A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative

Mindful Holiday Eating

Posted December 04, 2015

The holiday season has officially arrived! With nonstop work events, holiday parties and family gatherings, it’s easy to overindulge this time of year. But … never fear! We’re here to help you win the battle over the buffet table. Before you hit the party circuit, review these tips for mastering portion control and eating wisely this season.

Eat Before You Leave

Don’t skip meals before an event, as it will ensure that you will overeat later. “Showing up hungry to a party is a recipe for failure,” says UVA Heart and Vascular Center dietitian Katherine Basbaum, MS, RD. During the day, eat healthy, balanced meals that include whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and lean protein such as low-fat or fat-free dairy, eggs, nut butters, beans, legumes, chicken and fish.  Just before you leave, have a small snack, such as a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts. You won’t be ravenous when you arrive, so you’ll be less likely to overindulge.

Make Smart Drink Choices

Holiday spirits are packed with hidden calories, so take it easy on the eggnog. Better yet, avoid it altogether. “Alcoholic drinks are one of the classic sources of empty calories, meaning you’re getting plenty of calories but zero nutrition,” says Basbaum. Tis the season, however, so if you do partake, stick with a light beer, a vodka and soda with lemon or wine spritzer. Use a smaller cup if you can or sip slowly. Another good option: alternate a glass of water with your cocktails, which will cut down on your calorie intake … and may save you an Uber fare as well.

Mind Your Plate

The secret to portion control: divide and conquer. Imagine your dinner plate is sectioned into quarters. “If possible, you should fill a quarter of your plate with lean protein like chicken skewers or sliced turkey,” says Basbaum. Limit starches to a quarter of the plate as well. “These can get a little trickier because there are so many decadent starchy carbs around the holidays,” says Basbaum. “Instead of loading your plate with every kind – crackers, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes – opt for a small portion of just one or two favorites.” Seek out fresh fruits, vegetables and salads for the remaining half of your plate. “If you go for seconds, those fresh items should be your picks,” says Basbaum. Last – you don’t have to deny yourself dessert. Just use common sense when it comes to serving size.

Take Time to Enjoy

Socializing while you are eating will help slow down your pace and may just keep you from making a return trip to the buffet line. “Research tells us it takes 20 minutes for the brain to register satiety and fullness, so be sure to wait a while before heading back for seconds,” says Basbaum.


Hosting a holiday party this year? Take a look at our library of heart-healthy recipes and make it easy for your guests to eat smart.

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