Oh, the holidays. ‘Tis the season for merriment, cheer, goodwill… not to mention baked Brie, sugar cookies, creamy eggnog, bacon-wrapped dates, cheese balls, peppermint bark…
Which is all fine and good, unless you’ve been working hard to transform your diet.
Let’s be real: Dieting during the holidays is hard. The end of the year can be totally overwhelming, and between office parties, holiday dinners, gift exchanges, cocktail hours, and the other 10,000 events that always pop up between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the opportunities to fall off the diet wagon become more plentiful than the commercials shilling the hottest holiday toy.
Basically, holiday parties + holiday stress + increasingly easy opportunities to grab a treat at all hours of the day = myriad ways to get off track. “Often, we eat emotionally to calm ourselves, reward ourselves, or simply because there are extra holiday cookies in the staff room, and we need to get out of our mid-afternoon slump,” says Erin M. Shyong, MPH, RD, CDE.
But the holidays don’t have to completely derail your diet if you don’t want them to (and if you do decide to just give in for the holidays, then kudos: That’s a totally valid choice too). Just know that you can make it through all the festivities—and even enjoy yourself along with the way—without tossing all your hard-earned healthy-eating habits out the window.
Here are our three best tips for getting through the holidays on a diet:
1. Start the day off right.
One key to avoiding massive work party and holiday dinner indulgences? Eating a solid breakfast. “Since most holiday functions are in the afternoon and evenings, a good breakfast is a great way to start the day,” Shyong says. “Breakfast will help keep your blood sugar balanced, give you energy to tackle your morning to-do lists, and can help prevent overeating later in the day.”
Shoot for a breakfast with a healthy balance of protein and carbs: It’ll boost your energy all day and keep you from diving face-first into the cookie tray come 2 p.m. “I like to start with a protein, like an egg, peanut butter, or whipped cottage cheese, and add a high-fiber carb, like a whole-wheat English muffin or oatmeal. To top it off, I’ll add a few berries or some low-fat Greek yogurt.”
2. Indulge wisely.
No matter how committed you are to your diet, you don’t want to go through the entire season without enjoying at least some of your favorite holiday foods (who are you, the Grinch?!). Luckily, there’s a way to get your fill of holiday faves without derailing your diet.
“The key is balance! Have a small portion of your favorite dish,” Shyong says, suggesting you should pass instead on indulgences you don’t really love, but end up eating out of boredom or politeness, like your coworker’s crumbly, dry sugar cookies. “Another easy way to find balance is to fill half your plate with veggies or a salad; the fiber will keep you full and make you less likely to experience a sugar crash.”
So have a slice of gooey pecan pie or a side of your Aunt Sally’s absolutely-to-die-for mashed potato casserole that you wait all year for. Just make sure you balance it out with good-for-you greens and veggies, which will keep you satisfied.
3. Get moving.
With a seemingly never-ending list of things that need to get done during the holidays (shopping, cooking, cleaning, hosting out-of-town guests), it can be easy for your daily workout to slip to the bottom of your to-do list.
But making time to get your sweat on is key to beating holiday stress and sticking to your diet. “Stress affects your cortisol levels and can lead to emotional eating and impact insulin sensitivity,” Shyong says. “An easy way to beat stress and have some ‘me time’ each day is to be active. Take a 20-minute jog in the cool, winter air; practice yoga; or sign up for a holiday 5k with your friends and family. Exercise increases those feel-good endorphins and can be that extra confidence boost you need to walk past the box of holiday donuts sitting on your desk in the morning.”
Bonus tip: Don’t stress about being perfect.
If you slip and find yourself snuggled up next to the fire with a box of holiday chocolates, don’t worry about it! No one’s perfect—holidays or no holidays. “The perfect diet doesn’t mean following a strict regimen 100-percent of the time. If you ‘slip up,’ know that it’s not a big deal and don’t let it upset your day,” Shyong says. That #healthyish lifestyle isn’t about beating yourself up when you give in to a holiday indulgence; it’s about finding balance and feeling good.
“An easy way to get back on track is to start the next day with a healthy habit, whether that means going out for an early morning walk, having a balanced breakfast, or making sure to drink enough water,” Shyong says.
Deanna deBara is a freelance writer and accidental marathon runner living in Portland, OR. Keep up with her running adventures on Instagram @deannadebara.