Holiday Hacks for Hosts and Feasters


The holidays are officially here! While this is a time of merriment, gathering, and, of course, good eating, it can also be triggering for many clients. Diet culture has taught many people to feel guilt and shame for overindulging, or just, indulging at all, even on holidays. How many people woke up this morning to do a “Turkey Trot” to get ahead of the calories they plan to consume? How can we help our clients balance inevitable moments of overindulgence with the tendency to harbor guilt for doing so? The following clever holiday hacks can serve to both minimize overindulgence and also relieve associated negative feelings with enjoying the holidays to the fullest.

The Holiday Hacks for Feasters

For the client attending a feast with no control over the menu, a few savvy tips can help keep your clients emotionally grounded and also prevent potential binging that may only bring on physical illness and discomfort. I recall one particularly indulgent holiday dinner when I effectively shoved so much food down my pie hole I woke up from my sleep to visit the toilet vomitorium. My body had literally taken in more food than it could process and reactively threw up what it couldn’t fit. (This is fundamentally different than binging and purging purposely–an indication of disordered eating).

Start with Word Choice

The words we choose and the thoughts we think matter. While we may not be able to shift mindsets overnight, we can work tirelessly with our clients to challenge their thoughts and feelings, and reframe the conversation. Word choice is important!

Rather than “Goodness, I must have eaten 5000 calories today! I’ll have to run every day for a month to work that off,” remind your clients that, “They get to eat a wonderful meal today, and one day cannot sabotage a consistent effort. Enjoy and resume your regular schedule tomorrow!”

Anticipate reframing thoughts when your client says something fraught with shame or self-deprecation and respond accordingly. Remind your clients with such tendencies that today isn’t the day to count carbs and doing so would be fruitless, resulting in feelings of deprivation that may ultimately backfire if not ruin the holiday experience.

The Weekly Tally

Most people misunderstand how the balance of caloric intake and output work. Counting calories can be valuable when someone is becoming acquainted with concepts of portion size and control, but should rarely be a constant, daily habit. However, for youe clients who love to count their calories and macros despite advising against it, you might take the approach of explaining that weight is gain and lost over time and not in one singular day. Most people have a natural regulatory system that allows for more calories today, and crave fewer tomorrow.

To appeal to and appease these clients, remind them that one has to create an excess of approximately 3500 extra calories a week to gain one pound. In a typical Thanksgiving dinner, Americans consume an average of 1-2000 extra calories. While this would obviously be ill-advised to do daily resulting in 7-14,000 extra calories and a potential of 2-5 pounds of excess weight one day will not do you in. Those extra calories can be spread out to 140-285 calories a day–an easy deficit to target without much extra effort.

Exercise reasonably

Anyone who thinks they can out-exercise their diet, feverishly ramping up the intensity on their spin bike to burn another 50 calories is literally spinning their wheels. Regular exercise is important for overall health and a solid resistance training program is necessary to keep the metabolic furnace burning. These efforts in conjunction with attentiveness to nutrient-dense and balanced nutrition is the only formula for lasting success.

Nothing wrong with adhering to an exercise routine over the holidays; goodness knows that type of consistency is exactly what we are trying to instill in our clients. A problem arises when people mistakenly believe the only way to enjoy their holiday meal is to “earn” it with an arse-whooping at the gym. The math simply doesn’t add up.

Instead, encourage your clients to do their best to remain consistent while enjoying the holidays, and if they don’t have time to squeeze in a workout before their holiday meal, tomorrow is another day. Let it go.

Eat in the morning!

A popular, yet misguided practice is to fast in the morning before a big meal. Fine, if you are accustomed to time-restricted eating. Otherwise, you’re going to mess with your blood sugar regulation, get way too hungry, and probably get too full, too soon. The morning meal before a holiday feast should be light, fresh, and balanced. Trust me on this one.

Hydrate well

This is a simple and obvious one, but important to mention nonetheless. Drinking water throughout the day will not only keep systems well hydrated but also prevent overeating at one sitting. Let’s not ignore that many folks overindulge in alcohol as well, and would do better to drink enough water before starting down that road.

Eat veggies first

For a client that tends to overdo it on the starchy carbs and desserts, a fairly simple hack is to not avoid those foods, but save them for last. This is a personal habit of mine for every meal. To ensure that enough veggies are consumed and not shafted, fill up half your plate and eat them first. It’ll take the edge off of hunger,  check the phytonutrient and fiber boxes for the day, and result in eating a little bit less at dessert time.

Chew even better

Masticate, people! A favorite Chinese adage of mine is,”Chew your liquids, and drink your foods.” It’s a not-so-sublte reminder of how we tend to gobble food and guzzle drinks, which is terrible for digestion. Slow down and enjoy what you’re consuming. What a great way to express gratitude for your food!

Holiday Hacks for the Host

A shorter but clever list of ways to sneak in nutritious foods and keep holiday feasts tipping towards the “healthy” side of the scale:

These hacks are great for kids any day of the year, but work well for traditional holiday meals. Certain substitutions can easily fly under the radar, so unless you have a brutally discerning audience, try some of these sneaky chef moves:

  • Replace 1 lb of potatoes with a pound of cauliflower for your mash. This is less about calories and more about adding cruciferous veggies into the meal.
  • Recipe call for sour cream? Plain Greek yogurt offers the same bite with fewer calories and all the live cultures.
  • Baking? Taste test your batters and fillings before adding all the sugar the recipe suggests. I made pumpkin pie which called for 3.5 cups of confectioners sugar. In one pie? I halved it and it was plenty sweet.
  • Substitute or cut butter with ghee or other unsaturated cooking oils. Yes, butter makes everything taste better, but usually we just need the essence of butter. While clarified butter (ghee) is not lower in calories or even fat, studies indicate that those who cook with it instead of regular butter have lower incidences of heart disease). And we definitely know this is true for cooking oils like olive or avocado.
  • Put out some veggies for apps and serve your salad first. There’s plenty to enjoy at the main course so help your guests get their veggies in early on.
  • Make sure water is accessible for your guests. I’m not a big fan of single-use water bottles, and understand no one likes to wash more glasses than they need to, but maybe consider asking your guests to bring a reusable water bottle to refill or have a pitcher of cold water set out amidst all the food.

Ultimately, we want to enjoy our time with the important people in our lives especially after the almost-two-years of isolation many people have suffered through. Convening around a dinner table is one way we bond with each other and it should be a pleasurable experience for everyone if possible. Can you think of any other hacks to get through a holiday dinner with a positive experience and without remorse?

Fitness Nutrition Coach


NFPT Publisher Michele Rogers, MA, NFPT-CPT, manages and coordinates educational blogs and social media content for NFPT. She’s been a personal trainer for 20 years with a lifetime passion for all things health and fitness. Her mission is to raise kinesthetic awareness and nurture a mind-body connection. After battling chronic lower back pain and becoming a parent, Michele aims her training approach to emphasize corrective exercise and pain resolution. She holds a master’s degree in applied health psychology from Northern Arizona University. Follow Michele on Instagram.