Holiday Eating & You

a special feature by Sandra Porter Leon, Nutritionist

Tis’ the season for joy — but also the time of year that can derail your diet. With a little planning and will-power, you can enjoy grandma Ellie’s homemade pecan pie and other culinary delights during the holidays, without feeling deprived or defeated. Here are a few strategies that have helped my clients navigate such temptations without over-indulging.

1. Replace Mindful Eating for Holiday Eating. Celebrating the holidays can be joyful, but often laden with stress, a trigger to raise your cortisol hormones and encourage mindless eating behavior. Inserting mindful tools does not have to mean an hour morning meditation, but simply taking a few breaths before a meal in order to visualize eating with control, chewing bites slowly, and enjoying the smell and taste of each bite.

2. Stick to the Plate. “Noshing” and mindless eating at social gatherings can easily add an additional 500-1000 calories. Successful dieters vow that the small plate rule is invaluable in reducing total intake, as well as tricking your brain that you are eating bigger portions.

3. Eat Before the Party: Fill up on healthy snacks that include salad, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein before a holiday party so you arrive satiated and have the willpower to skip the baked brie and instead, choose healthful options. One client keeps gum and mints handy to deter themselves from overeating. I think that’s a great idea.

4. Plan. Plan. On those days without holiday obligations, stick to your diet and workout plan (try to fit in at least 150 minutes of exercise per week). On the other days that require more willpower, cut out the morning Frappuccino in order to make room for that extra indulgence, like grandma Ellie’s pecan pie. Anticipate the extra calories and plan accordingly. Instead of the uber slice with extra ice cream, cut a smaller piece or split it with a friend, so you can enjoy a few bites without all the guilt.

5. Go Easy on the Alcohol. How can you resist that second Margarita with the seven-layer dip at the office holiday party? Salty appetizers encourage increased libations that can add an additional 250-500 calories. One client who has kept their weight in check will start with the other bubbly: a club soda and a splash of juice, then enjoy a glass of wine or a low-calorie drink. Extra alcohol consumption can lead to increased appetite, as well as poor sleep which can lead to weight gain.

6. Catch enough ZZZ’s. With all the late night parties and out-of-town guests, you may become sleep deprived which sets the stage for increased stress hormones and over-eating, sometimes 250-300 extra calories per day, especially the high fat sugary foods. Shoot for at least 7 hours per night!

7. Keep Hydrated. Do not confuse hunger with thirst, especially between meals! Instead of mindlessly reaching for the chocolate covered peanuts, keep a 12-16 ounce bottle filled with fruit-flavored water or tea nearby so you are prepared for a quick drink when the snacking urge overwhelms.

8. Divide and Conquer. Friends and family show their love through food; it is that time of year where the plethora of goodies are easily accessible. When one client received a tin of Harry and David’s chocolate covered cherries, they opened it up, divided a few cherries in zip lock bags, and put it in the freezer to enjoy as an occasional treat. Out of sight, out of mind, out of mouth. If you don’t have that kind of willpower, re-gift or give away. Tis the season!

Good luck and set yourself up for success!


*Sandra Porter Leon, MS, RD, is a nutrition expert with 25 years experience in education and consulting. An avid swimmer and gardener, she lives in Virginia Beach where you can contact her at