Success Strategies for Eating Healthy At Parties and Social Events

Published:  07/01/2013

Eating at social events like parties, receptions and family gatherings, and other socials can be a challenge to your healthy eating style. Holidays are for celebrating and are meant to be enjoyed, but you don't have to sacrifice your health or beach body every time you attend a party. People who are most successful at preventing holiday food blowouts use a variety of strategies to keep from going overboard. These tips can save you hundreds of calories you won't even miss, and keep your health and fitness goals on track.

Survey the many food choices and allow yourself the three most-appealing items; serve yourself a single moderate portion of each item.

Offer to bring food.  Next time you're invited to a party, offer to bring the veggie tray. Your host will be grateful for the help, and if you add a low-fat dip or hummus, you'll be guaranteed something that you can eat.

Here are some other crowd-pleasing ideas:

Oven Baked Shrimp

Caprese Salad Skewers

Asian Chicken Cranberry Salad for a Crowd

Peel and Eat Brined Shrimp

Hot Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip

Make only one trip to the buffet and be selective. Look ahead in line to see what low fat foods are available. Choose only the foods you really want to eat. Often, a taste is all you will need to satisfy a craving or your curiosity. Don't waste calories on the foods you don't really love. Fill up on low-fat foods and take only small servings of high-fat foods.

Keep portions small. Often, a taste is all you will need to satisfy a craving or your curiosity.

Hold out for true love. Don't give in to the urge to randomly and promiscuously nibble hors d'oeuvres. If you're going to a cocktail party, scan the scene and try to save yourself for foods that really appeal. If you don't love it, don't eat it.

Be discriminating. Go for foods that are specific to the holidays and worth the indulgence. Say yes to a dish that you can only get one time a year, or one that nobody but your grandmother makes, and it's totally unique, something really special.

Size does matter. A big amount isn't going to taste better than a small amount. In fact, eating too much and not feeling good afterward defeats the purpose. Why ruin something that could be enjoyable? Eat a small amount that tastes good and walk away feeling good, too.

Use small plates. Grab a salad or dessert size plate. Research clearly shows that people who choose smaller plates and utensils eat less without even noticing it. The difference can be as substantial as 50% fewer calories consumed, yet people report the same level of fullness and contentment.

Move away from the food. Serve yourself, and then move to the opposite end of the room. You won't be as tempted to keep eating. Socializing on the way there and back will also cut down on your overall number of trips.

Eat slowly and mindfully. People who eat more slowly eat fewer calories over the course of a meal. Parties are a perfect opportunity to pace yourself as you mix and mingle with friends and family. The more you're chatting, the less you're eating.

Eat healthiest foods first. If you are eating slowly and off small plates, you may as well fill up on the healthiest stuff first. Salads are a great place to start because watery vegetables slow digestion and have very few calories. Try to choose something with oil and protein as well, because these will help you feel full sooner.

Skip the chips, crackers and bread. White carbohydrates offer little satisfaction, and have lots of wasted calories. There are other even more delicious choices, so save your calories for the really good stuff. And toss out the carbs where you don't really need them: for instance, don't eat your burger with a bun; pass on the pointless chips and other snacks that attract you when you're not thinking.

Limit or avoid alcohol. Alcohol is really bad news - it's the “triple whammy”. It depresses your metabolism, stimulates your appetite, and it's loaded with calories. Make your first drink and maybe every other one throughout the party, club soda, seltzer or water. Sip the beer, wine, or cocktails in between.

What drink you choose can make a difference. Making a smart choice can be the difference between losing or gaining weight. One big sugary margarita can have 600-800 calories. That means three margaritas is more food than you should be eating in an entire day. Is that really worth it? Stick with champagne, wine, light beer, wine spritzer, sparkling water spiked with lemon or lime, drink plenty of water and remember to pace yourself.

Do not arrive at parties hungry. Our bodies are designed to eat every four to five hours. Skipping meals to"save calories" for party eating will set you up for failure. Eat a light meal before a party and you will arrive in control of your appetite and actually eat less. A piece of fresh fruit, some fresh veggies, a cup of vegetable soup, a glass of tomato/vegetable juice, some whole-grain crackers, or a rice cake with some fruit jam will keep your appetite at bay. Try any of them an hour or so before the big holiday dinner and watch your willpower rocket while your waistline stays in place.

Enlist your partner. Before you leave for a foodfest, let your spouse know that you do not want to overindulge. Ask him or her to not devour your favorite chocolate cheesecake in front of you and to skip the"Honey, you've just gotta try this."

Ask for help from your family and friends who know you are following a low-cal diet. See if they will include some low saturated fat, low cholesterol dishes on the menu at gatherings.

Listen to your stomach and stop eating when you are satisfied or begin to feel full.

Keep your hands full. By holding a drink in one hand and your purse in the other, you literally won't be able to reach for the dessert tray.

Switch hands. A sneaky but surprisingly effective trick: Hold your drink in your right hand if you're a righty, or vice versa. It will make grabbing food a bit more difficult -- so you'll eat less.

Fill up on vegetables and fruits. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals, while low in calories. The fiber in these foods may help you feel full and leave less room for high-calorie, tempting treats.

If dessert is what you really want then have it! But keep it small. The difference between a large slice of cake and a smaller slice of cake can literally be hundreds of calories. Buffets make smart trade-offs easy; skip the butter on your bread and turn down that second glass of wine. By planning and balancing, you can enjoy that dessert without guilt.

Cross-examine. As friends pass you what they've prepared, exclaim,"That looks terrific! What's it made with?" (Ask the same of the hostess at other parties.) You're likely to get valuable information that'll help you decide how deeply you want to dig in to a dish.

Circulate. Make it a point to meet at least two new people at every party. You'll be focusing on people, not food -- and you may be so busy that you won't have time to overeat. Plus, it's rude to talk with your mouth full!

Just say no. To avoid being accused by friends and relatives of not possessing the right kind of holiday cheer, it may help to have a pre-rehearsed reason on hand for why you're not eating more. It's not a wise move to announce that you're watching your weight or dieting, especially during the holidays. Instead, say, 'I'm trying to eat healthier so I'm focusing on vegetables,' or 'I've been reading about antioxidants and I'm trying to increase my intake,' or even, 'I've noticed that if I eat too much, I have a hard time sleeping.' It's hard to argue with reasoning like that.

Have a few ready answers to politely say no to high-fat foods. For example,"Thank you, but I couldn't eat another bite -- everything was delicious."

Don't just eat to be social. Try to avoid eating just because others around you are. If you aren't really hungry, nibble on a celery stick or sip on something low-calorie.

If you do eat too many high fat foods at a social event, don't feel guilty. Just eat lightly the next day and get back on track.

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