Holiday Eating Without the Expanding Waistline

by Danielle Omar, MS, RD

It might not be in line with the true spirit of the holiday, but Thanksgiving is all about the food at our house. I try to make it about being grateful for all that we have, but my family is mainly concerned with the eats!


For many, Thanksgiving also marks the beginning of a “season of eating” that leads to unwanted weight gain come January. As a dietitian, I have counseled many, many a client on mindfulness strategies during this time of the year. I try to reiterate first and foremost that Thanksgiving dinner is just one meal. No matter how much overeating that occurs, one meal does not make or break an already healthy diet. It’s what we do the other 364 days that are the most important. This sensible advice usually serves me well throughout the year, but during the holidays it’s a harder sell.

This happens in part because your “mindfulness muscle” gets worked more frequently. It’s easy to say no to the pizza at a kid’s birthday party or dessert at the occasional dinner party. Resistance is much harder when celebratory eating opportunities are knocking a few times per week.

We also associate certain foods with holiday nostalgia. There’s Grandma’s pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, your sister’s incredible sweet potato casserole, the cookie exchange with your book club. These delights only come around once per year! The holiday season for many of us is all about the food.

So what’s a gal to do? Do you just accept that your jeans will be a little snug come New Years? I don’t think you have to. There are a few simple adjustments you can make along the way to stay mindful while still enjoying the food of the season.

Here are three strategies I use for holiday noshing that keep me in line:

Downsize your plate. This simple switch will “trick” your mind into thinking you’re eating just as much as usual. In fact, your smaller plate will look like it’s overflowing with food. I especially love this strategy because it doesn’t involve deprivation — you won’t miss the calories you saved and you still get to enjoy all your holiday favorites.

Eat Before. A favorite food principle of mine, “never let yourself get too hungry” is in full play here. When you don’t eat all day in anticipation of a big dinner meal, you end up noshing on high calorie appetizers, serving yourself larger portions, or just eating too much, too fast. Eat normally during the day before a big dinner meal and you’ll end up eating less.

The 3-Bite Rule. This rule works great for dessert, but can also be used for decadent dishes as well. Savor the first bite, confirm its greatness with the second bite, and then bid farewell with the third. The first three bites of most any food are the most delicious. When you continue after the third bite you’re just chasing the good time. Think of it like staying at that fabulous party one hour too long!

I hope you’ll give these strategies a try! Here’s to a happy, healthful, and mindful holiday eating season.

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