It happens every single year around this time: Unhealthy food starts to appear (almost at the same rate as articles about watching your waistline). I’ll admit that when I happened upon the Halloween bowl of candy last month, I couldn’t resist grabbing a handful to stash away in my drawer for “emergencies”—you know, those long, dark afternoons that seem to practically demand something sweet before any more work can commence.
Of course, those emergencies are less of an issue around this time of year, when some co-worker or another is bringing in cookies, or some client is sending boxes of chocolate, or some department is celebrating this success or that—with champagne for the entire company!
The only real issue is figuring out a way to enjoy the various celebrations without abandoning your decision to try and stay healthy at work. Learning how to remain committed to whatever health goals you’ve set for yourself while Rob from engineering is offering you a seasonal, spiced ale and Carrie from human resources is holding out her grandma’s famous truffles might feel impossible, but it’s not.
And you can do it without following the advice of some article that instructs you to drink water flavored with lemon and to bring your own healthy snacks with you everywhere so you’re not tempted by the holiday delights on offer (in what world does that even work, anyway?). I’ve never been one for deprivation, and I don’t think it’s realistic to totally abstain during the holidays, even if you do care about your health.
Plus, there are far more realistic ways to enjoy this time of year without waking up on January 1st and regretting the past six weeks of your life. In an effort to get honest advice on how you can take part in the season without denying yourself, I reached out to Brooklyn-based holistic nutrition counselor, Jennifer Schonborn, for tips.
Don’t Write Off the Entire Month
Schonborn doesn’t recommend that you give yourself clearance to eat and drink every single thing that comes your way—even if it is in honor of the “season.” Instead, she suggests eating whatever you like on the big holiday feasting days, so long as you’re not inclined to treat the entire month of December as one endless buffet.
“There’s no reason you should be eating twice what you’d normally consume on a random weekday, using the justification that ‘Hey, it’s holiday season!’” explains Schonborn. Be first in line to dig into your mom’s yearly pot roast, cheesy potatoes, and creamed spinach. Allow yourself seconds. Raise your hand when someone asks who wants dessert. Then, during the rest of the month, make sure not to go overboard every single time you’re dining out month just because ’tis the season.
Do Consider a Self-Imposed Limit
It’s up to you to decide how many cocktails you can handle at your holiday happy hour without sacrificing the next day’s performance or abandoning your morning workout. Just because your team’s decided to order wine at lunch doesn’t mean you have to accept a second glass if you know it’ll mean the end of your productivity or a slippery slope into poor food choices for the rest of the day.
Schonborn says that “you may want to go in to any holiday party you’re attending with an idea of limits—you’ll only have x number of drinks (perhaps drinking water or club soda between each round of boozy drinks).” It can be easy to get caught up in the moment, so opting for a non-alcoholic drink after each alcoholic one can help you stay level-headed and keep you on track to make good choices.
Don’t Forget About the Healthy Options You Know and Love
I can’t speak for you, but I generally find that when I’ve treated myself one too many meals in a row, I start to crave something green and good for me. It’s important not to lose sight of the many yummy and healthy options that you reached for before the party started.
After you’ve had your fill of pigs in a blanket at the holiday party, you can still have a bacon, egg, and cheese the next morning. But Schonborn’s advice is to eat lots of veggies, fruits, and lean meats on those days when you don’t have a party or dinner to attend. And if you find that you’re not feeling as fit as you normally do, see if you can squeeze in an additional 20 minutes of exercise each week.
Do Remember the Reason for the Season
Again, no one’s saying that you can’t try the chocolate-covered cherries being passed around or that you must forgo the hard cider in favor of zero-calorie cranberry seltzer, but don’t make the mistake of using the holidays as an excuse for overdoing it to the point where you forget that the true meaning is about bonding and connecting with the people around you.
“When you arrive at a party, focus your attention on the people around you, rather than the food,” Schonborn suggests. If you do this, you won’t likely get caught up with trying every single hors‘doeuvres or making sure your glass is never empty. You’ll have far better long-term memories of the connections you make with colleagues at the company party than you will of the various types of cheese you managed to fit on your plate.
The holiday season should be an enjoyable one—and a great part of that enjoyment can come from all those extra food and drinks—but it doesn’t have to be one you look on with regret once the New Year’s Eve glitter settles. Instead of going all in at every single turn, make choices that you can be happy with and that will, ultimately, make you feel as healthy as you felt before you got caught up in all that holiday cheer and eggnog.
Photo of work holiday gathering courtesy of BraunS/Getty Images.
Stacey Lastoe is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author