Dieting 101: Staying on Course During Social Situations


What’s a dieter to do when faced with a delectable snack table or a big bowl of Grammy’s gravy? Social situations, like parties and holiday meals with the family, have the power to knock down even the most disciplined healthy eating plans. You may be able to minimize some of the damage by planning ahead and using these tactics. 

Stay Sober

Alcohol is not only loaded with empty calories, but it also reduces your willpower to keep your eating on target. Try limiting yourself to only two drinks, and make them last. Better yet, use your cocktail to kill time and keep your mouth happy between visits to the buffet. Take small sips and challenge yourself to see how long you can make your drink last. Nurse a full glass of water in between cocktails, too.

Train Your Brain

Drill these two fact into your mind during the busy social season:

  1. Events are about socializing with other people, not eating
  2. The food tastes good in your mouth for a moment, but it will destroy your progress. It’s not a fair trade-off.

If you spend time working these ideas deep into your brain, you will be able to enjoy the party without overindulging.

Eat Before You Go

Once you’ve convinced yourself that you really don’t want to eat the party food, it makes sense to get full before the event. Try something really filling but low in calories, like a whole wheat sandwich with avocados, apple slices and nuts. Protein and fiber-packed snacks will help you stay full.

Nibble & Dash

If the event is a sit-down meal, have a tiny tasting portion (three bites) of each food that appeals to you. If you’re at a cocktail party, spend the first hour relishing the food with your eyes only, narrowing your choices down to the two or three items you really want to try. Then taste a little of each. When you’re done, pop a mint in your mouth to stop the “flavor crave” that makes you want more of the last dish you sampled. Get rid of your plate, too, and if possible remove yourself from the dinner table or buffet. While you’re eating, try to stay present with your food. So often we really enjoy the first two or three bites and then mindlessly swallow the rest. 

Bring Your Own

Bring your favorite soup, salad, or simple vegetable dish to family gatherings, or a vegetable platter with yogurt dip for parties. This gives you at least one dish you know you can fill up on if you get hungry. 

Plan Active Gatherings

Don’t sabotage yourself with your own events. When you plan your own parties, focus on fun rather than food. Plan gatherings around winter activities like sledding, ice skating, or snowman building. You can also choose indoor activities like roller skating, rock climbing, or a group visit to the trampoline park. Set an active example for the rest of your crowd. 

The One-Plate Buffet

When we order off the menu, we get just one plate of food and we’re nearly always satisfied; in fact, we often take food home. So why, at a buffet, do we need to go back three or four times? Granted, buffet plates are smaller than restaurant plates, so maybe allow yourself a small salad or soup before your meal to compensate.

After the Fact

If, after the company Christmas party or dinner at Aunt Ethel’s, you find that you’ve overindulged, don’t beat yourself up. Also don’t try to make up for your mistakes by depriving yourself; that will only set you up for another binge down the road. Instead, just stay the course and get back on the plan that was working for you before the celebration season. 

Social events and holiday gatherings are a massive threat to your healthy eating commitment, but with a little planning and willpower, you can focus on the fun of the event and leave the unhealthy foods on their platters.