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Healthy Eating Strategies for the Holidays

You can navigate this time of year without abandoning your diet goals
Written by 
Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D.N.
Updated on: 
December 3, 2013

From the first piece of candy corn to the last slice of fruit cake, the holidays can seem like an ongoing invitation to put your healthy eating plan on the back burner. But even with so much to do and temptations at every table, it is possible to eat right to manage your weight and stay well-nourished. Feed your body with the same care you feed your spirit this season. These tips can help.

Think Ahead
Running from the mall to the Christmas pageant to the neighbor’s holiday party—nutritious, well-balanced meals will give you the energy to keep up with all of your commitments. It’s much easier to grab something on the fly, but doing so can make it hard to ensure that you’re making the best choices. Each night, spend just 10 minutes making eating healthy tomorrow easier. Pack a lunch or some snacks, or look up the address of a healthy restaurant that will be on your way as you run your errands, for example.

More: Healthy Holiday Kitchen Gadgets

Fill Up Wisely
If you’re determined to stick with your healthy eating plan through the holiday season, you may find it challenging to be faced with all of the special treats making their annual appearances. Try eating a satiating snack—a small handful of nuts, a bowl of soup—before you head out to a gathering. Not arriving ravenous can make it easier to make smart decisions about what foods are and are not worth munching on.

Manage Stress
As you worry about how many guests you’ll host, what you’re going to bring to a potluck and how you’re going to finish signing all of your cards, stress may build to a point where your mood starts to impact your food choices. Eating for comfort and mindless eating are common among those under a lot of pressure, so try your best to carve out some time to relax. Try quick mental breaks, like our 60-second meditations, or starting a nightly bathing ritual to help you unwind. Exercise is another great form of stress management (it will also help curb the impact of holiday cookie calories), so keep up your routine.

Choose Your Splurge
You can absolutely nourish yourself and indulge. Remember that healthy eating is about balance. Instead of having the buttery mashed potatoes, extra stuffing and candied yams, consider choosing just one decadent option and filling the rest of your plate with veggies and lean protein. If you're the chef, consider some healthier options from Canyon Ranch's Recipe Library.

Go Easy on Yourself
It’s easy to load up on holiday foods that might not exactly fit into your healthy eating plan and then feel eaters’ remorse. Eating something that has extra calories or is less-than-nutritious isn’t a failure. While you can't and shouldn't eat that way all the time, an occasional, modest detour from your regular diet shouldn’t affect you too much. Allow yourself these moments and keep up your pledge to make healthy food choices as much as you can.

About the author 
Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D.N. is a New York-based nutrition writer, educator and counselor, and author of the The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian (Sourcebooks).