Happy, Healthy Holidays

December 15th, 2020

By Brianna dela Torre

For many, the holidays are celebrated with friends and loved ones, enjoying both the company and the food. While this year is different, with smaller gatherings both in-person and virtually, the tendency to overindulge in holiday meals may still remain. Rather than approaching the month of December with a deficit mindset, thinking about all the foods you will feel compelled to limit – can you take control of your plate by having a growth mindset instead? Enjoying December with this idea in mind can help to focus on all the pleasure the meals, friends and family bring to the table. 

Listen: Hearing the Body

We’ve all experienced a time where our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and as a result felt discomfort following a meal. This holiday season, take time to enjoy what’s on your plate to give the body enough time to tell you when it’s had enough. Nutritional needs change daily based on activity level, and you can best meet these needs by listening to hunger and satiety cues1. Eating slower allows enough time for your brain to tell the stomach when it’s had enough to avoid overeating.2 0 After everyone finishes eating, before going back for seconds, can you have a discussion on why some specific foods are present on the table? What is their cultural or familial significance? This can help you gain a deeper connection to the meal, and you may realize you don’t want that second helping after all. 

Move: Keep Exercise Part of the Daily Routine  

A central part of a balanced lifestyle involves staying active, and the holidays are no exception. The American Heart Association recommends participating in 30 minutes of activity each day to help maintain good health. The intensity of this activity can vary from weight training to a walk around the neighborhood. Worried about not meeting the time recommendation? Research shows that any amount of activity helps to increase overall health when compared with a sedentary lifestyle; and activities such as brisk walks can be broken up into several 5 to 10 minute increments throughout the day3. Adding in a 10-minute walk and talk, either in-person or on the phone after dinner is a great way to stay active and check in with loved ones. Plus, it provides the body time to see if you truly want to go back for seconds.   

Plan: Portion Size & Serving Size 

Controlling the portions of food on your plate prior to eating is an effective way to know how much and of what you are eating.

  • Portion size is a chosen amount of food without a method of measure.
  • Serving size relates to a standardized amount.

To best understand the amount of food being consumed, use items like measuring cups and spoons. Don’t have these items on-hand? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a guide to measurement using common household items4

Forgive: Food Leniency 

There are a number of reasons why we eat. While food is needed to fuel the body, it’s also an important part of cultural and social interactions. Eating behavior is strongly influenced by social context, and we eat differently when we are alone than when we are with others5. This holiday season, don’t punish yourself by skipping meals or heavily restricting intake. Instead, find the intersection where your hunger cues and cravings meet. Strive to better understand your family’s food traditions to enjoy time spent with loved ones. 

Brianna dela TorreBrianna dela Torre is a graduate student with the Dietitian Nutritionist Program at the University of Pittsburgh. Her areas of interest are community nutrition, nutrition education and nutrition in the media.  






  1. Fetters KA, How to Know if You’re Actually Hungry. US News. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2016-03-11/how-to-know-if-youre-actually-hungry  Accessed December 1, 2020.
  2. Macdonald A, Why eating slowly may help you feel full faster. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/why-eating-slowly-may-help-you-feel-full-faster-20101019605 Accessed December 1, 2020.
  3. American Heart Association: Recommendations for Physical Activity in Kids and Adults. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults Accessed December 1, 2020
  4. Ellis E. Serving Size vs Portion Size: Is There a Difference. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/serving-size-vs-portion-size-is-there-a-difference Accessed December 1, 2020. 
  5. Higgs S, Thomas J. Social influences on eating. Behavioral Sciences. 9 (p 1-6). June 2016.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2015.10.005



Posted by: Julie Stefanski

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