The holidays are a celebratory time often filled with drinks and treats. Here are the best tips for eating clean during the holidays. Stay on track with your health goals without feeling deprived!

a table set with healthy foods for a party.

Why It’s Not Always Easy To Eat Healthy During the Holidays

The festive season can be challenging when you are trying to maintain a clean eating regime. There are simply so many temptations, from buffet tables at parties and lavish family meals to alcohol-fueled gatherings and seasonal treats. 

There are other factors, too, that can make it hard to eat healthy. Your usual routine is turned on its head for a few weeks, which can leave you short on time and lured by processed convenience foods. 

Your stress levels may rise too, as you struggle to cope with all the extra demands that the holiday season brings. Your adrenal glands release cortisol in response, increasing your appetite and motivating you to eat even more. 

Studies have shown that weight gain during the holidays is a worldwide phenomenon. And, despite the usual flurry of January gym subscriptions, people find it difficult to shift those extra few pounds in the New Year.

So how do you manage to continue to eat clean when everyone else around you is indulging in treats?

Read on to discover 11 practical tips for maintaining your healthy lifestyle throughout the holiday season.

two drinks around a table full of oranges and cinnamon sticks.

11 Tips for Clean Eating During the Holidays

1. Start with a base of clean eating for your meals. Practice good eating habits at least 80% of the time.

Clean eating should be seen as a lifestyle choice – something you practice on a daily basis, not a “diet” that you follow from time to time. It involves foregoing typically unhealthy foods like excess sugar, salt, fats, refined grains, and additives in favor of healthy choices like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. 

After awhile, eating this way becomes second nature and you automatically seek out healthier options when choosing ingredients and meals. You also discover lots of substitutions you can make, enabling you to still enjoy your favorite dishes, but without too many undesirable ingredients. 

These habits should be helpful as the holiday season approaches, and you will find that you can apply the same principles to your festive cooking. 

So, when planning meals for holiday parties or your weekly menu:

  • Ensure your festive table contains plenty of nutritious vegetables.
  • Make your own cranberry sauce with fresh berries and avoid the store-bought version, which is loaded with sugar.
  • Try to snack on real foods without a lot of added sugars or salt. Healthy snacks can help you feel satiated and prevent over-indulging in higher-calorie meals and desserts.
  • Refer to my list of healthy Thanksgiving recipes, Thanksgiving side dishes, Thanksgiving desserts, and Christmas recipes for inspiration.

Don’t beat yourself up over the occasional treat, but do aim to eat clean meals and ingredients at least 80% of the time. 

thanksgiving vegetable tray in shape of turkey.

2. Set a goal for the rest of the year

Set yourself clean eating goals NOW – ahead of the holiday season and definitely before January, when much of the set-backs from indulging during the holidays has already been done.

A good way to set goals for yourself is to follow the “SMART” principle. This means your goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

So what are some good examples of SMART goals when it comes to clean eating?

For at least 80% of the time this week you could:

  • Aim to eat home-cooked meals instead of restaurant food.
  • Swap unhealthy snacks like cookies or chips for nutritious treats like nuts or fruit.
  • Replace soda or sugary juices with water.
  • Limit your desserts or treats to one serving a day.
  • Monitor your symptoms such as bloating or low energy in a journal to help make the connection between food and how you feel.

All of these goals are specific, doable, and easy to measure. 

details of the elements of a SMART goal on a piece of notebook paper.

3. Consider non-food related gatherings with friends

There is a tendency within our culture to accompany gatherings with plenty of food and drink. But, it is possible to have a great time over the festive season without involving food or alcohol at all!

Here are some great ideas for getting together with friends during the holidays without indulging in unhealthy treats:

  • Find an outdoor ice rink and skate under twinkling lights for an unforgettable Christmas memory.
  • Pick a festive playlist and put together a gift-wrapping party, turning a chore into a fun, social occasion.
  • Locate the best seasonal light displays near you and walk through them together.
  • Arrange an evening with board games or charades.
  • Organize a tea-tasting session and discover a new flavor you love.
  • Go caroling.
  • Volunteer as a group and bring festive cheer to others.

If you do happen to find yourself at social events where food is served, do your socializing away from the serving table so you are less likely to snack as you chat.

two people holding hands and ice skating.

4. Never go to a party hungry

Not going to a party hungry is one of the simplest and most effective ways to avoid over-indulging during the holidays.

It can be tempting to cut down on food during the day in order to “save yourself” for an event, but this is a recipe for disaster. Instead, eat regular, small meals throughout the day, culminating in a nutritious snack right before you leave.

Of course, you want to be able to enjoy some of the treats your host has prepared, but this will ensure you don’t go too far.

Good pre-party snacks include healthy proteins like eggs, Greek yogurt, and lean meats or fish along with complex carbs like whole wheat bread or whole grains. Homemade low-sugar trail mix is another nutrient-dense option.

See my full list of healthy snacks you can make at home.

5. Stick with your exercise program

Although it can be difficult to maintain your regular exercise schedule when your routine is interrupted, try to stick with it as closely as possible.

Not only will this maintain your fitness level and support your digestion, but it will help you stay on top of those rising stress levels, too.

If you find yourself struggling to do so, then consider how you can modify your program in order to meet your goals. For example, if your regular schedule includes a daily 30-minute workout, think about breaking it down into 3 x 10-minute blocks of high-intensity exercise (a few brisk walks, for example, or sessions on a stationary bike).

You could also consider replacing your regular form of exercise with another, just for the duration of the holidays.

Ideas include:

  • Walks with friends and family, especially after meals
  • Ice skating
  • Snow activities (if the weather allows) such as sledding
  • Dancing (all those parties will give you plenty of opportunities!)

Even a short 10-minute walk is a great way to get moving and reduce stress. Try it!

6. Manage your stress

As mentioned earlier, too much stress and the accompanying increase in appetite can make it tempting to put your clean eating goals to one side. So it’s very important to manage your stress levels during the holiday season.

First and foremost, ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Late-night parties and celebrations may mean you don’t get the sleep you need. This can affect your blood sugar levels, causing you to crave fatty or sugary foods.

Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, ideally going to bed and rising as close to your usual times as possible. 

Also, be sure to schedule some time for yourself every day so you have a chance to recharge between activities. This can be as simple as going for a solitary walk, having a relaxing bath, or taking a nap. 

Prioritize your self-care during the holiday season and consider it a gift to yourself.

7. Say no to energy-sapping foods

With all the demands of the holiday season, maintaining your energy levels is important. The best way to do this is to consume foods that provide a steady source of energy and avoid those that cause your blood sugar to peak, then crash.

Foods that boost your energy levels include lean proteins like chicken and fish, nuts, eggs, oatmeal, and beans. Dark chocolate is a great option, too, and doubles up as a festive treat.

Foods to avoid include most processed foods, in particular those loaded with added sugar, salt, or unhealthy fats. These provide “empty” calories that give you a temporary burst of energy, followed by a crash that leaves you more tired – and hungry! – than ever.

See this list of the best clean eating recipes for beginners.

a woman with her hand up in front of a plate of two donuts.

8. Find a partner or support system to track progress

The importance of a friend or network of people providing support in your healthy eating journey cannot be overstated.

Social media networks like Facebook can be invaluable for finding like-minded individuals for encouragement and accountability. Join my clean eating support group!

Studies have demonstrated that the right support is fundamental to healthy lifestyle improvements in all sorts of situations. These include increasing physical activity, changing the diet to deal with diabetes, and managing high blood pressure.

Sometimes it can feel as if you’re the only one trying to eat healthily in a group setting. To have others in the same situation with whom you can discuss things is enormously helpful in maintaining your resolve.

two women walking together outside.

9. Consider doing an alcohol-free or sugar-free challenge

With support from your friend or network, why not tackle a challenge to go without sugar or alcohol altogether throughout the holiday season?

Before embarking on the challenge, make sure you have lined up some enjoyable alternatives so you don’t feel as if you’re missing out. Use yummy spices like cinnamon or nutmeg to add flavor to sweet dishes without sugar, and stock up on your favorite fruits. 

Instead of alcohol, try healthy alternatives like kombucha, soda with fresh fruit, or even a virgin Bloody Mary.

For additional support, try my Sugar-Free Challenge mini-course.

two glasses of a virgin Bloody Mary.

10. Enjoy time spent with your loved ones

It may sound corny, but all the emphasis on food and drink around the holiday season means we often overlook the real point of it all – precious time spent with friends and family!

Try to shift your focus from food to creating great memories with the people you love. This can mean anything from conversations or shared activities to games and long walks together. 

Offer to help serve the food and clean up at any family events you attend. Not only will this give you less time to indulge at the table, but it will also give you more time with the people you care about.

11. Celebrate indulgences as a special occasion

Clean eating is not a form of punishment – it is a healthy, rewarding, and enjoyable lifestyle. And part of any enjoyable lifestyle is indulging in the odd guilt-free treat here and there.

During the holiday season, pick a couple of treats that you really love and allow yourself a sensible serving of each. Make the most of them by eating slowly and mindfully – concentrating on the sensation of eating the food while savoring each and every bite. 

This is a useful technique to use at other times, too, and encourages a deeper understanding and appreciation of food.  

a plate of snowflake, snowman, and gingerbread man cookies.

FAQs

Can I still go to holiday parties while trying to eat clean?

Absolutely! The purpose of eating clean is to enjoy a healthy life, not to restrict your activities and miss out on all the fun.

Here are some tips to enjoy holiday parties without compromising your clean eating goals:

Offer to bring your own dish to a party so you have a healthy option if needed.

Fill up as much as possible on healthy offerings such as sliced raw veggies and salads from the buffet table before trying other dishes.

Allow everyone to serve themselves before you from a buffet – everything looks a little less tempting after.

Use a small plate if you are serving yourself. This is an effective way to “trick” your mind into consuming less food.

Avoid processed, creamy, or fried foods as much as possible.

Eat slowly and wait for at least 20 minutes after your plate is empty before going for more food. This is how long it takes for your brain to realize that you are full.
Are there clean eating desserts I can eat during the holidays?

Fortunately, you have plenty of healthy options open to you when it comes to dessert!

Here are some great recipes to try:

Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie
Vegan Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sauce
Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie
Instant Pot Baked Apples
Tahini Chocolate Truffles with Pink Sea Salt
Can I drink alcohol with a clean eating approach?


Aim to consume alcohol in moderation and try to choose options that are made with simple ingredients. This means avoiding drinks packed with lots of sugar and empty calories.

Some options include a Bloody Mary, dry wine (red or white), spirits served on the rocks, and a vodka soda.

To keep your consumption as low as possible at a holiday party, start off with a healthy, nonalcoholic drink such as sparkling water. This will take the edge off your thirst. Then, aim to drink a glass of water after every alcoholic drink to avoid dehydration.

Conclusions

By following this guide to clean eating through the holidays you should be able to navigate your way through the festivities without any negative impact on your health. 

But just remember that the odd indulgence is part of the fun, so savor any treats you choose and get right back to clean eating with your next meal.

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Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.