Coach Heather on Holiday Eating

This time of year is stressful on many levels, but it should also be full of pleasure, relaxation and traditions you enjoy.  It’s not impossible to maintain your weight and sanity through the “holiday season” (including whatever holidays you may celebrate, many of which happen to be stuffed into a 6-week time frame). As with anything an athlete of any level pursues, it just takes a little bit of thought and strategy.

More often than not this season includes a variety of parties and family dinners based almost entirely around feasting. The traditional spread looks different for all of us, but there are some recurring themes no matter what or how you cook, dine and celebrate: sugar, cream, butter, alcohol and then more sugar, cream and butter.

Whether you’re looking to stay on track with your healthy on/off-season eating, or simply ready to finally make it through this season without feeling the pull of every January DETOX! ad around, here are some simple tips that may help you out:

Prioritize your favorite holiday treats.

When you arrive at any celebratory function, scan the options. Look at the bar, appetizers, main entrees, sides and/or desserts and identify the foods that you look forward to every year. Mentally eliminate the ones you don’t. Enjoy the treats that are worth it to you! But don’t pile on hundreds, if not thousands, of extra calories just to graze and try everything out.

Eat a snack before you go to dine! 

Seem excessive? Stick with me. If you have a healthy, filling snack* before heading to a party or feast, you’re much less likely to binge. Arrive with some healthy eats already doing their job (filling you up with quality calories), and you’ll only spare room for the things you love. (See above.)

*Ex: raw vegetables and/or fruits; trail mix, a fruit/nut bar (e.g. Larabar). 

Get in some activity!

This may seem like a no-brainer; burn some calories before you go consume them! But it’s easy to skip exercise when we’re feeling sleepy from all this extra eating, traveling and friend/family socializing. Even 10-15 minutes are better than nothing.


Strategy goes a long way, but so does knowledge.

Did You Know (in no particular order of importance):

  • Cooking the stuffing outside of the turkey instead of actually stuffed inside will save you 350+ calories (from fat drippings)
  • Roasted sweet potatoes taste just fine without marshmallows on top. Truth.
  • Keeping the dressing on the side of large salads, vs. mixed in, can save you up to 150-200 calories (that is, if you then use it lightly).
  • One cup of eggnog will have around 340 calories (sugar, eggs, butter, cream, etc.), while one cup of wine is 100-140. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of butter, eggs and cream in the food.
  • Guacamole is healthier than spinach and artichoke dip, with more veggies and healthy unsaturated fats, and less calories from – you guessed it – cream!
  • Keeping the fried onions off of your green beans will save you 100-200 calories. And saves the spotlight for the real green veggie, not the breaded fried one.
  • The average sugar cookie has 14g of sugar. Some experts recommend capping sugar intake at no more than 25g per day.
  • Pumpkin Pie is generally ~300 calories per slice (we’re talking a reasonably sized slice, here – sans whipped cream). The same size of pecan pie will be about double that. While we’re talking dessert, it’s worth noting that cheesecake tops both of these, with an average 700 calories per slice.
  • The average holiday meal – which probably doesn’t take any of the above into account – has upwards of 4500 calories. That’s 2.5x the average recommended daily intake. In ONE meal.


That list could go on for a while, as traditional foods vary by family table, but those hit some of the basics. There’s no fun in fretting entirely over the many plates and parties throughout this season, but it’s also no fun to reach January 1st feeling sluggish and set back. Think about which traditions mean the most to you, and have the holiday eats you enjoy!