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How to feel healthy and energized during the holidays

During the holiday season, it’s natural to want to indulge in your favorite treats like pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and buttery rolls. But it’s also possible to eat intentionally, so you feel great and start the new year on a healthy note. Sharon Mascoe-Maxwell RDN, LD, a Piedmont dietitian, shares tips for prioritizing your health and wellness during the holidays without giving up your favorite foods and drinks.

Be intentional about your health during the holidays

First, Mascoe-Maxwell recommends thinking ahead: How do you want to feel on New Year’s Day? Many of us set health and fitness resolutions in January, but why not set yourself up for success by making mostly healthy choices in November and December?

When you’re intentional about eating nourishing foods, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep, you’ll feel better, be better able to manage stress and have more energy and you’ll be less likely to gain weight because you’re not overeating at every meal.

“When you overdo it with rich food and alcohol during the holidays, it can cause stress, guilt and even depression,” says Mascoe-Maxwell. “If you gain weight and keep it on, this can put you at higher risk for chronic diseases like gastrointestinal dysfunction, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.” 

She acknowledges it can be challenging to make healthy choices during the holidays, but notes it will boost your confidence because you’ll know you’re taking care of yourself.

“When you start the new year, you’ll be ahead of the game because you prioritized your health during the holidays,” she says. “You’ll already be reaping the benefits of those healthy habits.”

How to build a healthier holiday plate

Good nutrition starts with what’s on your plate. Mascoe-Maxwell recommends filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Go for fresh salad and roasted, grilled or steamed veggies. Save cheese- or sauce-laden vegetable dishes for special occasions and stick to a small serving.

A quarter of your plate should be lean protein, like skinless turkey breast, chicken, eggs, fish or seafood. The other quarter of your plate can be whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, whole-grain pasta or whole-grain bread.

She recommends limiting or having small portions of gravy, sauces and salad dressings.

“You can still have your favorite foods like mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce; just have a smaller portion,” she says. “You can also manage your portions by using a smaller plate, not going back for seconds and taking smaller slices of pies and cakes.”

Healthy drinks during the holidays

Whenever possible, Mascoe-Maxwell recommends sticking to unsweetened beverages like water, sparkling water and unsweetened tea and coffee.

Alcoholic beverages, punch, cider and hot chocolate can affect your blood sugar, so I recommend enjoying them in moderation,” she says.

If you choose to drink alcohol, it’s recommended that women have no more than one standard serving per day and men have no more than two standard servings per day.

A standard drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol.

Guidelines for a standard drink:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol)

  • 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor (40% alcohol)

  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)

Bring a healthy dish to a holiday gathering

Another option is to bring a healthy dish to your holiday party or meal. Here are a few to consider:

The bottom line: When you have a plan in place, you can still enjoy your favorite holiday treats and feel amazing the whole season.

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