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Eating Healthy During the Holidays

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For more recipes and nutrition tips, please visit Cancer Nutrition Services' web site Making Every Bite Count.

Contributed by Nancy Burke, R.D., Danielle Karsies, M.S., R.D., and Melissa Shannon-Hagen, R.D., CSO, U-M Rogel Cancer Center Symptom Management and Supportive Care Program

The holidays bring to mind tables covered with rich foods, desserts and good company. It may also bring worry about derailing your healthy eating plan but you can have your holiday feast and eat it too – without guilt – if you follow five basic principles

It’s a holi-DAY not a holi-SEASON!

Start thinking of the holiday as a day, not a season.

No one can be perfect 100% of the time, so try to eat a healthy diet 90% of the time and allow for deviation 10% of the time. This will let you to celebrate special occasions without guilt. One day will not derail your diet nor reflect badly on your waistline. But if you allow yourself the whole months of November and December to indulge, you are almost guaranteed to gain weight.

Don’t limit yourself to one meal on holidays

There is no rule that says that Thanksgiving should only include one meal. Eat a healthy breakfast and plan your meal for early in the afternoon so that you are not starving by the time you eat. This will decrease your desire to gorge yourself. Then before you sit down to eat that meal, prepare your second helping of all your favorites, but save it for dinner later.

Listen to your gut and your friends.

The holidays are not just about the food, they are about the company, too. By focusing on conversation during the meal you will ultimately eat slower, giving your body the ability to let you know when it is full before you get so stuffed that you have to unbutton your pants and lay down because you are so uncomfortable. Following your internal cues can decrease your overall calorie intake without denying yourself.

Institute balance

If you want to take it a step further, you can include balance into your holiday. Don’t worry about adjusting your favorite recipes to decrease fat or calories, instead balance your decadent favorites with healthy sides. If mashed potatoes with gravy and stuffing are your favorite holiday dishes, match them up with baked sweet potatoes or a green salad with bright carrots and peppers instead of more calorically dense green bean or sweet potato casseroles.

Aid digestion

Start a new tradition and add some activity to your holiday. Take a walk after the meal or better yet, get all your guests involved in a game of flag football, lively charades, or bowling. Not only will it burn some extra calories, it will help with digestion.

So go ahead and celebrate this holiday – just be reasonable and return to your usual healthy diet the next day.

Get more tips on how to eat healthy without feeling deprived

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