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A Complete Guide To Healthy Holiday Habits Courtesy of A Registered Dietitian

Your holiday cheatsheet

This is a guest post contributed by Sam Presicci, MCN, RD, LD, CPT. Thank you, Sam!


It’s that time of year again; when articles abound about how to maintain your weight over the holidays or how many burpees you’ll have to do to burn off that pumpkin pie. But, in my opinion, most of them miss the mark because they start from a place of fear—fear of gaining weight or of out-exercising your food—as opposed to encouraging you to make conscious, deliberate choices in accordance with what works best for you. The holidays don’t have to be a case of the ‘all or nothing’ mentality. You don’t have to choose between clinging so tightly to your healthy habits that you feel like you’re missing out or swinging completely in the opposite direction. The truth is, it’s best to hang out somewhere in the middle.


The Basics


There are a few general go-to tips that I love to give clients before the holidays hit. Thinking about things in advance and having a game plan can help you feel more confident in your choices.


  • On most of the calendar days in November and December, keep your eating balanced. Adequate protein, plenty of vegetables, lots of healthy fats and some carbohydrates (ideally fruits and starchy vegetables).
  • Even on party or holiday days, try your best to have a breakfast that centers on protein and healthy fats. Want a taste of a sweet breakfast option? Have a small serving on the side.
  • Prepare ahead, especially if you’re following a special eating pattern like Gluten Free, AIP, or Keto.
    • If you’re going to a party or dinner at someone’s house, ask if you can bring a side dish. Bring something that’s a bit fun, but still adheres to your way of eating.
    • If you know that the options will be limited, you can also eat something before you leave home. This is not to say that you can’t eat at the party, but instead ensures that you aren’t so hungry that you want to eat ALL THE THINGS.
  • Fill your plate with protein and vegetables before adding the carbohydrates or sweets.
  • When it comes to alcohol, try to drink a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage and be sure to drink slowly. Alternatively, you can make a mocktail with sparkling water or kombucha.
  • Immediately after the party or holiday dinner, jump back into regular eating. One too many pieces of pie on one day won’t throw you off, but 6 weeks of unhealthy habits will.
  • Survey the options before grabbing a plate and diving in. This ensures that you’re able to be selective and fill your plate with only the extras that are really worth it. Which brings me to some specifics…



Determining Which Holiday Treats are Worth Eating


How do you determine if a food is ‘worth it’ for you? I encourage clients to ask themselves some specific questions:


  • Does the food work for your body? What I mean by that is, how will you feel within a couple of hours of eating it?
    • Will the sugar in the dessert or the bread at the table cause carbohydrate or sugar cravings for days?
    • Will the dairy cause your face to break out or leave you with a stuffy nose?
    • Will the excessive portions make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep?
  • Does the taste or unique nature of the food outweigh the answers to the above questions?


Before you dive in, take a second to think about ‘future you.’ The person that exists two hours or a day from now and that will handle the physical effects of whatever it is you eat. Sometimes this can help you pause long enough to determine how ‘worth it’ a food may be. With any ‘off-plan’ food choice, take note of how each bite tastes and stop when it doesn’t provide the same satisfaction that it did in those first few bites.


If you know that the food in question doesn’t work for you, is the taste or the unique-ness so worth it that you can’t think of passing it up? Some things are just worth eating, like your grandma’s scalloped potatoes or the cookies that your mom only makes once a year. Sometimes, tradition and nostalgia win out. And that’s normal!


The Most Important Healthy Holiday Habit


Do you want to know the habit that most holiday nutrition articles won’t talk about? It’s the act of treating yourself kindly and with love even when things don’t go according to plan. Because sometimes, they won’t. You may forget all tests of ‘worth it’ and eat so much gluten free pumpkin pie that you feel like you’ll never need to eat again. Or you may have one too many cocktails and need a day to recover. And you know what? That’s really ok. You don’t need to hop on the treadmill or do hundreds of burpees to make up for it (really, you don’t. I promise).


  • Take a deep breath.
  • Remember what the holidays are all about. Perspective tends to help in these situations.
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Self care. Take time to do things for yourself that you enjoy. Take a bath, read a book, buy yourself flowers, enjoy time with a friend or go for a walk.
  • Drink water. Hydration is key!
  • Get back to your normal eating habits at the next meal.


Eating too much at Christmas dinner doesn’t provide a moral judgment of your character or your worth as a human. You are not bad because you ate the pie. You just made a choice.


In closing, eating well during the holidays doesn’t have to be complicated. Make mostly nutrient dense choices, but save some room on that plate and in your stomach for some extras. Food is meant to nourish our stomachs, sure, but also our souls. Most of the time, food is not just fuel. It has emotional and nostalgic ties that deserve to be honored. And in the end, remind yourself that the holidays are meant to be about community, giving, and gratitude. The food is just a delicious bonus.


I've linked some holiday recipes that I really enjoy:



Sam is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer who is a passionate advocate for real food. She specializes in working one-on-one with individuals interested in combining real food choices with a holistic, functional approach to get them feeling satisfied and energetic, once and for all. She believes food has been adulterated and overcomplicated for far too long, and that sticking with the basics can get people the lasting, sustainable change they seek. Her website is in development, but she can be found on Instagram @sam.p_the_rd or on Facebook at Vitality Nutrition and Wellness LLC.

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