Simple Hacks to Holiday-Proof Your Diet
Try these real-world, real-women tricks to treating yourself, having fun—and still staying on track.
You say it every year: “Holiday madness is going to tank my diet”—because October (Halloween!), November (Thanksgiving!) and December (too many to name!) seem to present temptation after temptation. And the truth is, strict diets tend to backfire more spectacularly than a zero-tolerance Fortnite ban. “Virtually all fad diets and generic weight-loss programs fail,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. “They’re too rigid to sustain long-term and aren’t personalized to meet your lifestyle needs.”
That’s why it makes much more sense—especially at this time of year—to swap restrictive habits and inscrutable rules (how does one track a macro, anyway?) for strategies that fit your busy, messy lifestyle. “Approaches that are built around you and your family are the most effective,” says Harris-Pincus. We asked real moms to share the tricks, mindsets and practices that keep them on track when they’re cooking for (still!) picky-eater teenagers, navigating holiday parties and bingeing on Netflix.
Avoid portion distortion. Do you know what 3 ounces of lean protein looks like? Neither do we. “Most people overeat just because they think they need a larger serving than they do,” says Chicago-area dietitian Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN. That’s why a visual aid is so helpful. “I use portion control containers for breakfast and lunch,” says Megan, a mom in Mooresville, NC. The reusable containers (like the ones from Rubbermaid) keep a lid on unnecessary calories—and calculations.
Take a shortcut. “I have food sensitivities, my kid only eats muffins, and my husband works 70 hours a week,” says Tara, in Tampa, FL. “I got so burnt out from making dinner just so I could sit there and eat it by myself.” Her fix? Phoning it in with pre-made meals and meal kits. “There’s no rule that says you have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen to eat healthfully,” Retelny says. “Well-balanced meal kits combine high nutritional value and convenience.” Some favorites: Fitlife Foods and Clean Eatz meals, and Plated kits.
Eat early, not often. “I eat dinner with my kids instead of waiting for my husband to get home for us to eat,” says Lesley in New Canaan, CT. “Otherwise I’d be snacking until he walked through the door.” An early dinnertime prevents endless grazing—and calorie overload. “Anything you eat later in the evening has more caloric impact because that’s when your metabolism slows down as your body prepares to sleep,” Harris-Pincus says.
Out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes we eat just because the food is there. So make sure it’s…not there. “When our family sits down for a meal, I keep serving dishes on the kitchen counter instead of on the table,” says Hannah, a mom in Portland, ME. “When the food is right in front of me, I’m going to keep reaching for it.” Bonus: “Having to physically leave your seat for a second helping is a big deterrent,” says Retelny.
Veg out. That time right before dinner is still the witching hour—when you could ravenously consume your weight in honey-roasted peanuts or tortilla chips with one hand while cooking dinner with the other. “I’ve learned to put out a plate of veggies and hummus during dinner prep, when we’re all nearing death by starvation,” says Jolene in Barrington, RI. If you’re not super hungry, raw vegetables contain enough fiber and water to satisfy you without sabotaging appetites, says NYC nutritionist Amy Gorin, RDN. Protein and healthy fats—like the ones in hummus—keep starvation in check.
The Secret to Snacking
Small rewards. When there’s a piece of chocolate waiting for you at the end of each day, it might be easier to just keep walking by your coworker’s birthday cupcakes or those Costco free sample hors d’oeuvres. “I keep a bar of pure dark chocolate hidden in my bedside table,” says Jolene. “I’ll break off a few small squares while I’m Netflixing.” (Make it melt in your mouth, and that chocolate can last half an hour!) You can avoid midnight munching sessions by thinking of the kitchen as being “closed” after dinner, says Harris-Pincus.
Swap your indulgence. Conveyor-belting cheese and crackers isn’t the only way to unwind. “When I finally have some downtime, I love to paint my nails or apply a clay face mask—the kind that will crack if I snack,” Hannah says. Self-pampering boosts your mood and shoos away boredom—which Harris-Pincus points out is a major cause of senseless snacking.
Keep out the kryptonite. In case you haven’t learned by now: Do not buy your favorite candy to give out for Halloween. Also: Don’t buy it two weeks before Halloween...only to methodically munch your way through it. If you can’t stop with the caramel lover’s mixed bag, grab the gummies and sours (or vice versa)! When it comes to your trigger foods, distance is key. “When something is so tempting that you can’t control yourself around it, don’t have it in the house,” says Gorin. “If you can’t stop at one serving of ice cream, take the family out for a scoop instead.”
Have a one-snack mind. “I don’t snack while I’m watching TV or talking on the phone because it’s impossible to pay attention to how much I’m eating,” says Michele, a mom in Staten Island, NY. Plus, distracted snacking almost never hits the spot, Gorin says. “When you focus on what you’re eating, you’re far more likely to enjoy it.” She says the best way to feel satisfied by a snack—and quell cravings—is to take the time to savor it.
Have Your Fun (and Food)
Get a literal grip. ’Tis the season for awkward cocktail parties and empty cal-ories. “When I’m at a party where I don’t know a lot of people, I tend to eat more just because I’m nervous,” says Elizabeth in Cohasset, MA. “It helps if I have something to occupy my hands” to keep from grabbing appetizers. In-stead of keeping your phone at your fingertips, carry a cute mini clutch that you have to hold, says Gorin. (Other worthy hand fillers: the cardigan you decide not to hang up, your reading glasses. You get the idea—anything that prevents you from bulldozing snack after snack into your mouth.)
Take platters into your own hands. Your hostess doesn’t need to know the ulterior motive behind your offer to bring an app—and you’ll be happy to have something to nibble on other than those six kinds of French cheese (and that single mangy grape). “I always bring a fruit platter to a party,” says Michele, who likes to ensure she has healthy options for dessert. “The alternative could mean you’re stuck eating things you don’t really want, and not enjoying yourself as much,” Harris-Pincus says.
Choose booze wisely. “At cocktail par-ties and bars, I hold myself to two drinks by ordering beverages I like but don’t necessarily love,” Lesley says. As the hashtag goes, “I really could drink rosé all day, but a light beer or sauvignon blanc takes me longer to sip.” Having a strategy like this in place before you pour is essential, Retelny says. “Because alcohol disinhibits you, you might reach for a refill without even thinking about it,” she explains. “This allows you to be more mindful.”
Eat three bites of your heart’s desire. “I stay conscious of balance,” says Tara, who’d rather share the occasional dessert than abstain entirely. Ordering a sundae with a couple of spoons is fine—especially if you limit yourself to three bites. “The three-bite rule works magic,” Harris-Pincus says. “It’s liberating because you can try absolutely anything, but it keeps you in check. And those first three bites are where the real enjoyment is. After that, it all tastes the same.”
Maintain Your Mindset
It’s food—not the Avengers. “It helps to give up the idea that some foods are inherently good or bad,” says Retelny. “So many of us experience guilt or shame based on what we eat. It gives food too much power.” That’s why switching your thinking can be the first step to building a healthy relationship with food. “I truly don’t believe in depriving myself, just in making healthier choices,” says Tara. It’s a mindset that even nutritionists can get behind. “If you indulge in smaller ways, you’re going to feel healthier, happier and more in control of your lifestyle,” says Retelny.
Hop off the hamster wheel. Bobby has soccer, Lily has mathletes, Jamie has physical therapy and you have…whiplash. Instead of just running in circles, try going for an actual run (or even a brisk stroll). “It doesn’t have to be about the distance or the speed,” Megan says. “It’s the mental break.” Getting up and out—even for 10 minutes—removes the mental clutter that really weighs us down. “How we think, how we memorize information and how our brain operates are tied to physical activity,” says Retelny. A little clarity goes a long way and clears the road for healthier habits.