Baylor College of Medicine

Photo of a family surrounding a kitchen island covered in food.

“Dieting” for the holidays

Aaron Nieto


Houston, TX -

The holiday season sometimes gives people a reason to end the year with decadence. However, some may be looking for advice when it comes to healthy food choices during celebrations or adjusting their eating habits for the new year. An expert with Baylor College of Medicine offers helpful information about how to be mindful of your eating habits.  

“The word diet has been misused as something that refers to caloric deprivation,” said Dr. Luis Rustveld, assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor. “When people think about ‘going on a diet,’ they really should be thinking about what they want to accomplish with their eating habits, like losing weight, reducing cholesterol levels or adjusting what they eat for chronic conditions, then changing your current eating habits to meet those goals.” 

Any time of year can be a good time to adjust your diet, Rustveld says, but the holidays may encourage more mindful eating. It can be a great time to practice strategies like portion control, moderation and appreciating textures, flavors and smells of food. Taking your time while eating to focus on these details is one way to enjoy your meal and prevent overeating.  

People looking to be mindful of their caloric intake should not deprive or limit the amount of food they eat during the days leading up to celebrations as this may lead to overindulgence.  

And don’t forget about the alcohol and seasonal drinks. Alcohol is commonly served along holiday meals and should be consumed in moderation for health and safety reasons. These beverages are high in sugar, which in combination with desserts can have negative impacts on health. Sugar-free or sugarless substitutions for mixed drinks can mitigate this issue. Additionally, Rustveld says one should never drink on an empty stomach. 

If you or a loved one has a modified diet due to health concerns, Rustveld says a couple of simple strategies will ensure holiday meals can still be enjoyable. First, plan ahead by making holiday hosts aware of meals or ingredients you or your loved one should stay away from. They can let you know which dishes are appropriate for you to eat. Additionally, you can make and bring your own version of items to enjoy and share with others.  

Exercise should also be incorporated into daily routines during the holidays; however, Rustveld says to not overdo any physical activity to overcompensate for the food eaten. This could lead to injury and most likely does not lead to the intended results.  

“The holidays are a time for celebration and social gatherings, delicious meals and an abundance of sweet treats. Restricting your food choices can make these events less enjoyable and potentially lead to deprivation. It’s a time when people look forward to indulging in their favorite dishes, but also take the time to enjoy the company of treasured friends and family,” Rustveld says. “Spending quality time with family and friends are integral to overall well-being and mental health. Starting these habits during the holiday can lay the foundation for a healthier new year.” 

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