Healthy Holiday Parties

Healthy Holiday Parties

Whether you’re hosting or attending, use these party tricks to help you indulge in some treats but still keep eating smart overall.

It’s that time of year again. Your social calendar is booked with parties, and your willpower seems to get weaker with every buffet line. You don’t want to spend the holidays worrying about the number on the scale, but too many Swedish meatballs and glasses of eggnog can seriously sidetrack your weight-loss goals, leaving you with a holiday hangover in the New Year. What to do?

“Enjoying the festivities and all the food that goes with them is about balance,” says Vandana Sheth, RDN, a Los Angeles–based national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Whether you avoid all the good food or stuff yourself, you’ll be miserable either way, so find a middle ground where you indulge here and there. A reasonable diet has room for splurges.” Use these tips to navigate even the most decadent party without busting any buttons.

Skip the fast

“Many people avoid eating all day in anticipation of the feast to come, but that can backfire,” says Sheth. “Have a good breakfast, get some exercise, and make sure you eat something healthy before you go. That way, you’re not ravenous when you walk in the door.”

Downsize your plate

If you have a choice of sizes, opt for the smaller one. Studies have shown that people will eat up to 50 percent more food if given a larger serving container versus a smaller one—and they don’t realize it. Have a choice of colors? If so, opt for one that’s a different hue than the food. Research at Cornell University found that people put 22 percent more food on plates of a similar shade as what they were eating.

Volunteer to help out

Take on the role of party photographer or the designated social butterfly who makes sure everyone gets acquainted. “The less time you spend standing around the food, the better off you’ll be,” says Sheth.

Have a water chaser

People routinely underestimate the number of calories they get from drinks, whether it’s juice, soda, or wine, because liquids don’t trigger the same satiety sensors as solid foods do. “Plus, alcohol lowers your inhibitions, so you’re more likely to keep eating,” says Sheth. Have a glass of water or seltzer after every alcoholic drink and make it more appealing by adding lemon, orange, or cucumber slices.

Alter your focus

Remember counting all the red cars you saw on road trips as a kid? The other-colored ones became just a blur. You can use that same tactic at a party. Choose something you want to focus on, like making time to catch up with, say, five different family members in a deeper way, and let that be your mental filter. The food will recede into the background.

Incorporate activity

If you’re having a big meal or get-together, schedule a pre-dinner football game or post-meal walk. Studies have shown that exercising before eating can help reduce post-meal triglyceride spikes, and working out afterward can lower blood sugar increases.

BYO food

Ask if you can bring a dish, and make sure it’s healthy. This will ensure that you’ll have at least one good-for-you option, suggests Sheth. Veggies with homemade hummus or a dip made with nonfat Greek yogurt are always crowd pleasers.

Sample like the pros do

Take just a bite of a few decadent foods and get rid of your plate before you can eat what’s left on it. The first taste is usually the most satisfying, says Sheth.