Updated: Dec. 17th, 2023

How many holiday parties have you been to this month? And how have your eating habits been at those events?

If you’re anything like Jessie, who I was chatting with at a recent party I was at, you’ve been to numerous events, and you haven’t made the healthiest choices. “I’m so good most of the year,” Jessie told me. “But when I’m at these parties I find myself grazing on a little of everything – even things I don’t even really like!”

I bet you can relate. I think we’ve all found ourselves in those situations at one time or another, especially during the holiday season. We find ourselves in social situations that may feel awkward or unfamiliar, and what do we do? Head to the buffet table – especially the desserts.

Sugar is such a challenge for so many women. And during the holiday season, sweet treats are everywhere you turn! At the office, holiday events with family and friends, at home in our own kitchens — it’s tough to avoid chocolates, cakes, pastries, cookies, and candies. Heck, I’ve even been handed candy canes at the door to my favorite department store, just for walking in!

So many people see sweets as a necessity during the holidays. They can’t imagine a party without a decadent table filled with delicious temptations. And many of these things are tasty. The limited availability (many things aren’t easily found at other times of the year) adds to the pressure to enjoy it all while we can.

This season is about fun and joy – and if a little bit of sweetness helps you relax and enjoy yourself, go for it. But although we can veer off our straight and narrow path a little this time of year, we don’t have to go totally crazy! The key to maintaining health and wellness is to indulge mindfully and moderately.

When my children were younger, I went wild baking during the holidays. I made cookies, candies and bread for everyone. But several years ago, as I prepared a recipe for a party I was attending, I realized I had just put two cups of white sugar in the mixing bowl. This is crazy, I thought, realizing that my actions were contradicting the advice I gave women every single day.

I wasn’t eating sugar at all by then, because I knew the negative impact sugar has on the body. Most of the year, I didn’t even have a bag of white sugar in the house. But here I was, baking up a tasty – but incredibly unhealthy – treat for my friends.

That was a wake up call. It was time to do something different – and I have. Since that day, the treats I bring to parties are made from healthier recipes, using xylitol instead of sugar to sweeten them. I’ve stopped feeding my friends and family things I won’t eat myself!

Finding that balance can still be tricky. I don’t want to be overly rigid, and guilt doesn’t help if you have overindulged. In fact, feeling guilty can lead to a downward spiral of even more unhealthy habits.

5 Tips for Avoiding Temptation at Holiday Parties

So what are some ways to enjoy a bit of sugar without diving head first into a frenzy of consumption? The following five tips have worked well for me and my patients.

  1. Step away from the party for a quick walk. Have you ever found yourself standing awkwardly at a party, looking for something to do? That’s one big reason we end up at the buffet table over and over again! We like to be busy. And if we’re just standing or sitting there, we might meet that need by keeping our mouths in motion! Plan ahead to meet a friend halfway through the event to take a walk around the block. It’s also a great chance to catch up one on one!
  2. Bring something healthy (and tasty) to add to the table. When I bring something I know I’d feel good about eating, I know there will be an option even if the rest of the table is laden with sugar-filled selections. And there are so many delicious treats that are more nutritious than traditional Christmas cookies. One of my favorites is a baked apple crisp with oats and walnuts. Fresh berries with just a dollop of real whipped cream are another great choice. Recipes that use almond meal or protein powder give a nutritious boost. Sweetening with xylitol instead of sugar is another great way to shift in a healthier direction.
  3. Balance indulgence with some protein. One of the biggest problems with sugar is the way it makes your insulin spike in your bloodstream. When you eat sweets with protein and/or fiber, it slows that spike and helps avoid storing the sugar as fat. A more moderate rise in insulin also helps fend off the sugar crash that often leads to even more indulgence. Nuts, eggs, and cheese are all great sources of protein. If there’s nothing on the table that includes these, you can always add a handful of nuts or a cheese stick on the side.
  4. Take it slow! You don’t need to make a mad dash to the dessert table the moment you arrive. Mingle first, stopping to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while. Munch on veggies or other healthy appetizers as you carefully select which treats are truly worth it. Then savor those treats. Eat slowly and really taste what you are eating. Remember – this isn’t the last party you’ll ever go to. You don’t have to try everything! And you don’t have to eat a huge piece of something to enjoy it — sometimes, just one bite will do!
  5. Eat a healthy snack or small meal before you go. Everything looks better when you are hungry! It’s so much harder to control the choices you make if you haven’t eaten in hours. That’s why showing up to a party hungry isn’t wise. Eat before you go so your brain – not your empty belly – can be in charge!

This is a festive, fun time of year and I want you to enjoy every moment. Moderation helps ensure you’ll feel good about the treats you select and the moments afterwards!