The NEW Rules of Healthy Holiday Eating

Around this time of year, I always see tons of articles bursting with tips to help me “avoid holiday weight gain” or “stay on track this holiday season.”

“Never show up to parties hungry!”

“Reach for protein first!”

“Don’t drink your calories!”

I’ve even seen multiple articles suggest the “3-bite rule.” One sold it to me like this: “You’ll get that amazing first taste, a satisfying middle one, and then a lingering third bite.”

PUH-LEASE. 3 bites?? Of Mom’s perfect pecan pie—aka HEAVEN—aka a special treat you haven’t had since last year?

I don’t know about you, but if I spent hours in the kitchen preparing a special meal for my family and saw someone take 3 BITES of something and then THROW THE REST AWAY (as that article specifically recommended), I would be incredibly hurt. (Is it just me?)

When I see these articles calling our well-intentioned family members “food pushers” and teaching us tricks to “just say no,” it just really rubs me the wrong way.

Here’s the thing.

Humans love food. (We were made that way.)

And we love to use food to connect with and express our love to other people. That’s why we weave it into almost every celebration we have—and that is NOT something to be ashamed of.

Food should be valued and appreciated and enjoyed, not feared and nit-picked and tempered with a long list of joy-sucking rules.

Think about how you might feel walking into a party with 10 of those “holiday survival tips” floating around in your head. You’d step up to the buffet table and your primary emotion would be what?


“Ok, what am I supposed to eat here? This is protein, right? Uh oh, LOOK what they have. I probably shouldn’t touch that…” And later: “I should probably stop eating…I probably shouldn’t have another drink…how many calories do you think I just had? Now I really need to go to the gym tomorrow…”

It would be like an itch on your brain, distracting you all night long.

Listen. Food does not deserve to have that kind of power over you. It’s JUST FOOD.

So this year, I’ve got some new tips:

Relax. Enjoy. And yes: indulge.

It’s not that I don’t care about healthy living. I’m actually a huge health and fitness junkie, and on the 350ish days of the year that are not holidays, I am ALL about the healthy habits. Protein and vegetables and movement and fresh air—yes, yes, yes, and yes.

The thing is that I’m also all about everything in moderation—even moderation.

That means that in certain scenarios, like getting together with family and friends to celebrate the holidays, I am all about indulgence.

I believe in sometimes eating a giant helping of sweet potatoes (the kind with the mini marshmallows on it, HELLO) and following it up with a huge slice of pumpkin pie (with ALL the whip) because it’s the holidays, and life is short, and someone spent hours in the kitchen making that for you.

I also believe that there is room for short, spaced out bursts of indulgence within a perfectly healthy lifestyle. Not as a break from that lifestyle—as part of that lifestyle. Your body is designed to maintain status quo, which means you’re not going to go up a jeans size in one weekend.

Also, there’s the fact that much, much more important than achieving some socially glorified body composition is LIVING YOUR LIFE and making memories with people you love.

(And yeah—several of those memories will probably involve food. So what?)

So if you’re looking for permission to throw those holiday tips out the window, here it is. Go, live, indulge.


There are a few teeny tiny little caveats.

If you do everything we just talked about, you HAVE to promise me that you’ll also do these three little things.

#1: Enjoy the food

If you are going to eat the thing, eat the thing. But you gotta let yourself love it!

Like, make sure you actually want it (rather than eating it because it’s there). Eat it slowly. Put your fork down sometimes. Step away from the TV. Take the time to actually taste every bite.

(Have you ever done that thing where you feel guilty about eating something before you even start, so you eat it as fast as possible, as if your body might not notice what happened? I totally have. The subconscious thinks it’s soooo sneaky.)

What you don’t want is to get to the end of a piece of pie and think, “Wow, I ate that so fast, I don’t even remember it!” When that happens, you immediately feel your taste buds BEGGING for another piece, because they’re all, “We were promised pie. Did pie happen?? All we caught was a whiff of it flying by. MORE PIE NOW!”

(Did you know that our enjoyment of food factors into our ability to be satiated by that food? Here’s an interesting article about that.)

#2: Don’t shame yourself

You are not allowed to eat the thing and then wallow in guilt all afternoon. You may not soothe yourself with plans to put yourself through the wringer in the gym when you get back.

Food shame does absolutely nothing good for you—so just decide not to feel it. (Yes, you can do that.)

Instead: eat the thing, love it, and then let it go.

#3: Recognize the end of each holiday

Here’s the tricky one, right?

Sometimes, we have so much fun indulging during Thanksgiving that we let our splurgy habits and tis-the-season attitudes spill over into the entire month of December. Somehow, a few single-day holidays blur into a 6-week binge—and that is when health goals take a hit.

Remember, folks: you can’t spell holiday without DAY. (Yeah…don’t worry, I’m rolling my eyes at myself too.)

If you have your work holiday party on a Saturday in December, sure, enjoy that too. But Tuesday the 8th? That’s just a regular day.

Beware of the little voice that tells you, when you see that giant bowl of red and green M&Ms in the break room: “But this is special!”

Nope—it’s fake special. You know you can get M&Ms literally any day of the year, and they will taste just as good.

Hold out for REAL special. (You’ll know it when you see it.)

And then, make sure you enjoy the crap out of it.

Kim grew up in Minnesota, but moved to Madison to attend the UW and fell in love with the city’s spirit and culture. She's married with three sweet kiddos - Mason, Joshua, and Leah. When she’s not racing monster trucks across furniture or pretending to be interested in video games, she’s working on freelance writing projects or teaching strength training classes through her small fitness business, Lioness Fitness. Kim's a food allergy mom, which means she can read a food label like nobody’s business. She's also a sucker for good wine, good sushi, a good book, and ANY beach.


  1. Thank you for this post. I’ve been working out and working hard on nutrition and balance for the last 3-4 month. I’ve been rock solid on it. But I can feel it slipping already with the Christmas parties and celebrations. And we’re not even in the thick of it yet. So I’ve been stressing and stressing hard. Do I deny myself? Do I go the “tips & tricks” route? Or do I just eat it and beat myself up mentally and at the gym? So today, just before I came across this, I made the decision to let it go. I’ll eat and enjoy, I’ll stick to my workout routine and eat well the days I can and let the rest of it go. I’ll deal with any collateral damage after the holidays. So for now, I’ll enjoy. Thanks for the validation. I needed the support.

  2. Yes! You are so right! Healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle are all about moderation. Not depriving ourselves! Those deprivation diets are impossible to stick with. If we continually deny ourselves the opportunity to have a treat here and there, we will end up binging on it. I found a great article on Registered Dietician Sofia Abdelkafi’s blog that talks about the 7 ways to conquer the stress of healthy eating for good. She is a big believer in creating a healthy eating plan that is about moderation and that you can actually stick with long-term. You can read it here:


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