How To Indulge Over The Holidays: A Diet Cheat Sheet

By Wendy Innes. May 7th 2016

It's that time of year again. The holidays are upon us. From Thanksgiving to New Year's and beyond, it can be difficult to stick to any diet and exercise plan with plates of holiday goodies floating around. But not to worry. It is possible to cheat and not pay for it later.

This cheat sheet is meant to help you make the best decisions while allowing yourself to indulge on the decadent foods you'll come across over the holidays. However, it is not meant to be used as a free pass to blatantly eat whatever you want, whenever you want. With careful planning, you can maintain your weight and diet over the holidays by allowing yourself a few cheat days between your regular dieting and exercise.

Holiday Eating

  • Plan ahead: If the plan for Christmas Day includes a party or a trip to Grandma’s for her famous cookies, cut back on calories throughout the rest of the day. But don't completely skip meals, which can lead to binging. Just balance your daily caloric intake to make room for guilty pleasures.
  • Indulge, but don't pig out: There is a huge difference between enjoying a slice of pie, and eating the whole thing. It's okay to enjoy the "bad" foods once in a while, but don't overdo it.
  • Size Matters: An easy cheat for measuring your portion sizes is as follows – proteins should be no bigger than a deck of cards; sides like potatoes, pasta or bread should be no bigger than a baseball; for dairy products, limit cheese to the size of four dice and ice cream to half a tennis ball.

Things To Do

  • Relax: The holidays will be over before long, and swim suit season is still a long way off. There is plenty of time to slim down, so don't panic, especially if you made sure you cheated responsibly.
  • Set Goals: The New Year is a great time for new beginnings, so create goals that will be easy to follow in the New Year and look forward to them instead of dreading them. Remember that inch by inch, it's a cinch, but yard by yard, it's way too hard.
  • Create Healthy Habits: It takes about 14 days to form a new habit, though some people can take longer. Allow yourself to indulge a little over the holidays, then, replace bad habits one at a time with newer healthier ones once the New Year begins.
  • Allow Cheat Days: Having zero cheat days increases the chances of diet failure. Allow for cheat days in a diet plan, especially during the holidays; at the very least it will give the dieter something to look forward to.
  • Don’t Give Up Your Dieting: It’s okay to fall off the wagon during the holidays; it happens to a lot of people. Just don’t give up entirely on your dieting if you had a couple of bad binge days.


It's important to know what is in the foods we eat, so here is a quick breakdown:

  • Calories: These are units of energy. The amount of energy a food provides is important because if a person consumes too many calories, no matter where they come from, they will pack on the pounds. As was demonstrated by the so-called "Twinkie diet", a person can simply reduce their calorie intake and lose weight, though this isn't really a healthy option.
  • Protein: Most protein comes from animal sources in the form of meat. Protein is what makes up muscle tissue, which is why it's important when dieting, since muscle wasting is a problem in many diets. Lean meats and proteins from plant-based foods are best.
  • Carbohydrates: Known as carbs for short, these sources of energy have gotten a bad rep recently. Unfortunately most of what we run into during the holidays is the bad variety, but that's ok. Good carbs are things like whole grains, vegetables and fruits which provide fiber. Fiber keeps us fuller longer, so we eat less. Bad carbs are starchy foods like bread or pasta or sugary foods such as cakes and cookies.
  • Fat: Not all dietary fats are bad. In fact, some is actually good for the body, such as mono-unsaturated fats like olive oil. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats.
  • Sodium: Sodium is in almost everything. Excess sodium intake is a major problem for Americans and can lead to various health problems. Limit your sodium intake to about 2,000 milligrams per day and consider going on a low sodium diet, especially after the holidays.
  • Sugar: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 6 teaspoons of sugar for women and 9 teaspoons for men per day. Need that converted into grams for reading nutrition labels? 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. So women should limit themselves to 24 grams of sugar, and men should limit themselves to 36 grams daily.

During the holidays and throughout the year, people tend to be very hard on themselves for the slightest little cheats. Not only is it counter-productive, but there is no need to be.


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