Healthy Eating

6 Expert Hacks For Practicing Portion Control During the Holidays

Stay on track without feeling deprived.

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino

So you’ve been on your nutrition A-game all year, making major progress toward your health goals — but the holidays have you a little nervous (maybe willpower and portion control are futile in the face of your mom’s mac and cheese). Fear not! You should enjoy your favorite foods during this season — it’s actually good for you! — but we’ve got ways you can enjoy in moderation. You get your favorite flavors (and memories!) and the feel-good benefit of not overeating or feeling too sluggish and bloated. Let’s get down to it with six holiday portion control hacks. 

RELATED: 5 Deprivation-Free Weight Maintenance Hacks For The Holiday Season 

6 Holiday Portion Control Tips That Won’t Leave You Feeling Deprived 

#1 Slow Down

Simply slowing down your eating — slower chewing, pausing between bites, slower movement — can make a significant difference in consumption. In 2018, scientists found that slower eating led to weight loss — and the inverse has been proven true, as well. Eating quickly has been correlated (repeatedly, in more than one study) with excess weight gain. Slowing down your meal pace allows your gut and brain to work together to signal fullness. Because this process takes about 20 minutes, it’s easy to eat more than what you need (or want) before you even get the physical cues to stop. Bottom line: slow eating is your friend this season.

#2 Practice Mindful Eating

Speaking of slow eating! Let’s talk about mindful eating… a slow, meaningful way of consuming food. Savor the flavors. Inhale the aroma. Feel the texture. Notice how it makes you feel. Revel in the emotional bliss. Practice gratitude for how this food has brought you joy and comfort. Added benefit? Your food will taste even better, and you’ll enjoy it even more than if you were to inhale it mindlessly. And this isn’t just some woo-woo stuff — scientists back it!

#3 Drink Water

Are you hungry… or do you need a glass of water? Oftentimes, our brain confuses thirst for hunger. If we’re adequately hydrated, chances are, we’re eating less (or fewer unnecessary calories, that is!). That said, most Americans are statistically dehydrated — so it’s time to load up on some more H2O! Studies have also shown that drinking a glass of water before a meal can improve your satiety and decrease the amount you eat (because you’ll be more in tune with how much your body actually needs!). Sounds simple, but this is a holiday portion control hack that may benefit us all far past the holiday season. 

Holiday Tip: Flavor a glass of water with a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice.

#4 Use Smaller Plates

Does your plate determine how you eat? It could! Fun psychology hack: you can trick your brain into feeling more full by using smaller plates. The food appears to be a larger serving on a small plate, and thus your body is convinced you’ve eaten more and feel more full than if you were to use a larger plate. While this hack works for some people, science has shown that more studies need to be done. Can’t hurt to try, though!

#5 Pay Attention to Hunger Cues

Listening to your body and eating when you’re truly hungry is important. In days leading up to big holiday meals, practice checking in with your mind and body throughout the day. Ask yourself questions — are you Hungry? Thirsty? Bored? Tired? Nervous? If you are hungry, eat — and eat slowly and mindfully (perhaps from a small plate!). By tuning into what your body needs, you may be able to better control portions — and weight.

#6 Remember to Load Your Plate With Veggies

It never hurts to eat more veggies — we all fundamentally know this. But by starting your meal with a heap of produce, you’re more likely to control portions of your more decadent ‘soul foods.’ Because vegetables are high in fiber and water-dense (but low in calories), you’ll feel more satiated more quickly, and then move on to taste and indulge in your favorite treats — get the bites needed to feel that nostalgia — and call it a day. The best of both worlds!

RELATED: Don’t Feel Full After Meals? Try These 3 Genius Hacks 

Remember: Relax and Enjoy

This season comes once a year — and we’re pretty positive you’re not guzzling eggnog after January 1 — so be sure to release food fear and enjoy. Yes, we will always encourage you to eat healthy and optimize your nutrition, but a balanced life includes fun foods, too. Use these holiday portion control hacks to enjoy without feeling like you went off the deep end (and into the mashed potatoes).