Home All Healthy Christmas! 10 Strategies for Moderate Indulgence

Healthy Christmas! 10 Strategies for Moderate Indulgence

written by Marie-Josée Shaar 24 December 2008

Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.

You are in front of the traditional, very tempting Holiday buffet. Initially you had planned to eat reasonably, but now that you are facing the spread, your will is melting faster than the candles illuminating the table.

If you choose self-regulation over temptation, chances are you will be satisfied and energetic. If on the other hand you give in and pig out, you will experience the bloated and guilty feeling that inevitably follows overeating. So what do you do? Here are my top 10 strategies for healthy buffet-management.

1. Be Prepared.  Studies by Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and colleagues demonstrate a small dose of carbohydrate can help replenish a depleted ability to self-regulate. My first suggestion: make sure you are not completely starving when you get to the buffet! If you deprive yourself of food prior to the event, not only will your will power be long-gone, but your ability to justify overeating will also be increased, quite a counter-productive strategy.

2. Pace Dishes. Take out healthier foods (a veggie tray, multigrain crackers with low-fat cheese) before you serve the buttery puffed pastries and other creamy bites. Your guests will fill up on the good stuff and be stronger for what follows.

3. Choose Your Trays Wisely. Serve healthier options in larger serving trays and use larger serving utensils. Keep the least commendable options in smaller dishes and serve them with your tiny cutlery.  Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania has found that Americans use larger serving sizes than Europeans, and that when smaller serving sizes are used, people eat less.

4. Place Your Trays Wisely. To maximize profits, buffets tend to place cheaper foods in areas that are most accessible because they know that patrons are more likely to serve themselves more of it. Use this strategy to your advantage and make lighter foods the easiest to grab.

Holiday bouquet5. Decorate. The more abundant the food, the more we eat. Plan room on the table for a fresh flower bouquet and other decorations. This will make your spread look plentiful without having to serve more food.

6. Water It Down. Replacing one or two alcoholic beverages with water can easily shave as much as 300 empty calories off your meal, not to mention that it helps fill up the stomach quicker. To make your pitcher nice and appealing, add slices of strawberries, orange, lemon as well as mint leaves.  This option is tasty, interesting, and full of vitamins!

7. Just Right. People tend to agree that “one is appropriate.” If you serve a piece of pie weighing 10 ounces, that’s what your guests will eat. If your serving size is 4 ounces, they are very likely to stop there. Try serving your deserts in small pre-cut pieces. (Caution here! If the serving is so small that it looks bite-size, the strategy will backfire!)

8. Get Moving. Plan an activity shortly after the meal to detract attention away from eating and towards connecting. If that activity involves mild caloric expenditure (a Wii or ping-pong tournament, walking in the neighborhood to admire decorations, etc.), you get bonus points. Your family get together will have more to offer than just food.

Arm Twister9. No To Arm Twisters! Discourage anyone to tell others that they have to taste, that one more drink won’t kill them, or that they should indulge a bit more. This might have been a fun behavior a century ago when overeating was a rare occurrence, but should no longer be socially acceptable in a society where overindulging already happens too often. We know better.

10. Yes To a Buddy System. Getting peer support is an important ingredient when enacting change. If food acts on you like a magnet on metal, ask a buddy to nudge you if you go overboard. If that’s not enough to discourage you, take a formal bet to pay your accomplice $100 for each plate of food you eat past your main course and desert. That should do it!

Lastly, the Holidays may be the last week of the year, and you may want to give yourself carte blanche to not self-regulate and that’s fair game too. If that’s your choice, just remember that the expression “use it or lose it” applies here, so I would recommend using a “controlled self-deregulation” strategy rather than a total gluttonous feast.

Happy Holidays everyone!
May 2009 be filled with peace, warmth, health and accomplishments!


Baumeister, R. F., Gailliot, M., DeWall, C. N., & Oaten, M. (2006). Self-regulation and personality: How interventions increase regulatory success, and how depletion moderates the effects of traits on behavior. Journal of Personality, 74(6), 1773-1801.

Boyle, M.A. & Long, S. (2007). Personal Nutrition (with InfoTrac 1-Semester Printed Access Card). Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Prochaska, J.O., Norcross, J.C. & Diclemente, C.C. (1994). Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. New York: HarperCollins.

Rozin, P. (2006). Lecture for the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology.

Thaler, R. H. & Sunstein, C.R. (2008). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Holiday Buffet courtesy of DarkMuse,
Holiday Bouquet,
Arm Twister

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

You may also like


Senia Maymin 24 December 2008 - 4:54 am


I can imagine that if I take just two of your ten suggestions, it’ll make a big impact. We’ll see how I do on my big eat holiday – New Year’s eve.

I like the pacing dishes and water drinking the best so far (water makes sense too because saltier food can make a person thirstier). Thanks, and happy holidays!


Louis 24 December 2008 - 8:08 am

Thanks for these suggestions. I face an Italian Christmas ahead of me and I will incorporate some of these strategies, so as not to over do it! And I agree that finding a buddy is the way to go. Social support is crucial in our endeavors to be better people. Merry Christmas, MJ!

Ryan Niemiec 24 December 2008 - 4:42 pm

Great job putting this together. While this article is truly for everyone, I only wish the 62% of overweight people here in the U.S. that are at high risk for various physical problems would follow just one suggestion above and our country would be transformed. But, one must start with oneself first so…I’m saying yes to self-regulation!

Sean 25 December 2008 - 11:17 pm


There are really some great ideas here. I love that not only are the ideas practical, but you also added beauty to the equation with the the decorations and water pitcher fileld with slices of strawberries, lemon or mint leaves.



Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com