Is it OK to Cheat on My Diet During the Holidays?

Robin Berzin, MD
November 14, 2018

Heading into the holidays, so many members at Parsley Health ask me the same question: Is it OK to cheat on my diet? My healthy holiday tips will help you get through the season and stay sane around food.

Starting around Thanksgiving, I often hear the same thing from many of our members: “If I’ve been focused on cutting out gluten , dairy , or sugar, or am in the middle of a booze-free month , and am finally seeing progress when it comes to my weight, digestion, sleep , or energy, will it ruin everything if I throw it all out the window over the holidays?”

In short, the answer is no. One day of indulging won’t ruin everything. But here’s what you might want to consider before reaching for the stuffing, and my favorite healthy holiday tips.

If you’re doing an elimination diet…

If you are on an elimination diet to discover how food sensitivities affect you, close to perfect should be your goal. That’s because antibodies to foods take as long as three weeks to go away after you stop eating them, so if you’re trying to gauge how a food affects you, truly stay away from it as close to 100% as you can for one month. Seeing how how your body feels and operates in the total absence of that food for the last week is essential.

But I know the holidays are hard. And I tell my members at Parsley just to do their best. If you accidentally have some soy in your veggies or there was butter and cream in a sauce you didn’t know about, stressing over it won’t help. Start your elimination again immediately and keep going! You will still most likely still see great progress, even with one or two slip ups.

If you’re just trying to stay healthy over the holidays…

If you’re not doing an elimination diet but know that you don’t do well when you let the guardrails down around your eating habits, that’s OK too. Not all is lost if you have a “bad day.” But I find that the people who recover the most quickly from the holidays are the ones who go in with a plan. These are my top healthy holiday tips to make it through any occasion without totally derailing your diet:

1. Reach for greens.

Fill at least half of your plate with a green veggie, like green beans or Brussels sprouts. If you don’t think there will be a healthy veggie side dish where you’re headed for the holidays, volunteer to bring one.

2. Choose a carb.

Instead of going wild on every carb-heavy dish at the table, pick your favorite. This strategy will help you keep from overdoing it on carbs and ensure that you’re truly enjoying what you do choose. Remember to eat slow and savor every bite.

3. Load up on protein.

Whatever protein is being served will be your secret weapon for not going overboard on sugar later. Stick with a portion about the size of the palm of your hand. Protein helps to balance your blood sugar and ease cravings , so you won’t be tempted to double down on dessert.

If you’ve overindulged and need a fresh start…

A big mistake I see is that people let holiday indulgences last all season, leaving them foggy, bloated, and irritable. Limit the days your a little off track over and rebound your diet right after. The best healthy holiday tip I can give is to clean up the damage from the holidays by doing a weeklong detox where you cut out alcohol, gluten, dairy, sugar and processed foods.

Black Friday (or the day after a holiday or big indulgence) is a great day to reverse the temptation to go on a regrettable online shopping binge and to instead detox your mind and body from the week before.

You can also plan your January detox ahead too. If you know that you will likely wake up New Year’s day feeling depleted and a little soggy, plan a weeklong reset to start January 2nd as well. Why? Because building in times when you restore your nutrients, especially precious B vitamins that get depleted with heavy eating and drinking.

To live the 80/20 rule you usually have to go to 100% for a little while to remind your mind and body how clean, fresh and real feel. It’s developing muscle memory—a visceral sense of what balance really feels like.

Robin Berzin, MD

Dr. Robin Berzin is the Founder and CEO of Parsley Health, America's leading holistic medical practice designed to help women overcome chronic conditions. She founded Parsley to address the rising tide of chronic disease in America through personalized holistic medicine that puts food, lifestyle, and proactive diagnostic testing on the prescription pad next to medications. Since founding Parsley in 2016, Dr. Berzin has seen 80% of patients improve or resolve their chronic conditions within their first year of care, demonstrating the life-changing value of making modern holistic medicine accessible to everyone, anywhere. Parsley is available online nationwide.

Dr. Berzin attended medical school at Columbia University and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Her book, Prescription for Happiness: How to Eat, Move, and Supplement for Peak Mental Health, was published by Simon Element in January 2022.

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