From Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day, holiday gatherings are filled with tables of holiday themed dishes and so many sweets. While we all look forward to enjoying these holiday favorites at these festivities, many of us tend to overindulge. In fact, most people end up gaining an extra pound or two during the holiday season.

Bringing more awareness to your eating habits, practicing mindful eating strategies and planning ahead can help ward off this unwanted weight gain — and improve overall health and wellness. Being overweight or obese increases the likelihood that you will develop chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. Diabetes affects nearly 1 in every 10 people in the U.S.

Vanessa Vargas, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at Summit Health that helps her patients adopt healthier eating habits. She also supports specialty physicians like endocrinologists and cardiologists to help manage chronic conditions with a combination of diet, exercise, and medication.

“Summit Health has a wonderful Nutrition and Weight Management team who can collectively address all your nutritional needs ranging from weight management to diabetes as well as gastrointestinal health,” says Vanessa. “There are many simple strategies we can all use, particularly before the festive season begins, that will satisfy the tastebuds without moving the numbers on the scale.”

Check out these pointers before walking into a holiday party or event.


Be buffet savvy — look before you eat.

Make an eating plan before you grab a plate, says Vanessa. Take an inventory of all the delicious delights first and then pick one or two items to splurge on. Try to limit or avoid deep fried dishes as the calories really add up, or just enjoy a very small serving.  Also watch out for foods smothered in heavy sauces, cheese, cream, or gravies as they contain a lot of extra calories. Try reaching for more grilled, baked, broiled, and air fried foods as they contain less calories and fat.


Stay Hydrated.

It’s a great strategy to consume several cups of water throughout your holiday event. Carbonated beverages like seltzer or club soda are also great choices and may feel more festive. Increasing your water intake may help you feel more satisfied as we sometimes confuse thirst with hunger. Water may help your feel full and improve your energy and focus. As a bonus: “it can also make your skin look fantastic during the drier winter months,” advises Vanessa.


Fill your plate with water too.

Stick mostly to high water content foods like colorful fruits and low-calorie veggies as these nutrient rich, high volume foods will make you feel full. A good rule of thumb is to fill half your plate with veggies, a quarter with lean protein, and another quarter with whole grains and starchy vegetables including beans, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, oats, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. This general guideline will give you a healthy balance of foods and keep your weight under control.


Watch your portions — and stop before you are full.   

“Watch your portion size especially with holiday favorites,” explains Vanessa. “Try to practice mindful eating strategies such as eating slow, chewing foods very well, checking in with hunger and fullness, and minimizing distractions at mealtime.” Take a break from the buffet before you feel full and allow your brain to catch up to your stomach. Another tip is to use smaller plates for built in portion control. Check in with hunger before reaching for seconds. Slowing down and savoring your foods will help you feel satisfied both physically and mentally.


Step away from the snacks.

Mindless eating is common, particularly when you are socializing or drinking alcohol. Simply moving into another room or choosing a seat where the food is out of reach can help minimize snacking. When food is out of sight we tend to eat less and minimize mindless snacking.


Limit alcohol — or better yet, skip it entirely.

Remember alcoholic drinks contain a lot of empty calories. And alcohol can be an appetite stimulant, making it harder to practice portion control and make healthy food choices. The latest dietary guidelines suggest abstaining from alcohol, but if you choose to drink, men should not have more than two drinks per day and women should limit themselves to just one glass of daily spirits. “Moderation is the safest bet,” says Vanessa. “You can enjoy various types of alcohol, including beer, spirits, or wine, without worrying too much about it impacting your weight as long as you keep it to a minimum.”


Have your dessert, but don’t eat two.

Holiday festivities often end with a mouth-watering selection of desserts. As with any other form of moderation, allow yourself a sweet splurge that you wouldn’t otherwise have just limit yourself to one small piece of your favorite sweet treat.


Don’t wait for the holidays — practice mindful eating now.  

“Adopting this approach now will make the holidays something to celebrate because it is not only a wonderful time of year to spend with family, colleagues, and friends, but you probably won’t see the number on the scale increase.” says Vanessa.


Eating healthy reduces your risk of developing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Our team can help you lose weight and adopt healthier eating habits. Together, they partner with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that helps you achieve your goals.