Healthy Good Tidings: 20 Ways to Manage Your Diet This Season

November 22, 2019 8:30 AM

Two Michigan Medicine experts share advice on navigating the holiday food and drink scene in the healthiest way possible.

Graphic of food to include in a diabetic diet


Obesity, a complex metabolic disease that occurs as a result of our genetic makeup and environmental influences, affects nearly 70 million Americans.

As an individual’s body mass index rises, so does their risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer. And for many of us, the holidays are a time for overindulgence, especially when it comes to food and beverages.

Michigan Health recently spoke with Michigan Medicine’s Weight Management and Obesity Program’s Catherine Nay, M.Ed., R.D., C.H.E.S., C.S.O.W.M., and Megan Brown, M.P.H., R.D., about how to make your holiday season the happiest, healthiest and merriest one yet.   

Here’s what they had to say:          

  • Limit sugar and calories from beverages. Most Americans consume around 20 teaspoons of sugar a day. American Heart Association’s recommendations for sugar intake is no more than six teaspoons for women and children and nine teaspoons for men.

  • Limit alcohol. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans, women should have no more than one alcoholic drink per day, and men two. It’s best to remember that one serving of alcohol is equal to 12 ounces of beer and five ounces of wine.

  • Drink water. How much water you should drink in a day can vary, but by drinking enough water on a daily basis, you will stay full and hydrated between meals.

  • Monitor how many tastes and bites you take throughout the day. Even though we might lose track of these, they can easily add up to half a day’s worth of calories or more.   

  • If you typically give food and/or sweets as gifts, consider how this affects you. Are you tasting the sweets for quality control? Do you wind up keeping a few food items at home for yourself? Consider a non-food gift item this year, like handmade artwork or books.

  • Budget your calories like you would budget your money. By doing so, you’ll be more prone to consume your favorite foods in moderation and stay within your budget. If you taste something you don’t enjoy, don’t finish it. Remember that you don’t have to join the Clean Plate Club out of obligation.

  • Follow plate design for portion control. It’s always best to fill 50% of your plate with vegetables, 25% with lean protein and 25% with starch. And remember to always try to include a variety of vegetables. A colorful plate is a healthy plate!

  • Plan ahead. You know what’s likely to be on the holiday table. Make a plan to focus on lean protein and vegetables. By filling up on these healthy foods first, it’ll help you eat less of the other options.

  • If you’re attending a party and are unsure about the menu, bring a healthy option. Bringing a crudité platter or salad is a good way to ensure that you (and others) will have choices beyond heavy foods and rich desserts. You may also want to eat before you go. Attending any holiday event with a full stomach will make it easier to make healthy choices while you are there.

  • Eat healthy meals throughout the day. Don't try to restrict calories throughout the day in order to "save calories" for evening indulgences. Try and fill up on lean protein and non-starchy vegetables so that you’re not famished by the evening hours.  

  • If there’s a buffet, sit facing away from the buffet, use a smaller plate and study all of the food options before putting anything on your dish. It’s OK to be a food snob. You want to get the most bang for your caloric buck, so remember that protein and fiber are always more filling. Simple carbohydrates may quickly raise your blood sugar, but will leave you feeling hungry.

  • Dining out? Don’t forget to look up restaurant menus ahead of time and plan what you will order. This takes away the pressure of having to make a split-second decision when dining with a big group.

  • Use online resources to look up the nutrition information for foods. Many calorie-tracking apps let you log your food intake. Logging your foods is a proven way to stay on track with healthy eating during the holidays.

  • Stay active. Bundle up and go for a long hike, walk the neighborhood, go sledding or ice skating, or take a long bike ride. Physical activity can improve both your physical and mental health during the busy holiday season. 

  • Try not to prolong the celebration beyond the holiday. It’s always best to try and get back to your normal routine when the special occasions end. If you’re not interested in keeping them, send leftovers home with friends and family. And if you consumed more carbs or sugar than you had planned, don’t feel like you failed. There’s always time to get back on track.

  • Ask for help. Be open with family and friends about what you need. Come up with some ideas about how to reengineer the holiday environment to make it healthier for everyone.

  • Request non-food gifts. If you receive food as a gift, think of ways to share it with others so that it doesn’t remain in your home. Can you take it to work to share with co-workers or donate it to a local food bank?

  • Be comfortable saying no. If you don’t want to share information about your dietary needs, there’s no need to explain yourself. Remember that a simple “No, thank you!” will suffice. 

  • Mentally rehearse what you’ll say if you encounter someone who is pushy about food. Some individuals express themselves through food and/or cooking. It’s always acceptable to respond with, “It looks delicious, but I am feeling very full right now.”

  • Take the focus off food. Even though the holidays are incredibly food-centric, they don’t have to be. Start new traditions that focus on activities other than eating. Some examples include playing board games, doing puzzles or finding local activities to enjoy as a family.