Holiday Eating Tips

Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Written by SMH Outpatient DietItian Lauren McNeil

Research shows that the average American gains 1 to 2 pounds during the holiday season. While that doesn’t sound like much, it adds up over time, and can end up being a 20-pound weight gain over the next 10 years!

Here are some tips and tricks to ensure that those unwanted extra pounds don’t creep up on you this holiday season.

Plan Ahead

The holidays are busy. Period. Planning ahead and a little meal prep can save you time and can keep you from reaching for those calorie- and sodium-laden convenience foods.

Set yourself up for success by focusing on the timing of your meals, what is OK to eat and what you need to avoid. Choose realistic goals.

  • On your least busy day, prep four to five meals. Ahead of time, you can make the grocery list and schedule when you will eat those meals and the leftovers.
  • Plan and prep your breakfast the night before: Make your own yogurt parfait with fresh and seasonal berries, ground flaxseeds, walnuts, cinnamon, and a small amount of honey.
  • Cook a little extra for dinner, so you can enjoy leftovers for lunch the following day! This quick tip will set you up for success and keep you focused on your ultimate goal.
  • Although the holiday season lasts a few months, the actual holiday is only a single day. Remember this as you plan what you’ll be eating. Allow yourself one day to enjoy the foods you normally wouldn’t—just don’t indulge every day of the holiday season. Be sure to plan around your holiday social engagements, vacation time and family gatherings.

Mindful Eating

Whether you’re planning to dine in for every meal or are going to multiple holiday parties this season, there are certain foods to load up on, foods to limit, and foods to avoid.

Add to your plate: more fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, skinless poultry, and plant-based proteins.

Limit: high-sodium foods and added salt (frozen meals are guilty of this); saturated fats found in animal-derived products; sweets and added sugars; and red meats (try to select leaner cuts).

Heart-failure patients should be particularly mindful of their salt intake at the holidays, and should limit alcohol and caffeine—both of which can be harmful to the heart. Limit processed foods that contain high amounts of sodium, including stuffing, ham, macaroni, creamy gravies or sauces, etc.

Avoid completely: trans fats found in margarines and most processed foods.

Watch Those Portions

Portion control should be a top priority! Properly portioning your meals can save you 1 to 2 pounds of fat this holiday season.

Use the “MyPlate” method to ensure you’re consuming all of the main food groups in amounts designed to keep you properly nourished. When choosing food for your plate, serve about two fistfuls of fruits and vegetables. For grains, potatoes, and starches, serve a half-fistful. And add a half-fistful of lean proteins and beans. Always put your sauces, condiments, and dressings on the side.

Choose a colorful plate. The more colors on your plate, the more antioxidants and phytonutrients you’ll be consuming.

Eat Fewer Calories

Here are some general rules of thumb for consuming fewer calories.

  • Don’t skip breakfast! Research shows that those who eat breakfast daily actually eat fewer calories throughout the way.
  • At buffets and parties, use a smaller plate. This may seem very basic, but if you grab a smaller plate to begin with, you are less likely to fill up on food you don’t need.
  • Fill your plate with vegetable(s) and salad first, and then the entree and desserts last.
  • Eat slowly. Before going for a second round, wait 10 minutes and decide then if you’re still hungry.
  • Focus on maintaining your weight and not losing weight. It is especially hard to diet during the holidays, make sure you are eating so you feel satisfied while staying mindful. In multiple studies, they show that if you normally follow a very strict diet at these times, you may end up gaining twice as much due to the negative feelings that follow overeating.

Smart Substitutions

When planning meals or eating out, swap out high-calorie choices with lower-calorie and more nutrient-dense options:

  • Greek yogurt in place of sour cream
  • Mustard only, leave out the mayo on sandwiches
  • Applesauce in place of oil in a recipe
  • Choose higher fiber breads in place of white breads (look for close to 5 grams of fiber per serving)
  • Sweet potatoes in place of regular white potatoes
  • Cinnamon and coconut sugar in place of regular table sugar
  • Avocado in place of butter
  • Cacao powder in place a regular, processed cocoa. Cacao has 0 grams of sugar and is higher in protein and fiber

We hope that these simple tips help you stay healthy this holiday season and beyond.

For holiday tips focused on diabetic and heart-failure diets, visit the following links:

Heart Failure Diets: The American Heart Association of Heart Failure Nurses’ “Holiday Survival Guide

Diabetic Diets:Holiday Survival Tips for Diabetics & Pre-diabetics,” written by SMH Inpatient Rehab Case Manager Crystal Brooks

Lauren Mcneil

As a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist at HealthFit, Lauren McNeil, MS, RD, LDN, counsels clients and presents on nutrition topics throughout Sarasota. Her true passion lies in functional medicine nutrition and in cultivating a mind-body approach toward disease prevention. If you’re interested in scheduling a nutrition consult, email her at

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