Advice & Features Articles

Dietician’s Digest: Surviving the Holiday Dinner Table

By Casey Bonano RD, LD

The holiday rush begins with Halloween and does not really slow until after the New Year. Media, marketing, and cultural messages pertaining to the festivities begin to flood our lives. On one hand, we are encouraged to pig out on candy, stuff ourselves with pie, but then we are told to vow complete change in habits and become the best (looking) version of ourselves. What a confusing roller coaster of sentiment. The holidays can be tricky for the average person to navigate, let alone someone suffering from disordered eating or an eating disorder. Realize this holiday, you have a choice. You have a choice to eat balanced, enjoy pie, and refuse to allow emotion to control your eating.


There are a million different factors, in addition to the food, that could potentially play into the celebration. The main factors that play into individuals eating habits during the holidays are…

• family dynamics

• meal/food traditions

• past holiday experiences

• work or school stress

• lack of structure

• alcohol

• favorite food items

• others’ food habits

Is your holiday dinner table awkward or boisterous and overwhelming? Does everyone pick at their plate or devour all food to the point of discomfort? Are you completely stressed out by work or floundering because you don’t know what to do with your free time? Either way, these factors can impact your eating habits.


1. Make a plan before the event. It is always harder to go against a plan. Think about who will be there, what the food will be like, and the environment. What is going to be challenging for you personally?

2. Eat 3 normal meals on the day of the event. If you skip meals, once you eventually eat you are more likely to overeat because you are so hungry. Going long periods of time only slows down your metabolism. There is no such thing as saving calories; you just aren’t burning as many when you don’t eat.

3. Reach out to a support person before the meal. Let someone you trust in on your struggles so that he/she can help at the moment. If no one knows, then no one can help. If necessary, discuss the situation with your family/friends ahead of time. If a certain family member typically makes comments about food, weight, or body, try to deal with the situation before the meal. Kindly let family members know that you do now wish to discuss what you are eating, how much you are eating, or your appearance.

4. Serve yourself balanced portions. Make sure you get your favorite items and leave behind anything you could do without. Try to not overload your plate; you can always go back for more if you initially do not get enough.

5. Honor your fullness. Just because Aunt whoever is devouring every last bit of stuffing doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Listen to when your body is saying stop. If you are full but still want more ask the host to take some home for later.

6. Be mindful. Often holiday meals include items you don’t usually get to eat on a normal basis so try to savor each bite. Focus on the texture, the smell, and the taste.

7. Slow down. Make sure you are taking at least 20 minutes to eat so that your stomach and your brain can communicate signals of fullness. Remember number 2, being overly hungry will lead to overeating.

8. Make sure you got enough. There is nothing wrong with enjoying food; it is impossible for humans to not enjoy the food. It is a survival mechanism. Try to avoid thinking about the calories and focus on listening to your body to know when to stop.

9. It is not all about the foodHolidays are supposed to be about spending time with family and friends. If family and friends are stressful try to carve us some personal time to enjoy.

10. Don’t compensate. Try not to under eat the next meal, day, or month. This leads to restrict/indulge cycles that are difficult to stop.

You do not have to overeat or gain weight this holiday season. No one food causes weight gain, overeating ANY food can cause weight gain. The average person that over-indulges during the holiday season gains 2-3 lbs. Once normal eating resumes in January weight reverts back to normal. Don’t let food be the focus this holiday.

Editor’s Note: Casey Bonano is a Registered & Licensed Dietitian. You can reach her at:

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