There’s no need to pass on the potatoes, ditch the dessert or axe the alcohol during the holiday party season. If you have a strategy that helps you stick to your healthy goals, you can still enjoy the festivities!

Don’t overdo your exercise routine
On the day of a party, don’t go crazy during your workout and then starve yourself for the rest of the day so that you can indulge in whatever you want to drink and eat later. When you go full tilt with a hard circuit that includes extra cardio, we call that high glycolytic work. That means you’re dipping into all your glycogen stores and burning up all the carbohydrates in your body. Your body will want to replenish that, leading to cravings for carbs and sugars. That’s hard to ignore when you’re in front of the buffet table.

Instead, choose to do a workout of medium intensity and not of long duration. Your body will use more fat and less of the stores of carbohydrates, so the cravings won’t be as powerful.

Drink wisely
What you drink is almost as important as how much you drink.

Clear spirits
Gin, vodka and some clear rums have been filtered a lot, which is work your liver normally does. Because of that, they’re usually easier on your stomach.  Spirits generally have fewer carbs and less sugar than other drinks. However, they’re often higher in alcohol so watch what you’re mixing them with. A vodka soda is a good choice; rum with coke? Not so much. It’s good to have a drink mixed with a lot of water or add a lot of ice.

Choose the extremes of really light or really dark beer. Light beer usually signals less alcohol and fewer calories so it’s a bit easier on your system. Dark beers such as Guinness are often higher in nutrients and dense, meaning they may be harder to plow through. As a result, you might not drink as many.

This can be a good alternative if it’s a low-sugar version such as fermented apple juice. Most people don’t like the taste of real cider, so they choose something that might be replacing wheat with sugar.

Whether you like red or white wine, go with a dry one because it has less sugar. Choose a natural, organic or preservative-free wine. Premium wines will have some natural sulphites, but cheaper wines have more and it’s those sulphites that can exacerbate allergies and leave you with that fuzzy-head hangover. Cheaper wines might also use grapes grown with pesticides and could include ground-up stems.

Eat mindfully
There are ways you can indulge a bit and still feel good about not ruining your fitness routine: 

  • On the day of the party, have a high-fibre, vegetable-based late lunch with good calories that takes a while to digest.
  • Don’t plan to have a little bit of the tempting dishes and then something healthy when you get home. Usually, a little bit leads to more and then you’ll go home and eat more too.
  • Watch out for foods that are supposed to be bitter but taste sweet, since sugar has probably been added. These could be some white wines, cranberry sauce or even a kale salad with a sweet dressing.
  • Ask a hostess if you can contribute a dish and then make one that fits your fitness goals. Perhaps it’s a vegan cheesecake or something sweetened with dates or a sugar alternative. Have a bit of the calorie-rich dishes so you don’t feel left out, but eat more of the dish you brought.
  • Start with high-fibre, low-carb foods such as vegetables and hummus. If you want sweet food, go for naturally sweet ones such as peppers or carrots.
  • Before you spoon food onto your plate, scan all the food offered so you can prioritize what you can have the most of. Make a big plate of salad and then add small amounts of the potatoes with gravy or pasta and garlic bread.

It’s all about balance
Prioritize the party invitations you receive and try to limit it to five or six during the busy month of December. The last thing you want in January is having spent all that money and time going to the gym only to be back to where you were when you set your fitness goals. Were those three extra parties worth it?

You don’t have to avoid the fun of drinking and eating during the holiday season, but you can have a viable plan that meshes with your fitness goals.