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0401 Castle Creek Road
Aspen, CO 81611

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Diet & Nutrition

Tips for a Healthier Holiday Season

With the holidays quickly upon us, it’s easy to get lost in sugarplum day dreams of our favorite holiday indulgences. Abundant meals, office treats, creamy cocktails, holiday parties, and gatherings with friends and family can overflow with challenges to maintaining an otherwise healthy lifestyle. At Aspen Valley Hospital, we understand the importance of enjoying the holidays without eating or drinking too much. We’re here to offer some holiday guidance on how to make the most of the holiday season without needing to add another notch to your belt or hinder your heart health, with these tips for a healthier holiday.

The Challenge of Holiday Overindulgence

Here’s the good news: there’s no need to sacrifice enjoyment for health. This might seem counterintuitive with so much goodness at every holiday turn, but overindulgence not only affects our waistlines, it can also leave us feeling lethargic and guilty. So it’s important to find a balance between savoring and enjoying what we consume without overdoing it to the point of discomfort, both in the form of feeling too full and having to work extra hard once the holidays are behind us in order to shed extra pounds. Doing so results in a healthier body and happier mindset.

The Importance of Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is the practice of being fully present and engaged when we eat or drink. It’s about savoring each bite, paying attention to textures and flavors, and listening to your body’s hunger cues. Practicing mindful eating during holiday celebrations allows us to enjoy our favorite dishes without overindulging. We know; it can be easier said than done. But here are a few tips on how to incorporate mindful eating into this year’s celebrating:

  • Don’t skip meals. Making sure you show up to the holiday party properly satiated from the last meal prevents overeating at this one. 
  • Serve yourself modest portions. It can take a few minutes for your stomach to tell your brain it’s full. Starting with smaller portions allows your body time to make the connection between how much you’ve eaten and how full you are. 
  • Slow down, savor and enjoy. Eating slowly provides more enjoyment in fewer calories. 
  • Chew your food well. 
  • Opt for plant-based food options. Choosing meatless dishes contributes to better overall health. 
  • Avoid distractions during meals. Turn off screens and put your phone in a pocket. Instead, focus on the food and the company around you.

The Role of AVH Dietitians in Promoting Health

Aspen Valley Hospital’s registered dietitians Lauren Mitchell and Kristy Bates provide a variety of ways to enjoy food and support your health. Peruse unique topics, plus hearty, healthy, wholesome recipes, and in-depth information about healthful eating in their Dietitian Demo series.

Would you like tips for living your healthiest life from Aspen Valley Hospital all year long? Join our email list to stay in touch!

Understanding the Holiday Season

The Link Between Holidays and Overeating

There are many reasons we tend to eat and drink too much during the holidays. Perhaps the most common one is the simple truth that many people feel the holidays give them an excuse to overindulge; eating and drinking too much is just a part of holiday tradition. Others experience stress or emotional triggers during the holiday season that lead to overindulging. Getting caught up in the demands of the season can also lead to skipping meals or not paying attention, which can result in overcompensation later.

Recognizing Common Overindulgence Triggers

Knowing which situations, foods or emotions can cause you to eat or drink too much is an important first step in being able to avoid doing so. Common overindulgence triggers include:

  • Emotional eating or eating as a result of stress – Eating causes the brain to release endorphins, which are hormones that make us feel good. For some people, eating is a quick way to feel better, at least in the short-term. Long-term overeating quickly has the opposite effect, leaving us feeling full, glutenous and unhappy with ourselves. 
  • Social situations – For thousands of years, a full table has represented a great reason to come together. But, as mentioned above, this can also lead to distractions and filling plates too full. 
  • Foods you have a hard time resisting – Cookies, candy, cocktails, rich foods; we all have our holiday favorites and those go-tos can become triggers for eating too much.
  • Time of day – If we’re going to overeat, we tend to do it in the evenings.

Setting Realistic Expectations

It’s important to acknowledge the unique aspects of the holiday season and set realistic expectations. Yes, we want to avoid overindulging, but we also don’t want to hinder ourselves to the point the holidays lose their joyful element. Instead of cutting yourself off from holiday fare entirely, focus on a few favorite dishes or meals, and allow yourself to serve up while maybe cutting back on others that bring you less satisfaction. And if you do feel a little too full after a particular meal, know it’s okay.

Preparing for Healthy Holiday Meals

The best line of defense is a good offense. When it comes time to start the holiday cooking, a little planning can go a long way in avoiding overindulgence, leaving everyone at the table feeling happier and healthier. Here are some healthy holiday meal planning tips:

  1. Plan a balanced menu. Complement holiday favorites and go-tos with wholesome, fiber-rich main and side dishes
  2. Substitute traditional ingredients for healthier alternatives. 
    1. Sweeten with applesauce or other fruit sources instead of sugar.
    2. Swap sour cream for tangy greek yogurt.
    3. Fill a dish with cauliflower rice instead of white rice. 
    4. Skip the egg yolks and just use egg whites. 
    5. Choose whole grains. 
    6. Forgo ground beef and mix in some ground turkey instead. 
  3. Turn to the AVH dietitians for tips and traditional dish makeovers. 
  4. Be strategic at the buffet table. It can be easy to try to pile everything onto your plate at the holiday dinner lineup, but instead, take a moment to step back and survey the scene. Look at the options, make smart choices, and fill your plate mindfully.

Delectable Holiday Dessert Alternatives

With a little shift in strategy and some planning ahead, it’s easy to make traditional holiday sweets and desserts healthier. Quick tips include:

  • Look for sugar alternatives.
  • Swap in plant fats and oils (such as avocados) for traditional vegetable oil. 
  • Skip the crust.
  • Serve in smaller portions (think bite-sized versus cookie-sized).
  • Use coconut milk instead of traditional dairy. 

And if you’re looking for some dessert idea inspiration, these prompts are a great place to start!

  • Peppermint Meringues
  • Vegan Eggnog
  • Chocolate-dipped Fruit (strawberries or cuties work well)
  • Sorbet
  • Poached Pears with Ice Cream
  • Holiday Shortbread Bites
  • Chocolate-Pistachio Orange Slices
  • Vegan Chocolate Truffles
  • Fruit Chia Pudding
  • Ginger Rice Krispie Treats 
  • Air Fryer Fruit Chips

Staying Hydrated and Mindful with Beverages

A glass of wine here, a cup of eggnog there. Holiday drinks might not seem like they add to overindulgence, but the calories, alcohol and sugar can quickly add up. Remaining mindful of your beverage and cocktail intake during the holidays is an important way to avoid overdoing it and maintaining long-term health.

Choosing Healthier Drink Options

This holiday season, make a point of incorporating some healthier drink options into the revolving door of parties and gatherings. Instead of sugar-packed sodas, try flavored seltzer water, or soda water with a slice of fruit. Healthy hot cocoa (made with low-fat milk, unsweetened cocoa powder, some sugar, and a little orange zest and ground spice) is not only a satisfying non-alcoholic option, it can even stand in for dessert.

Tips for Moderating Alcohol Consumption

‘Tis the season for cheer(s)! This can also make it the season for imbibing too much and suffering the headaches, weight gain, bloating and sluggishness that can accompany a big night. But that doesn’t mean you need to forgo your favorite holiday cocktails entirely, just opt for moderation. Here are some ways to keep your cocktail intake in check:

  • Arrive at the party fully hydrated. This helps you feel full and avoid the dehydration that can come with drinking too much alcohol.
  • Pour full glasses of wine. Just like taking small bites of a dessert lets your brain think you’re not going to eat an entire piece of pie, only half-filling your glass throughout the night can be deceiving. Instead, be honest with yourself, and start with a full glass. This will allow you to better monitor your intake.
  • Alternate between alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. 
  • Make sure you pair alcohol with food. 
  • Drink slowly.
  • Opt for light beers, hard seltzers and other drinks with lower alcohol content. 
  • Dilute your drink with water or ice cubes.

Managing Peer Pressure and Social Expectations

It’s not uncommon to feel pressured to eat or drink more than you should during social gatherings. Politely decline food offerings when you’re already satisfied, and communicate your health goals to friends and family. Encourage mindful eating practices among your loved ones as well and make sure to set personal limits for food and alcohol before you walk in the door.

Post-holiday Recovery and Self-compassion

After the holiday season, it’s essential to find balance by returning to your regular healthy habits. Our AVH dietitians can offer advice on post-holiday health resets and remind you of the importance of self-compassion. It’s common to overindulge during the holidays, but it’s important not to let guilt overshadow your dedication to a healthier lifestyle and the joy of spending time with friends and family.


While resisting the temptation of holiday eats and treats might seem overwhelming, embracing mindful eating practices and making smart food choices goes a long way toward nurturing your overall health now and in the new year. Savor the season’s delights without compromising your physical or mental wellbeing. The holiday season is a time of celebration, and that means celebrating your wellness. Aspen Valley Hospital is here to support you in your journey toward a healthier, happier you.