I’ve been talking a lot about holiday temptations and how to stay on track with healthy habits lately. That’s because I hear so many women say what Jessie said to me at a recent gathering. “I’m so good most of the year,” she told me. “But when I’m at these parties I find myself grazing on treats — even if I don’t really like them!”

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

It seems like sweets are seen as a necessity during the holidays. They are tasty, and we often get to enjoy things this time of year that are rarely available at other times. 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 in a crazy direction! The key 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 what I told women every single day.

At that point, I had rid my diet of sugar almost completely. That’s 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. I still bring treats to parties, but I look for healthier recipes, use xylitol instead of sugar to sweeten them, and have 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 it doesn’t do anyone any good to feel guilty if they have overindulged. So what are some ways to enjoy a bit of sugar without diving head first into a frenzy of consumption?

5 Tips for Avoiding Temptation at Holiday Parties

The following five tips have worked well for me and my patients. I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments below!

  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. Make your contribution a healthy, tasty treat. I always bring something to parties that I know I feel good about eating. And there are so many great options 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 stevia 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 indulging. Nuts, eggs, and cheese are all great sources of protein. If the desserts on offer don’t include these, you can always add a handful of nuts or stick of cheese 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 bit will do!
  5. Pre-game with a healthy snack or small meal. 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!

Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD