empty stomach
If you like to enjoy a few cocktails during the holidays, be sure to eat first. “If you drink on an empty stomach, then you’re going to be hungry. And your inhibitions are down, so then you’re just eating anything you can get your hands on,” said Rissetto. “If you’ve eaten properly, you’re going to be more mindful about what you’re putting in your mouth. And you’re going to be full, so you’re not going to be drinking as quickly, and that keeps you from drinking more than you might have had you not eaten.” For example, if a party starts at 6 p.m., you wouldn’t start drinking until 8 p.m. after you eat your meal, said Rissetto.
Simple ways to pace your drinking
It’s easy to lose count of cocktails when you’re enjoying a party. Here are some simple ways to ensure you don’t go overboard and save yourself the hangover tomorrow).
- Follow 1:1 ratio of cocktails to water. “A good rule to help you pace is for every drink, have 1-2 seltzers. So it takes you time in between each drink,” said Rissetto.
- Don’t order your favorite drink. “Another trick besides having a seltzer in between, is having a drink that’s not necessarily your favorite,” said Rissetto. “Let’s say you’re somebody who really likes wine; switch to a spirit like a vodka and club soda, because then it’s not your favorite thing, so you’re not going to drink it so fast. And still in between, have seltzers just to give you that fullness, so you’re not overdoing it.”
- Order a mocktail. “Ask the bartender to make you something and put some seltzer in it,” said Rissetto. “Mocktails are usually fun and different and can be really delicious. And if you get one with seltzer in it, it will take you a long time to drink it.”
The next day: Load up on natural diuretics
If you feel stuffed and bloated after a holiday party, turn to foods that are naturally hydrating. “The number one thing I always tell people when they feel like they’ve overdone it is to get dandelion tea. It’s a diuretic, so it helps you to feel less bloated,” said Rissetto. “Other great diuretic foods include cucumbers, asparagus, lemons, celery, watermelon and cantaloupe. These are quick ways for you to try to feel better during those moments where maybe you overdid it and you don’t feel like your best self.”