How to Have a Healthy Holiday and Still Enjoy Yourself
By: Jillian Genovese MS, RD from A Full Plate Nutrition, Inc.
For more wellness tips and healthy recipes, follow Jillian on Instagram
For details and pricing regarding her services please visit
The holidays are notorious for extra indulgences, bigger portions, and drinking, making it harder to stay on a healthy track. While it is easy to get in the mindset of, “I’ll just start a new diet in the new year,” the truth is, it is totally possible to stay healthy and even lose weight during the holidays.
The first step is to throw the idea of “diet” out the window. Putting yourself on a “diet” with food rules immediately sets you up for failure. Especially, during the holidays. I prefer to approach nutrition with a much more sustainable mindset… something you can follow no matter the time of year and no matter where you are (yes- even vacation!).
Though establishing a healthy and sustainable eating and living practice looks different for everyone depending on their lifestyle, I’ve listed a few tips that apply to everyone.
There’s an activity I like to do with clients called “The Challenge, The Change” which allows us to pinpoint the barriers and bumps in the road (the challenges) and establish targeted solutions to keep progress moving forward (the change)!
The holiday season is one of the biggest challenges that come up for people making it a perfect time to try this exercise!
THE CHALLENGE: More socializing. More food.
THE CHANGE: (1) Prioritize your indulgences. You don’t have to pack your plate with every food offered at every event. Make at least 75% of your plate healthy choices and save 25% for fun foods. If Aunt Betty makes the best sweet potato casserole every year, that’s something to prioritize! (2) For events where the food isn’t going to be anything special, have a high-protein snack beforehand. Something like cottage cheese with cinnamon or a protein smoothie, so you don’t go in feeling ravenous and pile up your plate. The intention behind this method is so you end up consuming fewer calories than if you were to have “saved up” throughout the day and wind up with big eyes (we all know the side effect of big eyes). Do your best to choose foods that are simply prepared and not loaded with sauces or oils. (3) At gatherings, build a plate with at least half non-starchy veggies and protein. Protein is always a good thing to focus on since it is less likely to be stored as fat and doesn’t spike blood sugars. These are all things you learn on The Full Plate Program! Many of the foundational principles you learn can be applied in any situation, which is what makes the program sustainable. The goal is for you to hit your goals and maintain them long-term!
THE CHALLENGE: Going to a friend or family gathering with little to no healthy choices.
THE CHANGE: This is an easy one- offer to bring something! I typically always like to bring 1 or 2 items that are light and healthy, low cost, and easy for me to make that can serve a small crowd. Some good go-to’s are (1) a simple green arugula salad with green olives and shaved ricotta salad in a lemon vinaigrette, (2) a roasted seasonal veggie mix like winter squash, brussels sprouts, beets, carrot, onion, seasoned with Bragg Sprinkle Seasoning (the best stuff!), cauliflower mash, and my gluten-free quinoa-veggie stuffing! Include these lighter sides on your plate with whatever protein is offered plus a little room for the fun foods. Click here for my Gluten-Free Veggie Quinoa Stuffing recipe!
THE CHALLENGE: Leftovers.
THE CHANGE: I agree, we don’t want to let food go to waste. But, we can save food and make healthy nourishing meals with it the next day by making it part of a different meal instead of repeating a whole Thanksgiving dinner Friday… Saturday… Sunday….etc. For example, take 1/3 cup of stuffing and add it to a big green salad with non-starchy veggies and include 3-4 oz turkey. Or, take leftover sweet potato casserole and make a balanced plate by including omega-3 rich wild salmon, 2 varieties of non-starchy veggies, and keeping the casserole to 1/4 of your plate since it counts toward your carb servings.
THE CHALLENGE: The drinks are flowing.
THE CHANGE: Liquid calories add up quickly. Not to mention the effect alcohol has on our sleep, stress, and blood sugar levels. All of which contribute to holiday weight gain. It’s unreasonable for me to say avoid alcohol. But, you can consume consciously. Hydrate throughout the day and aim for 3 liters daily. Since carbs and alcohol have a similar effect on the body, choose low-carb food options while drinking and consuming mostly protein and veggies to reduce rebound inflammation and bloating.
THE CHALLENGE: Not wanting to be rude or “that person.”
THE CHANGE: I get it. It can be awkward saying “no thank you.” There can definitely be pressure to eat a family member’s or friend’s food. A way around this, without hurting anybody’s feelings, is to include a little bit of everything on your plate and then leave a little bit of everything on your plate. If someone makes a comment on your choices, simply reply by saying, “It was delicious! I am just focusing on my health this holiday, so I want to make room to try a little bit of everything!” By using the words “focusing on health” instead of “weight,” people are more likely to be supportive than judgmental.
If you do decide to make a larger change come the new year, you’ll be several steps ahead of the game by starting now with just a few extra healthy holiday habits. It doesn’t have to be a whole makeover! Small changes over time are more impactful than striving to make an overnight full-on transformation.