Tips for a Healthier Holiday Season

Some people may already think they’re going to fall into unhealthy eating habits, stop exercising, and have a fear of gaining weight over the holidays. Although there is definitely an overabundance of treats and holiday meals around this time, the reality is that most people won’t gain very much weight (only about 1 pound over the whole holiday season), which is likely much less than people are worried about.

Instead of worrying about gaining weight or losing fitness, you can enjoy the actual holiday and eat the foods you love because you have control over your actions during the holiday season. You can build a healthy plate at meals, enjoy treats mindfully and stay active with family and friends to feel great throughout the holiday season by following these tips:

  • Be mindful of when you’re eating. Being surrounded by food can be tempting for people to grab any treats in sight, even when they’re not hungry, and especially when they’re bored. Take a pause to think about the food or drink you’re grabbing for to consider if you’re even hungry at all and if eating or drinking that item is really going to get rid of your hunger or craving.
  • Check out all the options before loading up your plate. Just like any meal, it’s important to think about what options you really want to eat and pass on the options you don’t care for or can eat any time of year. For instance, if you know you’re going to want to have a piece of your grandma’s pie with whipped cream, save room by passing on those side dishes you don’t absolutely love or that roll with butter.
  • Fill 1/4 to 1/3 of your plate with protein-rich foods. Turkey and ham are staples for meat-eaters, but vegetarian main dishes can be loaded with protein as well.
  • Load up on vegetables (that aren’t covered in sauce, cheese, and gravy). Traditional vegetable dishes at holidays are usually green bean casserole and mashed potatoes, so bring your own green salad or roasted fall vegetables to make sure you have some healthy options to eat. Family and friends always appreciate contributions to a meal – it can be refreshing to have healthy options available!
  • Fill the last portion with starchy carbohydrates and other favorites. Casseroles and cheesy dishes can make their way onto your plate, but be mindful of the portions.
  • Stop eating before you’re actually full. Often times, we feel like we need to take a little bit of everything at the meal and that we need to eat every last bite of everything on our plates. Holiday meals aren’t an eating contest – pausing to put your fork down and chew between bites, enjoying the food you’re eating and the people you’re surrounded by, and stopping before you’re overly full is a good way to enjoy the holiday meal even more. By the time you get to dessert, you’ve already eaten plenty of food and may only want a few bites to feel satisfied.
  • Don’t save up your calories for a big holiday meal. We can usually only eat so much at one meal, even if we haven’t eaten very much leading up to the big holiday meal. Saving up our calories and stuffing ourselves full doesn’t do good things to our energy levels or mood. Instead, eat a light meal that contains carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat, such as a bowl of oatmeal with a banana and a handful or nuts, or a couple eggs with some toast and avocado.
  • Try to keep up your exercise routine, even if it’s modified! Round up your family and friends to run a Thanksgiving 5K, get out and go on a walk, or do a workout. Everyone benefits from daily exercise, so keep up your exercise routine during the holidays and include the people around you!

It can be difficult for many athletes to navigate holiday eating during training and the off season. Make an appointment with the Dietitian to talk about how to spend your holidays enjoying the food you love without sacrificing performance by calling 605-312-7878 or e-mailing her at

–Elizabeth Kuckuk, MS, RD, LN, Dietitian at the Sanford Sports Science Institute