I don’t know about you, but my December is turning into party and eating-out season, which is a setup for overeating and regretting it later. Even though I’m a fitness instructor, I refuse to call any food “naughty” during the holidays – and with good reason! I see warm mulled wine, nutty eggnog and especially Mom’s cheesy pork taco dip only once a year! And these special foods are central to connecting with loved ones we also may only see once a year. Here are a few tips to still enjoy your holiday favorites with no (or fewer ; ) next-day regrets:

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1) Eat before you go. Sure, it seems like you’d want to go to a dinner party or restaurant hungry, but we all know it’s easy to lose control when an empty belly is confronted with a beautiful spread of yummies. So 30-60 minutes before you leave, have a healthy snack that includes protein, like a Luna bar, PB & apples, or hummus & veggies. Feeling satisfied before you go will make you more content to eat a smaller portion or stick to snacking on your favorite treats instead of sampling every single option.

2) Use smaller plates. The urge to fill our plate combined with the American custom of cleaning our plates is a recipe for a larger pants size come January. At home or at a party, choose to fill up and clean a small plate instead. (This way you might actually enjoy dessert too!) Added tip: Fill your plate then move away from the buffet table – out of sight, out of mind!

3) Cut it in half. Our brains know that restaurant portion sizes are way too large, but did you know some of those meals run upwards of 1500-2000 calories?! And I’m not just talking about fast food. That grilled chicken could have been slathered in butter to keep it from sticking, and even steamed vegetables are sometimes drizzled with butter or oil for added flavor. No need to abstain though; before you even start eating, divide it in half to take home (that way you won’t be tempted to eat more than half).  Or if you can’t take it home, ask for a smaller portion (you may still have to pay 3/4 or full price, but your waistline will thank you, and you’ll avoid wasting food).

4) Hydrate before you go. Linked with #1, if you’re not thirsty, you’ll be better able to make smart decisions, such as choosing low cal drinks and having a glass of water between each drink. You don’t have to totally avoid that high cal (but delicious) egg nog supreme – just take a half glass, add an ice cube and nurse it.

5) Lastly, remember not every day is a holiday. Be good and stick to your routine the rest of the time. Your regular exercise and good food choices will reduce stress and make up for one night of being on the naughty list. 🙂

Notice that I never said anything is inherently evil! This is a special time to connect with friends and family around traditional dishes that make an appearance only once a year. Enjoy those foods! When you know you’ve been good on regular days, then you won’t have to feel guilty indulging a tad on a holiday. And using the tips above, the indulging won’t turn into gluttony.