How to keep it healthy for the holidays
December 20, 2021
Joan Hatem-Roy, CEO

Question: I’m really looking forward to my aunt’s holiday party, seeing family and friends in the large, well-ventilated recreation hall in her condo. She’s a wonderful cook and will serve turkey with all the fixings, potato, pudding, cheese, ice cream, and her specialty, homemade shortbread. I’ve been trying to eat healthier all year long, and I’m afraid this season will undo my hard work. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: This time of year, more than just sugar plums are dancing in people’s heads. They’re considering a rich selection of holiday fare. Temptations lurk at home, the office, friends’ houses, and the sampling stands at supermarkets. Parties and traveling play havoc with diets and routines.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests the following tips for diabetics and others to eat healthier during the season:

  • Plan to avoid temptation. For example, if you’re invited to a potluck, you can be sure at least one healthy item will appear by bringing it yourself.
  • Eating some candy or sweets at a holiday dinner can reduce your overall sugar intake, if, later, you cut back on carbs like bread and potatoes during the meal.
  • Choose homemade over highly processed foods you’ll skip many fats and preservatives.
  • Don’t skip meals. Missing a meal before attending a big feast can be a mistake. People inevitably eat more when they do this. (“I’m starving, I haven’t eaten all day!”)
  • Be mindful of the calories contained in desserts because not all desserts are created equal. For example, pumpkin pie, even when served with whipped cream, contains one-third fewer calories than pecan pie.
  • Get a move on! Exercise benefits everyone, even if completed in smaller increments. Try walking for 10 minutes, several times per day. It all adds up and is a terrific way to subtract holiday calories while fighting feelings of stress and depression.
  • Be strategic at the buffet. Pick a small plate of your favorite foods and then leave the table. Eat some vegetables first—carrots, celery, broccoli—to take the edge off your appetite. Eat slowly because our brains take about 20 minutes to realize our stomachs are full.
  • Feel free to enjoy some once-a-year favorites, like your aunt’s stellar shortbread. If these come packed with calories, just say you’d love to try them but want a smaller portion.
  • It’s best to avoid or limit alcohol. This can interact with medications for diabetes.
  • Get an adequate amount of sleep, about 7 to 8 hours every night. Sleep affects diet. Experts say sleep-deprived people tend to eat more and favor high-fat, high-sugar foods when they do.

By the way, our Healthy Living Center of Excellence has a free evidence-based program, Healthy Eating for Successful Living in Older Adults, that explains how to eat smart, year-round. For more information, call 978-946-1211 or visit

The holidays are all about tradition and connection—and eating together is a wonderful way of bonding and sharing. Happy holidays!

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