How to Recover from Your Holiday Indulgence Diet


After the holidays, we all have good intentions to whip our diets back into tip-top shape. We’ll eat green. We’ll get lean. It’ll be so much easier without all the parties, savory dishes and sweets, right? Well, not exactly. Even after we ring in the New Year, our bodies are screaming for the indulgent foods we ate throughout December.

“During the holidays, people look forward to certain foods and beverages that are often higher in sugar and fat, which leads to a blood sugar rollercoaster and contribute to increased hunger,” says Lauren Popeck, RD, a dietitian at Orlando Health. “The more sugar you eat, the more you crave it, which makes it difficult to stop eating the indulgent foods.”

Basically, your holiday indulgence diet can quickly and unknowingly barrel out of control if you don’t curb your bad eating habits during the month of January — resolution to do so, or not. Popeck shares how to get you back on the wagon.

Recognize the bad eating “traps” you’re encountering.

bad eating traps

Popeck says that, as you’ve probably developed some poor habits throughout the holiday season, your mind and body are out of their usual habitual sync. If you overindulged, you might also be having some negative feelings about your diet and body.

The biggest traps involve failing to take care of yourself, which we often don’t do the best job of during the month of December. “You may be suffering from a lack of sleep, and getting adequate sleep to help regulate appetite and satiety hormones,” Popeck says. “Transition back to a normal pattern of eating breakfast plus regular meals approximately every four to five hours throughout the day.” The holidays may have left you dehydrated, as well, between the excess sodium, the alcohol and little time to grab a water break. Adequate liquid intake will help curb hunger pangs, aiming for “at least two to three liters per day helps maintain energy balance,” says Popeck.

Shop more effectively.

Butternut Squash and Turkey ChiliSource: KitchMe

How do you opt for better foods this time of year when sweets sound so good? Amid the sales on holiday sweets and the hearty options abounding, you’ll need a strategy for product selection. “Choose produce in season, which is often less expensive,” Popeck says. “Aim to get five to nine servings of fruits and veggies per day, and incorporate them into soups, stews, chili, casseroles, omelets and smoothies.”

Be creative. It doesn’t always have to be a strict salad or straight-up snack of celery and carrots to be nutritious and fulfilling. “Adding veggies to meals and eating fruit as a snack amps up fiber, vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient intake,” Popeck says. “Winter produce in season now includes Brussels sprouts, clementines, collard greens, grapefruit, kale, kiwi, leeks, oranges, pears, squash, sweet potatoes, tangerines and turnips.” Eat up!

Do not try to quit indulgences cold turkey.

quit cold turkey

Resolutions often fail because we try to run before we can walk or crawl. Don’t try to give up all your bad habits in one fell swoop. Curb your indulgences slowly, over time. “Easing into dietary changes is a better strategy than stopping cold turkey,” Popeck says. “Try making some small changes to each meal to get back on track without a diet overhaul.” For instance, maybe you sub out your mashed potatoes with sour cream and butter for mashed cauliflower.

Popeck also suggests making a plan for your short-term diet goals. “You want to make lifestyle changes, not one week’s worth of changes,” Popeck says. “Avoid extremes like skipping meals, or drastically cutting calories which can be detrimental to your health. Aim for a slow decrease in fatty and sugary foods to prevent withdrawal symptoms and decrease cravings.” So, if you’ve been eating two cookies after dinner, reduce to one for a week, and then try cutting it out.

Eat three meals a day, making small (healthier) changes.

creamy dill cucumber toastiesSource: KitchMe

Three meals a day is a must Popeck says. They should all have similar components, too. Here’s what your daily intake should look like.

  • For breakfast: It’s cliche, but it works. Always start the day with a healthy and balanced breakfast, Popeck says. “When trying to restart healthy habits, aim to reduce calories without missing out on your favorites,” she explains. “Try a whole-wheat English muffin with slightly less peanut butter, whole-grain oatmeal with cinnamon instead of brown sugar, and fat-free milk instead of cream in coffee.”
  • For lunch: Focus on condiments and upping your intake of greens. You can swap the mustard for your daily mayo on sandwiches, pile on plenty of veggies like lettuce, tomato slices and cucumbers to add bulk for very few calories, or use lettuce leaves in place of bread. “But one of my favorite healthy and low-cal lunches is a hearty salad,” Popeck says. “Start with about two cups of greens,  then add lots of colorful vegetables, such as diced zucchini, bell peppers and cucumbers. Next, add a source of lean protein to keep you full, like tuna or salmon, and include a small serving of healthy, high-fiber carbs like quinoa or black beans.” The added fiber will also help satiate you until dinner. Popeck suggests dressing your salad with a little EVOO and vinegar. “Some think skipping dressing altogether is great, but don’t,” she says. “The fat in the dressing helps your body absorb nutrients from your salad.”
  • For dinner: Tap into your favorites, but use vegetables to keep your appetite in check and eat less of those indulgences. “For example, you can try swapping spaghetti squash in place of pasta. Aim to fill half a dinner plate with vegetables, then round out the meal with a serving of lean protein like fish, chicken or tofu,” Popeck says. She also likes a whole-grain side like farro or brown rice to complete the meal and pack your body with the fiber it needs to actually feel full.

Stick to your resolutions.

dark chocolateSource: The Good Stuff

Yes, we know you made that resolution to nosh smarter in 2015. (We pretty much all did.) And you can achieve a healthier you, according to Popeck, if you’re consistently prepared in terms of the food you carry with you and the selections you make. “If you normally like to snack at a certain time or location such as in the car or at your desk, plan ahead to have fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, low-fat cheese, air popped popcorn, or veggies available.” If you don’t, you’ll wind up reaching for the super-convenient snack cake or bag of chips.

If you’re dying for sweets by the end of the day, don’t deprive yourself. If you do, you’ll overindulge later. “Small treats may actually help you stick to your weight-loss goals,” Popeck says. “Try a small piece of dark chocolate.” Savor it. It’ll help more than you realize.

Ultimately, small goals equate to big wins when it comes to a transformational dieting approach. Don’t make a healthy diet a hardship. Make it a realistic way of living. “People give up on resolutions because they set too big of goals, lose motivation, try to do it alone, don’t have a plan, lack of confidence and lack of time management,” Popeck says. “For long-term success, congratulate and reward yourself for making the effort toward your goal.”

Yes: rewards. When you drop a dress size, buy yourself a new outfit. If you stick to your diet for the whole week, get yourself the good stuff — like the best brick of European dark chocolate for dessert on Friday.