How to Eat Well at Holiday Parties

friends eating dinner

While holiday parties are meant to be social, festive, and fun, you might find yourself worried about how to stay mindful with your health goals—while still having a good time—amid the array of party spreads coming your way this holiday season.

While reckless indulging is probably not what you want for yourself, feeling restricted is no fun either. You likely want to celebrate with everyone else, while still feeling good about your health and your choices.

So, whether you attend a whirlwind of happy hours, cocktail parties, office luncheons, or sit-down dinners, these holiday how-to’s will help you find a healthy balance to enjoy the festivities and parties of the holiday season.

1. Nourish Yourself

One of the biggest mistakes you can make this holiday season is showing up at a party hungry. Not only will you usually be offered a drink (often alcoholic) upon arriving (not always the best ingredient for well-thought-out choices) but being overly hungry while choosing from an endless buffet of goodies often leads to hasty noshing. 

One study showed that when women chose low-glycemic foods (foods that turn to sugar more slowly) throughout the day—keeping their blood sugar balanced—those foods helped them to curb cravings and decrease their overall food intake.

Try eating well-balanced meals throughout the day (complete with protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates) and a high-protein snack, if needed, an hour or two before you put your party hat on!

2. Reflect on What You Want

While you may be busy with your holiday to-do list, and your calendar of social events may be filling up quickly, remember to reflect upon what you want this holiday season (and beyond).

  • Are you working with a particular health goal?
  • Have you taken some time to reflect on what feels good in your body and mind?
  • Are you clear on a personal intention this holiday season?

Setting intentions is an age-old practice that dates back centuries in the Vedic texts—ancient texts from India dating back as early as 1000 BCE—known as the Upanishads. Often referred to as sankalpa, the seed of intent, setting an intention is an artful practice that is said to shape your destiny.

One study showed that the participants who wrote down their goals, shared their goals, and created accountability for their goals accomplished significantly more progress toward their goals than those who did not.

Taking a couple of minutes before a holiday party to ask yourself what you are intending or focusing on will gently remind you to anchor yourself in your goals and intentions. Remembering your intention for a healthful and pleasurable holiday season is a tried-and-true reminder to help you stay on track with what you want.

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3. Practice Aligned Action

Your life would likely be easier and more manageable if you were able to consistently align your actions with what you want for yourself. In fact, spur-of-the-moment food choices may be one of the most common situations in which people forget what it is they want or intend and find themselves doing the exact opposite. The good news is that practicing aligned action—actions aligned with your intentions—is a mission that gets easier with time, practice, and frequency.

Once you have reflected on your intentions or goals for a holiday party (and beyond), perhaps including a little indulging, you can practice aligned action. Researchers have found that setting goals focused on various aspects of life as well as health, creates a food consciousness that can remove the various obstacles to healthy eating and improve overall diet.

4. Stay Hydrated

It may seem obvious, but while you are socializing with your community, tasting delicious holiday bites, and even sipping on the occasional cocktail, be sure you remember to drink water

Research shows that hydration is not only an imperative part of our health, but hydration also directly affects cognitive function, concentration, and alertness.

One study showed that thirst may not be the most effective signal for when to drink water. You may therefore need to remind yourself to drink more water. Try setting aside times to drink water before, throughout, and after your holiday parties. Consider sipping on some water before you leave for the party, in between cocktails, before and after the meal, and after you get home. This way, hydrating with water will not slip your mind.

5. Eat Mindfully

A simple way to stay calm and centered—making mindful eating decisions more manageable—is to use your breath. Slow, deep breaths relax the body and mind and activate the parasympathetic (calming) branch of your nervous system.

One study found that when you are in a calm state of being, such as after practicing yogic asana and breathing, digestion is improved, including managing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and associated symptoms.

Try breathing before you take each bite. This simple practice allows you to listen to your body, feel your hunger and satiation cues more easily, improve your digestion, and be the witness in your eating experience.

6. Enjoy

Taking each of the above how-to’s into consideration allows you to find more pleasure, freedom, and joy in your holiday experience before the party, during the social gathering, and for the days to come. 

Pleasure is often known as a powerful healing ingredient in your overall health. Taking pleasure in food can also elevate and create a positive response in your brain chemistry. Research shows that for individuals with a high BMI (body-mass index), focusing on the combination tastiness and pleasure when eating healthy food may lead to more successful self-control and healthier food behaviors. While researchers note that we need more scientific studies about pleasure and happiness, considerable progress has been made.

Learning to savor the pleasure that you do have in the moment, stay in tune with your senses, and become aware of what is arising in your body will act as a lighthouse for your inner wisdom, leading you toward more a more pleasurable, healthful, and enjoyable holiday season.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.


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About the Author
SueVanRaes

Sue Van Raes

Functional nutritionist and Food Psychology Specialist
Sue Van Raes is a functional nutritionist, food psychology specialist, and author in Boulder Co. As founder of Boulder Nutrition , Sue helps people navigate how to make sustainable changes in their health and make peace with their plate. Sue uses a combination of science-based testing, clinical nutrition, holistic nutrition, natural medicine, functional medicine, homeopathy, and metabolic typing to guide folks in experiencing clarity, vitality, and body-positive living. She works with clients locally, remotely, online, and on her local and international health and yoga retreats....Read more