5 Dietitian-Approved Nutrition Tips for the Festive Season
By Hannah Magee, RD
While they’re meant to be enjoyed, the holidays can be a busy and sometimes stressful time of year. With errands to run, travel plans, and holiday gatherings, it can be challenging to stay on top of self-care and nutrition goals. So we’re sharing 5 realistic tips from a Registered Dietitian for healthy eating during the holidays.
1. Eat at Regular Intervals and Don’t Skip Meals/Snacks
With all of the festive gatherings, baked goods, and boxes of chocolate at work, it may be tempting to skip your regular meals and snacks in order to save calories for the treats.
While this might seem smart in theory, I actually discourage skipping meals, and here’s why:
Eating at regular intervals (like every 4-5 hours) ensures that your body gets consistent, adequate fuel. When we get consistent, adequate fuel, we have better control over our appetite and cravings, and we’re less likely to overeat later in the day.
Say you skip lunch because you’re headed to a party later where you know there will be trays of holiday appetizers and cookies. By the time you get to the party, you’re absolutely ravenous.
When you’re in this over-hungry, ravenous state, it’s much harder to make thoughtful food decisions, eat mindfully, and listen to your internal body cues. This makes you more likely to overindulge and eat far more than you would if you hadn't skipped lunch.
Instead, feel more in control by feeding your body regularly and honoring your hunger cues throughout the day.
2. Enjoy Your Favorite Festive Foods
The festive season can be stressful enough as is! You don’t need to add avoiding the sweets in the break room to your list of things to stress about. As a dietitian, I actually recommend giving yourself permission to relax and enjoy your favorite festive foods.
You see, when you restrict yourself from eating something you enjoy (like your favorite shortbread cookies), you’re actually likely to eat more of it when you do finally indulge than if you were to just grant yourself permission to enjoy and savor the food in the first place.
The holidays are a time to enjoy, and that includes the foods that come along with them. Your healthy lifestyle should be able to include a little room for flexibility and enjoying things like sweets in moderation. Need even more reason to enjoy your favorite chocolate treat? Recent science is uncovering how dark chocolate may have a positive effect on your mood by reducing negative feelings¹!
3. Find Convenient Ways to add Nutrition & Add supplements Like a Probiotic
Continuing along the same lines, if your goal is to find ways to eat healthy over the holidays, consider focusing on what you can add, rather than what to avoid.
Can you add an extra serving of veggies to your plate? Consider adding grilled or roasted veggies, as one study¹ found they may provide more benefit for your gut than boiling food. Or maybe add a handful of heart-healthy nuts in the afternoon? What about an extra glass of water throughout the day?
By focusing on adding nutritious foods to your diet, we tend to crowd out the less nutritious ones, like ultra-processed foods high in sodium, saturated fats, and additives (in which studies² have shown negative impacts on gut microbiota and behavior) without restricting ourselves.
Another thing to consider adding is a probiotic supplement to your festive season routine, to support your digestive health.
Stay hydrated by carrying a water bottle with you wherever you go. And if you’re enjoying holiday cocktails, try to make sure you have a glass of water after each one.
Keeping stress at bay is another key way to support your gut health and immunity. Getting some fresh air and/or movement during the holidays will help you de-stress and allow you to take some time for yourself. And it doesn’t have to be intense! A gentle walk or stretch session can do the trick.
5. Don’t Stress! Just Do Your Best
The last thing you need is more stress on your plate (no pun intended). Remind yourself that the festive season is meant to be enjoyed!
Do your best to take care of yourself, but remember that no one is perfect. It’s okay to take rest when you need it and indulge every so often.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with healthy eating during the holidays, ask yourself “what is one kind thing I can do for my body today?” and start there.
- Shin JH, Kim CS, Cha L, et al. Consumption of 85% cocoa dark chocolate improves mood in association with gut microbial changes in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial. J Nutr Biochem. 2021;99:108854.
- Pérez-Burillo S, Pastoriza S, Jiménez-Hernández N, D'Auria G, Francino MP, Rufián-Henares JA. Effect of Food Thermal Processing on the Composition of the Gut Microbiota. J Agric Food Chem. 2018 Oct 31;66(43):11500-11509
- Holder MK, Peters NV, Whylings J, et al. Dietary emulsifiers consumption alters anxiety-like and social related behaviors in mice in a sex-dependent manner. Scientific Reports. 2019 ; 9:172