9 tips for eating sanely during the holidays

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, … but Thanksgiving dinner got the better of me this year.

My husband and I had for the first time in our lives decided to travel and celebrate with out-of-town relatives. It was exciting for me, especially. It’s only the fourth year having “in-laws” for me, and over a decade since I’ve sat down to a big group of people for the big holiday meal. It was also the first year in a long time I’ve not cooked for Thanksgiving. I had new dishes, good company, and actual “seasonal” weather to look forward to.
It was 5:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Table places were set.

The nighttime darkness was already quickly gaining ground outside, and the heart-rending smells of casseroles, turkey, bread and sweets were wafting over all of us. Our places had been set with name tags, holiday holly drinking glasses, and a great big colorful turkey napkin. My husband was hard at work carving the turkey. Dishes were still being assembled from both the main household stove and Luke’s aunt’s next door. We were only moments away from the “big moment” that my mother-in-law, her two sisters, and their mother had been preparing for all day.

Wrenching the guys away from their third football game, we were all called to places. The table was bumper-to-bumper plates and dishes. Aaaaaaannnnnd …. go!

Dinner was on!

Amazing mashed potatoes, creamy corn casserole, stuffing, turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce … just a plethora of fatty, carb-laden comfort foods of the season. With so many hands passing new dishes, calls for seconds, we all scrambled to get our fill and sample each lovingly made recipe. And fill we did.

Within 20 minutes, the rush was over. Everyone sat back, contented and ready for more football. And maybe some dessert. I finally gave myself a moment to take in all that I had literally taken in. And I had a sinking, horrible feeling in my gut.

I had overeaten. Big time.

To say I was uncomfortable was an understatement. For a few hours after dinner, I tried to find a comfortable way to sit. Later on, I writhed in pain for a good few hours before I could get to sleep that night, as the large amount of food started to move through. I had eaten well over three times my legal limit. I promised to never do that again.

Here are 9 rules of moderate holiday eating I came up with after my experience, so that you can avoid that kind of after-dinner discomfort!

9 Rules for Sane Holiday Eating

Don’t Deny Yourself: Eat What You Love
Sure, yes, we know that fruits and veggies are the goal for any dinner plate. But the holidays open us up to a palette of foods we don’t always eat during the rest of the year. This time of the year is considered one of those occasions where those “occasional allowances” are allowed to be spent. Whether it’s your favorite holiday pie recipe or your mother’s famous creamy potatoes, take a serving and enjoy.

Mind Your Portions
Trying keeping your portions to about a half a cup for most things, or a cup for raw fruits and vegetables. Try envisioning a baseball sized serving on your plate. For other serving size visuals, check out Web MD’s printouts here.


One tip to keep in mind is that protein and fats tend to fill us up quicker than fruits and veggies. To keep your tummy happy, lower your portion sizes of the creamy, buttery things, fatty things (that includes gravies!) and meat-based meals in comparison to the green beans.

Another great tip is to choose a smaller plate to serve yourself on. And if possible, with an earlier dinner time, try to eat smaller portions over time. That way, you can enjoy those seconds and thirds…but not all at once. Spreading your portions over time gives your tummy a chance to empty.

Eat Mindfully
It’s tempting to race through your meal so you can get generous second helpings of a popular dish or three before it all disappears. Remember to savor each bite. You are eating to enjoy the taste, not the calories. To slow down and appreciate each bite, chew 15-20 times, and really embrace the colors, textures, smells, and tastes of each bite. Oh, and put your fork or spoon down between bites, to force you to eat slower and concentrate on the bite you’ve just taken, rather than anticipating the next one. 

Practice gratitude
It sounds funny to tell people to be grateful, especially when I am talking about Thanksgiving dinner here. But seriously, every bite we take is a blessing. So many around the world, and even some of our neighbors, don’t get enough to eat on a day-to-day basis. Expressing thanks and gratitude for each morsel we have on our forks or spoons instead of taking it for granted can help us slow down and really appreciate what we have.

Eat Snacks
Don’t starve yourself before the big meal. Seriously, eat a healthy snack before heading over to a relative’s house, or bring something small with you if you have a later meal planned with family. This keeps you from ravenously spooning in all that holiday goodness, and overeating before your body has a chance to tell you to stop.

Limit the liquid calories
Sodas, alcoholic mixed drinks, beers or wine, even fruity juices like the cranberry apple sparkling wine we bought for our Thanksgiving dinner back home all pack a lot of calories into each sip. Keep those to 8 oz a day, or one full measuring cup.

Move Your Body
Exercising gives your body the ability to use up all that calorie energy you’ve just consumed, and keeps you from falling asleep after dinner. Plus, if you are keeping up your regular daily exercise routine, one day of overindulgence won’t make a big difference. I did yoga every chance I could during our trip and went for a couple of walks a day. Sure, we had to bundle up. And I really looked forward to my hot tea upon returning. But isn’t that the fun of the season? Remember, shivering burns calories *wink*

Eat a healthy diet every day
If you are eating normal portions and meals full of healthy fruits and vegetables every day, again, this one day of eating all your uncommonly consumed rich foods aren’t even going to show up as a blip on your health radar.

Check the guilt at the door
Sure, I ate until I was literally in pain from being so full at my husband’s family’s Thanksgiving celebration. It’s embarrassing, but I didn’t worry about it. I knew when I got home, I would be able to get back into my exercise routine and eat as little or as stringently as possible to counteract it. I regret not being as mindful as I would have liked, but I file that away as a lesson learned for future holiday meals. I don’t regret a single bite, though. No guilt. So go ahead, enjoy the holiday season!


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