You probably have a few more parties to go to before the big day…and a few more situations where you’re trying to figure out how to stick to a somewhat healthy eating routine when there are so many sweets and treats around.

The holidays are in full swing. You probably have a few more parties to go to before the big day…and a few more situations where you’re trying to figure out how to stick to a somewhat healthy eating routine when there are so many sweets and treats around. We haven’t had to deal with that this year since we’re in Costa Rica, though we really do miss the get-togethers.

But back home with a calendar full of parties, here’s where it’s a good idea to let your hair down just a little bit and don’t get too stressed over every bite. It’s all about habits, right? If the majority of the time you eat healthy, you’ve earned the ability to treat yourself to a few of your favorite guilty pleasures. But if you’re anything like me, you might have a hard time stopping at a few. Despite the fact that I can almost instantaneously feel the stomach pangs after eating a dairy and sugar-laden piece of chocolate, I manage to take a few too many bites before that feeling does kick in. Besides eating at home before the party and sneaking some nuts and a Larabar in my pockets, here are six things I do to help myself stick to my healthy eating habits as closely as possible, even in the hustle and bustle of Christmas fun.

1. Look for the healthiest alternatives. Try to avoid the creamy soups and dressings, opting for less offending foods that may contain some type of a fruit or vegetable ingredient. For dessert, if there’s a dark chocolate option, you’ll consume much less dairy, if any. Yes, it will have sugar, probably even super refined white sugar accompanied by refined flours, so that leads to my second step.

2. Take time in between bites and helpings. Wait five minutes before reaching for more to see if the way it feels in your stomach matches the way it tastes in your mouth. This gives you time to see how your body is going to react to it. I find that when I feel a food hit my stomach hard and leave an unpleasant feeling in my throat rather than the bliss I feel after eating one of the treats we make ourselves, that feeling will overrule the mouth’s urging to take another piece.

3. Smaller plates: less food, fewer stares. When I use the normal dinner plates and then manage to only partially fill it up with the few healthier alternatives available, I find that draws more stares and questions than if I use a smaller plate and make it appear more full. (I once had a cousin look at my plate and ask me what diet I was on. My response: “the living-until-you-die diet.”) If you’re up for that being a topic of conversation than no worries here. But of course with a smaller plate you’ll have less room to scoop up any of the less healthy options that might look appealing in a moment of weakness.

4. Get away from the buffet table. Once you have your food, get away from the buffet line and talk with people somewhere else where you will concentrate on the conversation rather than thinking about grabbing another sample. And remember suggestion number two before considering going back for more.

5. Drink (water) like a fish! Load up on the water before and during the meal. Keeping yourself hydrated will naturally make you feel less hungry and crave healthier options.

6. Pick a treat that you think you like and knock yourself out. Kelli and I did this when we went on our cruise last Christmas. Luckily, we were able to eat very healthy for the entire trip. So on our last day, being a full day on the ship with time to lounge around, we both chose one thing we used to enjoy eating and ate it without any remorse…until the nausea set in! Before I learned about food and health consequences, one of my favorite foods was hot dogs. I went to the buffet line by the pool, asked for a well-grilled hot dog, loaded it up with mustard, ketchup and onions, then went out on the deck to enjoy it. I had a big grin on my face when I took that first bite. A little less of a smile for the second, and by the third, I was ready to make myself throw up just to get it out of me. So, how’s that for a tip? Just choose wisely. Kelli picked crème brulee and loved it (she did remove the burnt crispy sugar topping, which might of helped). Allow yourself everyone once in a while to eat a food you used to enjoy, guilt free. You may love it and enjoy the experience, or like me, you may find out that it would have been better to continue with just the memory of liking that food.

So there you go. Have fun with the friends and family and relax. Sure, you might end up avoiding the majority of things that everyone else is eating. That’s ok. You don’t have to make a scene about it or by any means avoid these gatherings. Take what you can and allow yourself a few guilty pleasures as well.

Merry Christmas!

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