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10 Tips for eating healthy at holiday parties

Eggnog, fudge, creamy soups, dark turkey meat, and candied nuts. These are just a few of the rich foods that begin to appear around the holidays, especially at holiday parties. Some people get a bit anxious about these situations, worried they will feel they’re at the mercy of the food rather than feeling self-control. Are we at the mercy of festive foods, falling prey to overeating if the wrong thing in the wrong amount crosses our path? The answer is no. It is possible to eat healthfully while still enjoying and savoring your favorite holiday treats. If you are concerned about how to navigate holiday parties without sacrificing your health, read on.

Here are 10 tips that will sufficiently equip you for any holiday party food or holiday party situation that comes your way.

1. Avoid arriving ravenous.

The authors of the book Intuitive Eating describe a hunger and fullness rating scale. Zero on the scale is beyond ravenous and ten on the scale is Thanksgiving Day full (AKA “binge full”). Ideally, we hangout more toward the middle of the scale, avoiding extremes. Doing this helps us feel more in “control” because in this middle area, our blood sugar is in a more even state. It is a given that if we enter a food situation overly hungry (on the hunger and fullness scale, this is anywhere lower than a three. A three is “calm hunger”, where blood sugar is still stable and hasn’t gotten too low yet), our biology will be screaming for food and it will be near impossible to eat slowly or to stop eating before feeling stuffed. Try to arrive at the party in the “safety zone” – at a three or higher on the hunger and fullness scale.

[Related: Read more about the hunger rating scale, as well as other tips to avoid holiday weight gain.]

2. Bring your favorite healthy dish.

If you are worried about how much balance or variety will be at the party, bring something that you feel good about (and that tastes good!).

Here are a couple of ideas:

Healthy Artichoke Spinach Dip

Healthy 5-bean Salad

3. Find out what to expect.

Ever arrive at a party expecting meal food only to find some sparse snacks? This can be a huge set up for overeating later (when you leave the holiday shindig starving!). If you feel comfortable contacting the host ahead of time to inquire about whether or not this is a dinner party or a cocktail party, do it! “What can I bring?” can be a valuable investigative question.

4. Pay attention to fullness.

As I said earlier, being a ten on the hunger and fullness scale means you’re stuffed. Going backward from there:

  • Nine = extremely full and uncomfortable
  • Eight = a little too full, but probably only ate a few bites beyond comfortable fullness
  • Seven = the sweet spot. This is where we feel satisfied and pleasantly full because we ate delicious food and did not overeat.
  • Six = somewhat full, but there’s room for a little more
  • Five = neutral, no sense of hunger and no feelings of fullness
  • Four = slightly hungry, you could eat now or wait a little longer
  • Three = time to eat a delicious meal (or if it’s not mealtime yet, a snack to hold you over)
  • Two = blood sugar is dropping, getting ravenous, and eating slowly will be very difficult
  • One/Zero = avoid this if possible! Hangry and eating slow will feel impossible.

Before entering the party, check in with your hunger or fullness level. Awareness of where you are at before eating will help you pace your eating in a way that makes stopping at a seven more likely.

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