More than any other time of the year, the holiday season awakens cravings. Whether it’s a unique flavor that’s perfect in the winter months or the nostalgia of grandma’s spiced apple pie, December is a time of indulgence. While giving in to that proverbial sweet tooth is enjoyable in the moment, there’s a way to find a balance. Experts offer advice on helping manage holiday cravings while keeping health goals on track.

Katie Eliot, Ph.D., RDN, is an associate professor of the department of nutritional sciences with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She encourages people to stay in tune with their bodies. 

“Some of the biggest mistakes I see people make during the holidays are eating just to eat and skipping out on exercise,” she says.

To avoid these temptations, make sure you’re only indulging in the foods you really want.

“You can do this by asking yourself: ‘Is this a food I truly enjoy or am I just eating it because it’s here?’” she says. “You would be surprised by how often we eat food just because it is available.”

She also says to plan for physical activity. 

“During the holidays, it’s easy to let several days pass without moving our bodies if we don’t schedule it in,” says Eliot. “Think about activities you can do with your family that get you up and moving– a turkey trot, ice skating, walking through holiday lights. You might even try something new this year.”

Jessica Barlow, RDN/LD, with Ascension Saint John Health System, says ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is always sound advice. 

“Keep tempting foods out of the house and avoid taking home treats from family and friends,” she says. “If they insist, you can always give the treats to a neighbor or co-worker who would enjoy a sweet surprise.”

And instead of depriving yourself, enjoy the foods you love – in moderation. 

“Have some of your favorite foods and be cautious of liquid calories,” she says. “Forgo sweet tea and alcohol if you’d rather have a slice of pie for dessert.”

She also says to avoid sitting around the table after the meal is over, as it’s too tempting to go back for seconds and thirds. Consider creating family traditions that aren’t centered around food. 

“My family plays card games and dominoes tournaments for hours on end,” says Barlow. 

A strategy many employ during the holidays is trying to ‘bank’ calories by eating little to nothing during the day with plans to splurge at a party that night. But Barlow says showing up hungry will increase your chances of overeating. Instead, she says to stick with your normal eating habits and avoid ‘saving calories.’

“Trying to make up for extra calories often backfires,” says Eliot. “Try to maintain your usual healthy diet, focusing on fruits, veggies and whole grains, and recognize that it is okay to enjoy food along with family and friends.”

It’s also smart to watch your alcohol intake. 

“For many people, parties involve alcohol – which can lead to consuming more food than you normally would,” says Eliot. “Try to alternate between water and alcoholic beverages or aim to just have mocktails.” 

Barlow suggests bringing a healthy dish to ensure there’s at least one nutritious option available. 

“Add small servings to your plate if you want to try a few bites of everything,” she says. “That way, no one can be offended if you didn’t try the foods they brought. And if you overindulge, be kind to yourself and remember that tomorrow’s a new day!”