12 Healthy Tips for Surviving the 12 Days of Christmas

Here it comes — that stretch of holiday festivities that bring endless opportunities to overindulge.

While it ’tis the season to be jolly, everywhere you turn you come face-to-face with all those tempting holiday foods. Are you worried that the constant exposure to goodies will start to weigh on your willpower like so many choruses of “The 12 Days of Christmas?”

What can you do to keep your willpower from sliding down that slippery snow-covered slope? The key is to change your mind set.

Follow these bits of advice to avoid overindulging over the holidays:

1. Gear up. Don’t wait for the holiday itself to start in on a healthy eating regimen. Prepare in advance as if you were training for a marathon. Clean up your diet now so your body remembers that it likes to feel healthy.

2. Craft a plan. Look at the season as a whole and pinpoint all the holiday parties, family dinners, and hosting duties you’ve scheduled. Consider your triggers — like sweets, alcohol, or your grandma’s stuffing and mashed potatoes. Then, plan how you’re going to handle each event. Maybe you’ll allow yourself a few drinks at one and your favorite dessert at another. Decide before you walk in the door.

3. Don’t skip meals. On the day of an event, you might be tempted to skip meals and “save up” calories. That’s a bad idea that will only leave you hungry, cranky, and more apt to overindulge. If you arrive starving, chances are you’ll inhale calorie-rich hors d’oeuvres or down too many drinks that go straight to your head. Instead, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch the day of the party and have a snack before you go. That way you can pace yourself and make better choices.

4. Make the rounds. When you arrive at an event, look at all the food first. Browse the buffet and check out the dessert table so you can adjust your plan. If you don’t normally eat a certain food, don’t take it just because it’s there. Only choose things you really love. Keep an eye out for lighter options like fruit, veggies, and salad. If you’re worried you won’t find healthy fare, bring a favorite dish with you.

5. Pump yourself up. Come up with a favorite mantra you can repeat when weakness sets in, like “Keep those visions of sugar plums out of my head,” or “Who wants a belly like a bowl full of jelly?”

6. Redirect your focus. Of course there’s more to the holidays than eating. Focus on the people who are coming together, and the love, gratitude, and great conversation that you share.

7. Find a friend. Sit next to the healthiest person in the room. We’re influenced by what those around us eat. You’ll make better choices simply by association.

8. Eat mindfully. Love pecan pie? Don’t just pick at it when no one’s watching. Instead, make a conscious choice to have a piece and truly enjoy it. Help yourself to one slice, sit down, and savor every bite. You’ll be more satisfied and less likely to overeat. When you’re finished, don’t beat yourself up about it. Own your choice without shame.

9. Clear your plate. As soon as you feel full, take your plate to the kitchen and get rid of it so you’re not tempted to go back for more.

10. Stay hydrated. Many times we mistake thirst for hunger, so drink lots of water. Add ice when you can. Have a glass of water between each alcoholic drink and before dessert. If you’re hosting, make big pitchers of water readily available everywhere.

11. Host healthy. If you’re doing the cooking, don’t deliberately set yourself up for torture. You’re not obligated to make foods that will derail you just because it’s tradition. Honor yourself by serving healthier versions of traditional favorites. Let’s face it: Nobody wants to gain weight during the holidays or leave your house feeling sick. Don’t think of cooking lighter as depriving your loved ones, but giving them the gift of health. They likely won’t even notice you skimped on the cheese, and may even ask for your quinoa stuffing recipe.

12. Set limits. Remember, each holiday is one day. If you have leftovers, give yourself permission to throw them away without feeling guilty. Continuing to eat like it’s a holiday for days afterward will only undermine your hard-earned efforts. On the day following your feast, enjoy a fresh start and head into the New Year as a healthy you!