Cookies, cocktails, and multicourse meals make the holidays feel like one long eating spree. This year, just remember these seven guidelines and you’ll come out the other side slim and energized—with no food FOMO.
Your holiday food plan
When this season hits, you’re eager to click open e-vites. Sip cocktails. Bake yourself into a sugar coma. But once the fun fades? You’re craving cookie-free cabinets and elasto-waist pants. “The holidays feel like a drawn-out special occasion, when really they’re single days, and so much of the excitement involves food,” notes Lisa Shaub, a Weight Watchers personal coach. “Then you say, ‘I’ll get back on my A-game on Monday.’ Then it’s ‘next week.’ Then it’s ‘I’ll be better in January.’” But starting the new year in desperate diet mode is no fun. Instead, have a food master plan and learn to hit the reset button faster so you can enjoy more and regret less.
Make a treats short list
If you can’t imagine not tasting your aunt’s pecan pie…and the buttery mashed potatoes recipe you reserve for the big family feast…and the chocolates you love that your kids sneak into your stocking, decide up-front to have them all. “It’s helpful to make a specific list of your top three cherished must-eats even before the holidays are in full swing,” says Jonathan Ross, a fitness professional and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. “This way you already have some boundaries in mind, and it’s much less likely to turn into a food free-for-all.” It also helps you be more aware of when you’re eating out of tradition instead of actual pleasure, adds Shaub. “I hear clients say, ‘I only see gingerbread houses once a year. I have to eat it,’” she says. “But when you get selective and pick favorites, you sometimes have that realization of ‘Jeez, do I even like gingerbread?’”
Give yourself an (early) fitness present
The holiday season may be full of temptations, but it’s also full of deals and specials, says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, founder of the F-Factor Diet: “If there’s a little something you’ve had your eye on that you think will help you be healthier, now is the time to buy it and put it to use. The novelty of it will motivate you to use it and help you stay focused when inevitable temptations arise.” Go ahead—treat yourself to those wireless earbuds or that personal-training session.
Pregame with a filling snack
Cocktail-party bound? Get dolled up, then spoil your appetite. "Showing up ravenous can lead you to make impulse decisions when you go to fill your plate," says Zuckerbrot. Within an hour before heading out the door, munch on at least 5 grams each of fiber and protein, which will help curb your hunger; it will also slow your body’s absorption of sugar, adds Zuckerbrot. Some of her snack go-tos: turkey slices on a few high-fiber crackers, an apple with string cheese, or a protein bar.
Do a party lap first thing
Yes, you can still get your hands on all your fave party foods, but be strategic about it. Survey the whole room—the people, the food spread, the bar—before touching anything, suggests Shaub. "Get a lay of the land, say hellos, take a plate," she says. "Make note of the foods that look interesting to you, take just a little bit of each and go sit with a friend to enjoy them."
Keep your hands occupied
Get camera happy, or offer to grab beverage refills for your guests. It sounds so simple, but this will prevent you from having fingers free for grazing, explains Michelle Routhenstein, RD, owner of the nutrition practice Entirely Nourished. Also, strategize your choice of handbag. "Carry a clutch under one arm and a seltzer in the other hand," says Zuckerbrot. "No hands free for another plate of pigs in a blanket." Keep your mouth busy, too: Stash Listerine strips in your clutch and pop one right after you eat. The mintiness tastes yucky when paired with something sweet, says Zuckerbrot, and helps cancel out that dessert craving.
Don’t wait around for January 1
Now is the ideal time to dive into a "new year, new you" health plan, says Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design. In a new study, Wansink and researchers measured the weight patterns of people in different countries to see how their weights fluctuated around their respective holiday seasons. For Americans, weight tends to rise 10 days before a holiday and peak during the two days after—and potentially takes more than five months to shed. "Instead of a New Year’s resolution, make it right now," says Wansink. "It’s a lot easier to avoid the weight now than try to lose it after you gain."
Remember what really matters
Take time out to appreciate the holiday activities that don’t involve food, like catching up with a girlfriend by her gorgeous fireplace, or listening to your kids giggle at Elf for the 57th time. Changing your thought pattern helps put food in its place, points out Shaub. "I love cheese. It’s my favorite," she admits. "And I used to go to parties and be like, ‘I hope there’s a cheese tray there! I can’t wait to hang out with Mr. Brie,’ instead of thinking, ‘I hope my friends are there.’” She suggests we all learn from her mistake: "Pause and collect your thoughts: ‘Who do I get to hang out with tonight? Who do I get to spend time with?’ It’s so much better."