• Jamie McDermott, MS, RD

How to Enjoy Holiday Parties While Eating Intentionally

Updated: Dec 1, 2019



Hello friends! I hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving with friends and family, and that you got to enjoy both good food and company. Both of my kids were born around this time of year, and we have pics of both babies laying side by side next to the cooked turkey! So sweet.


Can you believe its December already? For most of us, this is a month filled with hustle and bustle; shopping, decorating, traveling, and social events with LOTS OF FOOD. And, we all know that feeling - leaving a party with a too full stomach - it doesn't feel good!


Let's talk about how to navigate the food at these gatherings so that you can feel happy and satisfied, and like you took part, but didn't overdo it, shall we? Its an amazing feeling that we all, including YOU, deserve to have.


1) Think about what you have been craving recently ahead of time and decide to include those types of foods on your plate.


Have you been missing out (or denying yourself) on sweet treats? Rich appetizers like salami, cheese, or pastries? Crunchy chips and dip? These foods are all 100% okay when eaten in moderation. Chips and desserts are carbohydrate foods, while meats and cheeses fall into the protein category. Why eat a whole wheat roll, and try to be "good," when what you really wanted was the puff pastries? A serving of each food is actually similar in calories, but waaaay different in terms of the eating experience each offers.


2) Scan the premises upon arrival.


As soon as you get to the event, take a good look around at the food. What looks amazing and calls out to you? Cheesecake bites? Savory stuffed olives? Make it a point to include those foods in reasonable portions, or else you will be thinking about them later, trust me on this one! Which leads us to the next tip...


3) Use ONE plate for your chosen foods, rather than grazing.


When we walk and talk, its very difficult to judge how much we have eaten. Especially when we are distracted with socializing (and wine!), hours can pass by and we have no idea whether we have eaten 10 crackers or 30.


4) Decide to eat a normal portion of whatever foods you are wanting. This typically means:


Protein: around 4 oz

For example: 3 slices of prosciutto, and a few thin slices of cheese; or 4-5 cocktail shrimp and a few small mozzarella balls. Protein sources should take up about 1/4 of your plate.


Starch: about 1/2 cup or the size of your fist:

For example: a handful of chips; 2-3 appetizers with breading such as puff pastry. Like protein, starch sources should fill about 1/4 of your plate.


Veggies: 1-2 cups

My motto in life is to balance things out with veggies! Seriously, if 1/2 of your plate is filled with non starchy veggies (like broccoli, carrot and celery sticks, etc.), and a little dip or salsa, you really can eat whatever your heart desires for the other half and be totally fine. Not only are you getting tons of nutrition (vitamin C, A, and antioxidants, to name a few!), you are getting fiber - which fills you up and allows you to make mindful indulgences with your other food choices.


5) Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT, arrive to a social event starving!


This is a surefire recipe for overeating. Biology is tough to contend with and even those with a lot of willpower will usually wind up losing control when hunger takes over. Please listen to your body and acknowledge that hunger! I recommend having a snack of fiber and protein 1-2 hours prior to arriving. This could be a few slices of meat and a piece of cheese and some raw veggies, a small salad with leftover protein, or some greek yogurt and berries.


6) If you start eating something, and you don't like the taste, stop eating it.


Why waste food (and calories) when its not bringing you joy? Eating serves to both nourish our bodies AND bring us happiness. I never support eating foods that you do not love. You can easily find a replacement for that food at most events.


7) Bring something healthy with you.


Namely, nonstarchy veggies! That way you have that portion of your plate covered if there aren't other options. How about roasted carrots or brussels sprouts with a balsamic glaze? Or raw veggies and your favorite dip or hummus?


8) Alternate alcohol with seltzer.


Wine, beer, and mixed drinks can certainly be included in moderation (I love my chardonnay!), but they add extra calories and lower your inhibition and awareness around food. Alternating with a fizzy and hydrating drink like flavored seltzer helps to balance the calories and effects of alcohol. If you're not sure if there will be any at the event, bring a case to share!


9) Eat dessert slowly and mindfully.


Three cheers for dessert, am I right?!? I love sweets, and eat dessert every single day, including at parties. If you've been mindful with your meal beforehand, dessert definitely has its place as well! I often recommend using the three bite rule - that is, enjoy three, good sized forkfuls of whatever dessert you are wanting, then stop and assess whether you need or want more. Research has proven that after three bites of a food, the pleasure receptors in our brain stop responding. That is, eating more of that food will not bring us any more joy. If you are not satisfied with three bites, then by all means continue. However, then its time to ask your self if you have eaten enough nourishing food during the day, or whether you arrived too hungry.


The book Intuitive Eating has amazing tips on how to assess hunger and fullness. I use this with many of my clients to help them get back in tune with their bodies and to develop a healthy relationship with food.


10) If you end up overdoing it, move on.


Eating intuitively takes time, dedication, practice, and did I say time? Acknowledging hunger and fullness is not something we are all familiar with, due to the restrictive nature of so many diets. Be patient and kind to yourself and know that there will be many more eating opportunities ahead!