Estimated reading time: 7.5 min
Whether is winter holidays or a barbecue party on your birthday, celebrations of any kind mean food, lots of delicious and calorie rich food you don't have every day.
And that is why, while you are looking forward to meeting your family and friends, you are scared of thought that you won't be able to resist it, and will stuff your face with burgers, mashed potatoes and chocolate cake, sabotaging your weight management efforts.
How can you eat healthy at holiday parties anyways? Is it even possible?
Watching people around you enjoying the food, the relaxed atmosphere, and the special occasion make it easy to find excuses and difficult to stick to your diet.
However, if you came prepared, if you have a clear plan, you will be able to eat healthy at any party every single time.
Here you have a 25 steps action plan of how to eat healthy at holiday parties and stick to your diet.
Get this action plan as a one-page PDF!
During Your Shopping
If you are the one hosting the party, you'll have to spend a long busy day shopping for food and anything else your party might need.
It's easy to forget about your meals when you have a long todo list. That's why you need a plan here, too.
1. Plan your day in advance.
If you know that it will be a long day outside, leave your home with a nourishing breakfast or lunch. Be sure that besides carbs your meal contains fat and protein, otherwise you'll end up hungry again soon.
2. Stick to your shopping list.
Those supermarkets only look all friendly, but in fact they are doing all they can to trick you into buying more (unhealthy) food. So you will be tempted to buy more than you need, and will have too much of not necessarily healthy food in your fridge for days.
There is a simple solution to avoid this: Make a list of things you need in advance and stick to it.
3. Make healthier food choices.
The fact that you are the one hosting the party has a great advantage: You now have a chance to cut on calories right from the start by going for healthier options of one and the same food.
Read the labels of the food you buy. For example, if you are making a tomato based sauce, make sure the canned tomatoes don't contain any sugar. Go for leaner sausages. Choose whole wheat bread instead of white bread, etc.
4. Bring plenty of healthy snacks.
To be able to balance your sugar levels during the long day outside, bring healthy snacks with you. Otherwise you'll go hungry for too long and get a low sugar crisis and after that, a sugar craving.
Before Your Special Meal
Great news! There is something you can do before you even start your special meal that will help you eat healthy later.
5. Don't skip the meal before.
Don’t even think of skipping a meal before the holiday party to “save calories”. You’ll get there too hungry to fight your brain sugar demands, which will make you jump into any carbs you can find.
6. Get an “ally snack” 2-3 hours in advance.
To help you maintain your blood sugar levels steady so you don’t have your weight management enemy hormones make you crave for carbs, get a snack 2-3 hours before you arrive at the party.
For example, this could be a healthy portion size of nuts, some veggies with guacamole or hummus, or a healthy portion size of cheese and fruit, which are quick to eat and carry with you if necessary.
7. Don’t eat any carbs before your meal.
Don’t eat any carbs before your meal. Instead, stick to protein and low glycemic index and glycemic load veggies like celery or tomatoes, because today is the day that you will most probably overdo it with carbs anyways.
8. Go for a walk.
Go for a nice 30 min fast walk right before your meal. Most probably you will eat too much, so you can start burning calories before you eat.
9. Learn the healthy portion sizes in advance.
Learn the healthy portion sizes for the common food groups in advance and stick to them during your meal.
If you are not sure what these healthy portion sizes are, check out this article where you will also be able to download a one-page guide to healthy portion sizes, or watch me talk about it in this video.
10. Make your meal filling but healthy.
A healthy filling meal must consist of carbs, fat and protein. Otherwise it won't be filling and/or your sugar level will rise too high too fast.
If you are not sure what a healthy filling meal looks like practically, check out this article, where you can also download a menu template.
Also keep and mind that you can’t switch one food group for the other, and you can’t skip your morning breakfast bread to have two servings later.
11. Make room for special treats in your menu
If aunt Annie is bringing her delicious chocolate cake you know you won’t be able to stay away from, make room in your menu plan to account for a portion size.
For example, cut on potatoes and avoid bread to enjoy a piece of cake with clean consciousness.
12. Don’t drink anything before your meal except for water or tomato juice.
Don't drink anything before your meal that will elevate your sugar level. Sugary drinks will definitely do that, so you’ll have a pick of insulin that will then result in a sugar drop and more craving for sugar (a vicious cycle!).
Alcoholic drinks will make you feel euphoric and eat more before and during your meal.
Light or zero calories with artificial sweeteners will make your brain think that there is sugar available and will send an insulin response that will remove all sugar from your blood stream and make you hungry.
If you feel thirsty before the meal, stick to water or tomato juice, which has low glycemic index (little sugar, a lot of fiber).
During the Meal
Congratulations! You've made it so far and are now well-prepared for the main challenge: Eating healthy at a holiday party while sticking to your diet.
This is what you need to do.
13. Eat less with the right appetizer.
Start your meal with a glass of water, a light soup, a salad or some vegetables. It will fill you up without adding too many calories or glycemic load to your meal, and it will help you eat less of your main course.
14. Don’t underestimate how much are you eating.
It is very easy to have more than the healthy portion sizes, especially if it's carbs! Keep the healthy portion sizes in mind and don't use too big plates, which will make the portions look smaller than they actually are.
15. Start small and keep adding.
How many times did you overeat only because you didn't want to leave all this tasty food on your plate?
Don't let this happen again, and start with smaller servings. You can always add more later.
16. Forget about potatoes, pasta, rice and white bread.
Basically, avoid any carbs that break into glucose quickly (the ones with the high glycemic index and glycemic load values).
Instead, get sweet potatoes and whole grain bread, if available. If not, just jump into the veggies. You still wanted to eat that chocolate cake, remember?
17. Go easy on the sauces.
Sauces are packed with fat, sugar and calories, and you can probably do with just a tiny bit of them.
18. Chew slowly.
Remember to chew at least for 9 seconds, slowly and meaningfully. Studies show that you will eat less.
19. Go easy on alcohol.
Try to keep it one (for women) or two (for men) alcoholic drinks a day. And no, you can’ save it one day for the next one.
More than 1-2 drinks a day is not considered healthy from the point of view of healthy consumption of alcohol, while it seems that consuming 1-2 drinks a day helps with weight management.
20. Give yourself time to check how full you actually are before eating more.
It takes 20 minutes for your brain to receive the signal of being full. Take a 15-20 minutes break before putting more food on your plate. Maybe you are already full, but you just don't know it.
21. Don't have extra fruit.
Don’t make the mistake of having a piece fruit after your meal to help you with digestion. Fruit is still a sugary food even if it feels fresh, and will rise the overall amount of sugar in your meal with the consequent insulin peak.
After the Meal
After a meal is before a meal, especially if there is still plenty of delicious food in sight. Be prepared to avoid the temptations. Besides, those extra calories you ate are not going to burn themselves.
22. Plan some exercise.
Take a walk after your meal if possible. If not, find another way to burn some extra calories, for example, by going to the gym the next day.
23. Don't keep or take leftovers.
Don’t take any leftovers "to go" if you have been invited. If you are the host, give your leftovers away to avoid the unnecessary temptation.
24. Turn off the kitchen lights.
If you are hosting, turn off the kitchen lights once the meal is over. This way you won't be constantly reminded of all the tasty food still left out there.
25. Don't get too comfy.
Once the celebration is over, don't change your party clothes immediately so you stay aware of how full you are before even thinking about a snack or the next meal.
Have a great celebration!