Last-Minute Tips for Tackling Holiday Diet Stress

Cheryl Forberg, RD is a James-Beard award-winning chef and the nutritionist for NBC’s The Biggest Loser. She has been with the show from the beginning and co-wrote the Biggest Loser eating plan. For more cooking and nutrition tips, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @CherylForbergRD, or visit her blog at

By now, you’re probably deep into your holiday checklist – and its attendant stress. Presents delivered to the post office? Holiday gifts delivered to the kids’ teachers? Parties scheduled and dinner menus planned? Travel schedules arranged?

With the pressures of money, family and sheer logistics, the holidays can be harried. And if you’re trying to eat wisely, there’s a whole other dimension of anxiety to contend with. From cocktails loaded with empty calories to holiday cookie swaps, the possibilities for unhealthy choices and abandoned good intentions seem endless.

But good nutrition needn’t add stress to the holiday routine. After all, you don’t want to spend precious time with friends and family agonizing over every little calorie and beating yourself up for overindulging.

Instead, realize that healthy eating isn’t an all or nothing proposition. Rather than trying to follow severe restrictions – and giving up for the day when you “blow it” – focus on the more manageable prospect of making each individual food choice wisely – small changes. Opt for healthier foods each time, and the cumulative effect will be to maintain overall good nutrition and steady progress toward your goals – big difference.

To reduce diet stress over the holidays and cut yourself some healthy slack, consider these tips:

Fill up before the party. Eat a healthy snack and hydrate before you head to a holiday party to avoid gorging.

  • Choose a carb and protein for a light snack – this power combination helps slow the release of blood sugar to maintain steady energy and lengthens the feeling of fullness.
  • Pair your snack with a couple glasses of water. A study in the journal Obesity compared the weight lost by two groups of dieters; that which consumed two cups of water before meals lost more weight. Water not only gives a feeling of fullness, it gives the body much-needed hydration for optimal function – which is quite important during the holiday bustle.

Pace yourself. It can be easy to overindulge at parties, where the food and beverages are plentiful and it’s easy to keep snacking and drinking mindlessly. To make pacing yourself easy and stress-free, simply alternate:

  • Before a second cocktail, sip a glass of sparkling water with lime – only you will know it’s not a gin and tonic, and the water will help you feel full.
  • Before a second round at the buffet table, introduce yourself to a guest you’ve never met. The pause between platefuls will give your body a chance to register whether you really have room for another slice of pie.

Sip wisely. If you drink alcohol, select wine because it has no fat and contains health-boosting antioxidants. A 4.1-ounce glass of champagne has 78 calories, while a 5-ounce glass of red wine has 127 calories plus the powerful antioxidant resveratrol. Be sure you’re drinking a single serving, since a larger wine glass can hold 12 ounces or more (that’s at least 300 calories)!

  • To make your beverage budget go even further, try a wine spritzer (wine mixed with sparkling water); you’ll cut calories in half and still get a small dose of antioxidants.
  • Avoid creamy traditional drinks like Irish liqueurs and eggnog; the latter has 343 calories and whopping 19 grams of fat per cup!

Go heavy on the veggies. Loaded with nutrients, vegetables should be a staple part of your diet. Their bright colors and a variety of textures and flavors make vegetables an attractive addition to party buffets and dinner menus.

  • Feature raw vegetables prominently, and serve dips not only with sliced celery and carrots, but slivers of jicama root or small bites of broccoli.
  • Vegetable soups are a real winner; consider them for both your potluck buffet and more formal meals. They’re not only packed with nutrients, but can usually be made beforehand and reheat at party time – reducing your workload and your stress.

Banish guilt with exercise. It’s OK to make allowances for holiday indulgences, as long as you balance the excess calories by scheduling an extra walk or workout. That may seem tough during the holidays, but think of that time as precious minutes you might otherwise waste worrying about what you ate. Not only will you burn calories, but you’ll get an added energy boost from your workout and reduce holiday stress.

See more from Cheryl:

Review: Biggest Loser’s 6 Weeks to a Healthier You

Recipe: Hot Chocolate

Recipe: Sweet Pumpkin Polenta

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