Holiday party season calls for glitter, glam, and, oh yeah, gluttony. But while a few festive treats are part of the fun, overdoing it on cookies and cocktails will make your spirit anything but bright — there’s nothing jolly about feeling bloated and tired.
If the gingerbread men are calling your name and causing you dread, you need help — and we’ve got it, in the form of 9 diet dos and don’ts for holiday party season. Here, healthy-living pro Dawna Stone, author of The Healthy You Diet shares how to be proactive with your health while still being a fun party guest:
DON’T walk down the buffet line
Go straight up to the food that catches your eye, enjoy some of that, and then reevaluate your cravings. “Just knowing that you can return for more should encourage you to start small,” says Stone. “You may be surprised to find you’re full and not interested in going back for seconds or thirds.” She also notes that the most exciting and expensive options at the buffet are often the healthiest — shrimp cocktail and smoked salmon are indulgent enough to make you feel like you’re living it up, but don’t pack that fat-calorie one-two punch.
DO take advantage of small portion sizes
A mini spanakopita, a caprese salad skewer, or a crostini? These satisfy your crusty, cheesy, or crunchy cravings with pre-set portion control. However, keep count to make sure you don’t get carried away: “These little bites, that often seem harmless, can add up to an abundance of calories,” says Stone. “Add a couple cocktails to the mix and your pants could get tighter.”
DON’T feel obligated to try every dish
When you hear your aunt insist you just have to try her chocolate cake, you might feel pressured into overindulging — but you shouldn’t. “You should never feel guilty for saying ‘No, thank you,’” says Stone. It’s not impolite to skip over certain dishes, whether you think they’re too unhealthy or you’re just not that interested. “Try only your favorite dishes and politely turn down the others,” Stone advises.
DO bring your own healthy dish
If you want to stay healthy at a holiday party, be your own advocate and offer to bring a healthy appetizer or dessert. Stone suggests party-friendly healthy dishes like shrimp cocktail, vegetables and dip, tortilla chips and fresh guacamole, or fruit kabobs. Plus, your act of self-preservation may be a fellow dieter’s saving grace: “You may not be the only one at the party thrilled to have some healthy alternatives among the mostly unhealthy and calorie-laden options,” says Stone.
DON’T go alone if you don’t know anyone
You don’t want to post up by the food table out of boredom or social anxiety, so bring along a buddy or seek out an acquaintance if you can. “Instead of mingling near the buffet table or bar, find a place to sit or stand where the food and drinks are out of sight,” Stone suggests. Get involved with a party game or hit the dance floor to keep yourself engaged and not mindlessly stuffing your face. You might not remember all of the snacks you ate at the shindig, but you’ll definitely remember the great time you had with your date or the new friend you made.
Have a drink if you want — it’s a celebration! Just know what drinks to look for — and avoid. “Did you know that a 10-ounce Long Island iced tea contains about the same number of calories as a McDonald’s Big Mac?” Stone asks. “Keep your calories to a minimum by choosing light beer, wine, or mixed drinks with non-caloric mixers like club soda.” Another trick to avoid those looking to refresh your glass after every sip? Stone suggests pouring yourself a sparkling water with a squeeze of lime to avoid endless offers of drinks.
DON’T forget that the holidays are about much more than dips and dessert platters
Food is part of it, but it isn’t everything! “The holidays should be a festive time to enjoy family and friends, not a time to feel guilty for overindulging,” Stone says. Take a step back to remember that your mom’s cookies are a cherished memory, not a diet minefield. We’re not superhuman, and we need to kick back and enjoy ourselves with our loved ones now and then. Sometimes, that enjoyment involves rich foods — but “if you only indulge in moderation,” Stone says, “getting back on track after the holidays won’t be such a drastic change.”
DO eat clean whenever you can
You know those temptations are coming, but leave them for the weekend. “If I know I am going to attend a party or holiday gathering, I focus on eating a healthy breakfast and lunch so I can go ahead and indulge during dinner,” says Stone. Plan out your meals the same way you will your workouts, leaving some wiggle room for Saturday nights. This will not only cut down on calories consumed but also on the guilt you feel when you (ahem) ignore these tips and overindulge
DON’T stress — even if you overindulge, you probably won’t gain that much weight
“Simply following some of these tips can help you stay in control over the holidays,” Stone says. Plus, take heart — an oft-cited study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the average American gains just a little over a pound during the fall and winter, which can’t even be attributed to the holidays. So forget the foreboding and remind yourself that you look good in your cocktail dress in November, and you’ll look just as great come New Year’s Eve — even if you’ve enjoyed a little too much seasonal champagne.