As we approach another holiday season, food often takes main stage in our lives. This means we come across all kinds of food that we love – the casserole your grandmother used to make for Thanksgiving, recipes for holiday cookies that were handed down each generation, or maybe you’re stocking up on eggnog for the family gathering that you’re planning to safely host.

The foods and drinks we consume to mark the holidays are much more than just that. They prompt warm childhood memories, conversations that bring people together after being apart for so long, and they even bring a shared experience to help mend relationships. Holiday treats also raise a wide range of other memories and feelings, everything from joy, happiness, and warmth, to guilt, stress, and sadness. As humans our internal wiring makes this a natural response to the holidays.

For 21 years, I’ve served as a Registered Dietitian. Whether it was in November in the year of 2000, or this holiday season, the obstacles to staying healthy during the holidays are almost always the same.

The good news is that I’ve learned a few tricks and tips to share with you. If you’re looking for practical ideas on making heathier eating and beverage choices this holiday season – and all year long – keep on reading.

  • Tip 1: If you already have weight or health goals, don’t expect to meet them right now. Balance what you eat – if you indulge in a brownie, then balance it with a couple of vegetables. Allow for self-compassion. It’s best to avoid negative self-talk about your eating choices because it can only hinder your efforts.
  • Tip 2: Eat the foods that aren’t available to you as often during the rest of the year. Make the calories count by having something special – like that unique dish or treat that your family member brings only during the holidays.
  • Tip 3: Did you ever think about waiting to eat until you arrive at an evening gathering, as a way to reduce the number of calories you consume in one day? It just doesn’t work – most likely you’ll overeat because of hunger. Here’s the trick – eat a light snack or lunch before you go to the event. You’ll feel fuller when faced with a table of indulgent treats and dishes – you can still enjoy them, but you will have stronger willpower, and you won’t eat them to satisfy your hunger.
  • Tip 4: Going some somewhere with a potluck meal or a buffet? Instead of bringing a plate of cookies or bag of chips to a potluck, consider a fruit and vegetable tray or side salad for everyone to enjoy – you’ll be sure there is a healthy option for your plate. Before grabbing a plate and walking down the buffet line, take a moment to survey what’s there, and make a plan. It’s all too easy to keep adding food as you walk along the buffet, only to find yourself at the end with a large pile of food.
  • Tip 5: Did you know that alcohol can stimulate appetite? In addition to the possibility of having to drive home after a gathering, this is another reason to limit your alcohol intake. Many alcoholic drinks are laden with sugar, juices, or cream that can add up to 200 or more calories. Instead order something lower in calories, like a glass of wine or light beer.

It’s no surprise that making time for physical activities that get your body moving is also important, and a major part of maintaining your health. It’s part of the balance, too.

Follow these tips, and you likely will feel healthier at the end of this holiday season. If you want to have a longer-range plan for your health, considering talking with your primary care provider to explore your options. A variety of professionals, like me, are here to help you.

Wishing you a healthy and joyful holiday season!