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Nutrition and the Holidays: 5 Tips to Navigate Holiday Food the Right Way

By Lauren Mitchell, MS, RDN, METS I | Nov. 15, 2019, 1:10 p.m. (ET)

beautiful assortment holiday meal

The holidays are right around the corner, which means parties are springing up almost every weekend. Thanksgiving – the most notorious holiday for food indulgence – is upon us. It’s hard to navigate the holidays, with hundreds of food decisions every day, and stay on track with our health and training goals. How do we pick food without feeling guilty or “bad about ourselves” when we are wanting a special dish or dessert? 

Rather than engaging in conversation with our friends and family, what we are going to put on our plate becomes the highlight of the meal. Let’s get back to the notion that the holidays are more about spending time with one another rather than the over-indulgence of food. Here are 5 tips to navigate the holidays the right way:

Tip #1: Plan and prepare

Understanding there will always be a special event around the corner will take away the excuse for potential over-indulgence – treating these events as normal occurrences will prevent over-indulging. This takes planning and preparation, and a keen eye on controlling your blood sugar throughout the day for an evening event. Do your best by preparing foods with carbohydrate, protein and fat until the event, and then choose wisely during. Allow yourself to have a “miss” or two. 

Tip #2: Become an intuitive eater

Why do we eat? What drives our hunger cues? There are three types of hunger: habitual, emotional and biological. Sometimes we eat food solely because of a routine (habitual) or we consume food based off how we are feeling that day (emotional). Prior to going to an event, take time to assess your own hunger level. First, decide if you are biologically hungry for a meal or a snack. Being able to decipher the difference in your hunger levels, whether biological, emotional or habitual, is the first step towards intuitive eating.

Tip #3: Choose protein first

Why? Protein is not really any more important than other nutrients, but endurance athletes usually have trouble including protein-rich food sources while carbohydrates are in abundance. Having a serving of protein with each meal and snack can optimize your blood sugar levels, improve your metabolic efficiency, curb hunger and help you feel fuller for longer. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient when compared to carbohydrate and fat. Having a full hand of a protein-rich food with each meal is a great way to begin building your plate. For snacks, aim for about half of your hand. Be on the lookout for the shrimp cocktail, baked turkey and holiday kebabs. 

Tip #4: Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach

After assessing your own hunger, determining your portion size comes next. Remember, there are no good or bad foods unless you have a diagnosed disease state. Food can help improve health outcomes and power your body on a metabolic level to better your sports performance. Determining where you are in your training cycle is a key indicator of the portion size that you should consume. If you have a high training week, you may need more carbohydrates on your plate than if you are in a recovery week or off-season. If it’s a rest/recovery week, filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables and including at least a full hand of protein is a great way to stay on track. When not building a full plate, the best snack to reach for is one with protein, fiber and fat. These all help you feel fuller for longer and can help delay cravings. Being in tune with what you need to eat can help prevent over-eating.

Tip #5: Functional foods

With the Holiday season upon us, there is going to be copious amounts of food and choices. Be on the lookout for the vegetable and fruit tray, shrimp cocktail, and of course, turkey and pumpkin! Turkey is a great source of protein with a nutritious profile of B-vitamins, selenium and zinc. Pumpkin is an excellent source of beta-carotene and vitamin K.

Navigating the holidays through nutritional intake can be tough, but these five tips will certainly be added tools in your toolbox to have a healthy and happy holiday season.


Lauren Mitchell is a Registered Sport Dietitian at eNRG Performance. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Sciences with an emphasis in Sports Nutrition and Wellness. Contact her at or