How can I avoid overeating at holiday parties?

Lisa Lillien
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Holiday parties are treacherous territory for dieters. In this video, Hungry Girl author Lisa Lillien gives tips that will keep you from getting as plump as Santa.

Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

To avoid overeating at parties, go in with a plan. What are your triggers? Sweets? Alcohol? Be prepared when you take a look at the food table and see all your favorites. If you love sweets, choose what you want, but limit other foods. Pass on the chips or bread. Moderation is always a good idea when it comes to alcohol. After 1 or 2 drinks, switch to sparkling water. It's okay to overdo it occasionally, just double up on the exercise the next day.

Mrs. Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Try following these tips to avoid overeating at holiday parties:

  • Don't go to a party hungry. Eat a light snack before going out.
  • Choose only the foods you really want and keep the portions small.
  • Make a conscious choice to limit high fat items. Fill up on lower calorie, nutrient dense foods such as fruits, veggies, lean meats and whole grain breads.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • When you arrive at a party, avoid rushing to the food. Go enjoy some conversation with friends and family first.
  • Eat slowly and enjoy each mouthful.
  • Hold your glass in the hand that you normally eat with to make finger foods less accessible.
  • Contrast flavors, textures and temperatures for more satisfaction in your eating.
  • Avoid grazing while. Little nibbles can really add up!
  • Be physically active every day. Take a walk after a meal if you can.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Eat a small snack 15 minutes before you go to a holiday dinner or party. Arriving at an event on an empty stomach will make it all the more difficult to avoid the temptation of overindulging. Eating a serving of fruit, nuts or a bit of light popcorn is enough to settle your stomach before you go—and prevent you from eating the unhealthy foods you might go for if you were famished.

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Kat Barefield, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

There are several strategies you can use to avoid overeating:

  • Do not arrive to the party hungry. This can lead to poor food choices and loss of control. Instead, have a protein- and fiber-rich snack like a whole wheat pita with lean lunchmeat, an apple with a few nuts, or a bowl of high-fiber cereal.
  • Control portion sizes of high-calorie dishes like mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Fill at least half your plate with salad, fruit and veggies; a quarter with lean meat or beans; and the final quarter with your favorite holiday dish. If you use a small plate, you’ll consume fewer calories.
  • Eat slowly and wait 20 minutes before going back for seconds. This will give you enough time to sense that you’re satisfied.
  • Stay away from the serving table. Once you get your food, go into another room so you don’t see the food. When the food is out of sight, you’re less likely to eat mindlessly.

Overeating at holiday parties is all too easy. Typically there are a wide variety of foods, many of them delicious but high in fat, sodium or sugar. The suggestions below can help you watch what you eat at holiday parties and stick to a heart-healthy diet.

  • Aim to eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day. More if you can. If you make sure to fill up on your low-calorie fruit and vegetable servings for the day, it will help you avoid overeating the starches (bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, etc.) and meats.
  • Never go to a party hungry. Small frequent meals (at least three) are a good way to keep yourself satisfied. If you go to a party hungry, you are more likely to eat too much.
  • When going to a party, if possible try to plan ahead and suggest to the hostess that you bring a low-calorie dish with you to help keep yourself (and others) on track.
  • At a buffet-style gathering, try filling your plate only once with a reasonable, healthy portion of food. This will keep you from absent-mindedly eating bite after bite, losing track of the total amount of food. It also helps to stand away from the food table and focus on socializing.
  • Limit alcohol. Moderation (one drink for women, two drinks for men) is important for overall health. But alcohol also provides extra calories and interferes with your ability to keep tabs on your food intake. You will drink and eat more calories than you mean to eat. If you do choose to drink alcohol, beer and wine generally are lower in calories than spirits mixed with soda or fruit juices.

The best way to avoid overeating during holiday meals is to not head into that special meal hungry. Many of us will skip breakfast on the morning before a big celebration or gathering to save plenty of room for mom’s famous dishes, but this can lead to overeating. Start your day with a healthy breakfast and head into the festivities with a low level of hunger.

Also, remember to enjoy the company around you more than the food on your plate. Interact with family and friends in conversation, and put your fork and knife down to chat for a moment. Allowing space in between bites will give your stomach time to send that full feeling signal to your brain.

Holiday parties are for socializing and seeing good friends and family members. Focus on that aspect of the party! Don't skip meals all day if you're going to a party that evening. Eat your regular meals and focus on lean proteins and vegetables. When you go to the party, use a small plate. Play with the food, moving it around on your plate rather than eating it within five minutes. Also, alternate an alcoholic beverage (which has a significant number of calories) with a low-calorie or no calorie drink. It's all about moderation for both food and alcohol!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.