12 tips for holiday eating


Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

It’s easy to get swept up in the holiday season. This combination of religious and national celebrations can help keep the cold winter away. But the feasts and parties that mark it can tax the arteries and strain the waistline. By eating just 200 extra calories a day — a piece of pecan pie and a tumbler of eggnog here, a couple latkes and some butter cookies there — you could pack on two to three pounds over this five- to six-week period. That doesn’t sound like much, except few people shed that extra weight in the following months and years.

You don’t need to deprive yourself, eat only boring foods, or take your treats with a side order of guilt. Instead, by practicing a bit of defensive eating and cooking, you can come through the holidays without making “go on a diet” one of your New Year’s resolutions.

  1. Budget wisely. Don’t eat everything at feasts and parties. Be choosy and spend calories judiciously on the foods you love.
  2. Take 10 before taking seconds. It takes a few minutes for your stomach’s “I’m getting full” signal to get to your brain. After finishing your first helping, take a 10-minute break. Make conversation. Drink some water. Then recheck your appetite. You might realize you are full or want only a small portion of seconds.
  3. Distance helps the heart stay healthy. At a party, don’t stand next to the food table. That makes it harder to mindlessly reach for food as you talk. If you know you are prone to recreational eating, pop a mint or a stick of gum so you won’t keep reaching for the chips.
  4. Don’t go out with an empty tank. Before setting out for a party, eat something so you don’t arrive famished. Excellent pre-party snacks combine complex carbohydrates with protein and unsaturated fat, like apple slices with peanut butter or a slice of turkey and cheese on whole-wheat pita bread.
  5. Drink to your health. A glass of eggnog can set you back 500 calories; wine, beer, and mixed drinks range from 150 to 225 calories. If you drink alcohol, have a glass of water or juice-flavored seltzer in between drinks.
  6. Avoid alcohol on an empty stomach. Alcohol increases your appetite and diminishes your ability to control what you eat.
  7. Put on your dancing (or walking) shoes. Dancing is a great way to work off some holiday calories. If you are at a family gathering, suggest a walk before the feast or even between dinner and dessert.
  8. Make room for veggies. At meals and parties, don’t ignore fruits and vegetables. They make great snacks and even better side or main dishes — unless they’re slathered with creamy sauces or butter.
  9. Be buffet savvy. At a buffet, wander ’round the food table before putting anything on your plate. By checking out all of your options, you might be less inclined to pile on items one after another.
  10. Don’t shop hungry. Eat before you go shopping so the scent of Cinnabons or caramel corn doesn’t tempt you to gobble treats you don’t need.
  11. Cook from (and for) the heart. To show family and friends that you reallycare about them, be creative with recipes that use less butter, cream, lard, vegetable shortening, and other ingredients rich in saturated fats. Prepare turkey or fish instead of red meat.
  12. Pay attention to what really matters. Although food is an integral part of the holidays, put the focus on family and friends, laughter and cheer. If balance and moderation are your usual guides, it’s okay to indulge or overeat once in a while.

(I originally wrote this for the Harvard Heart Letter.)

Related Information: Harvard Heart Letter


  1. Nino

    Great tips for the holiday indeed! But as someone stated before most people don’t want to look out for certain kinds of food when they are on vacation

  2. Steve

    I am from England and watched a BBC documentary which I believe would still be on youtube by now. This documentary examined a diet being studied in the USA where a subject is limited to 600 calories per day for 3 days a week but can be modified to 2 days a week. Every other day the person is restricted to a normal daily intake. This not only reduced the weight of the person but changed the body chemistry when tested. One subject was pre-diabetic before the diet and reverted back to normal after the trial which i believe was 3 months. To read the article in full which is more of an editorial see BBC2 Horizon programme

  3. YFP

    These were really helpful tips.

  4. Darby

    Holiday time is so hard on us, I find myself very difficult to resist certain foods. Moderation is the key.
    Excellent information. Thank you

  5. Penyembuhan penyakit diabetes

    nice post ..

  6. Darren Kearney

    Excellent blog. Healthy eating is something that many of us ignore and whilst on vacation we tend to drop whatever discipline we had if for only a short time.

  7. Arthur McMillan

    This information is good for me

  8. Putra Pakuan

    December till January is the time for holiday season. People get their own vacations. The problem is, we consume different ways for meals. On routines or daily activities, people get well-scheduled menus. But, instead, its will be different on holiday. Keep consumes healthy meals during Your Holiday.

  9. Kei

    Thank you for the good article.
    I bought so much food for holidays, because the shops are closed for 2 days, and did throw away some.

  10. iim

    Principle in regulating food that you should consider is the amount of food consumed, the type of food and feeding schedule. The amount of food you consumption must be balanced between the energy required and the energy expended. Selected types of foods must be balanced between intake of carbohydrate, fat and protein as well as vitamins and minerals. Schedule regular meals must to avoid some diseases. In addition to considering the food was consumed, we recommend that you also consider your lifestyle including exercise habits.

  11. Shyla

    I love the tips.. don’t shop hungry, haha.. I just recently made an article and wrote that aswell.

    I especially like your “pay attention to what matters”. I wholeheartedly agree on this, love your blog.

    Gonna try out some of these tips:)

  12. Michal Belstrick

    Good tips after those all christmas suppers and dinners. Next year i will be prepared 🙂

  13. Head Shmoozer

    Very good information. I’m anxious to read the other posts. A great deal of heart disease can be prevented if we eat healthy and live a healthy lifestyle. The fact is heart disease is the #1 cause of death of men and women in the U.S. I would like to be part of changing that statistic. That’s why I invite everyone to comment on our social network. Our mission is to, “Help CURE Heart Disease In Our Lifetime!”

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