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How to Enjoy the Holiday Season without Going Overboard

It's all about balance this time of year. Make a few simple changes, set some clear limits, and let yourself enjoy the season.

Q&A with Dr. Neil Wagle

Dr. Wagle is our Associate Chief Medical Officer here at Devoted Health. He’s also a primary care doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and on the faculty at Harvard Medical School.

Here’s the million dollar question this time of year: how can you make healthy choices and take part in the holiday fun? We asked Dr. Wagle for some tips.

What concerns do your patients have this time of year?

It depends. The ones who have been eating healthy for a while often worry that eating one slice of pie will open the floodgates and they’ll lose their momentum. On the flipside, I have patients who haven’t been watching what they eat. They’re afraid things will get worse over the holidays or that it will be too hard to change their habits with all those cookies and treats around.

So what’s your advice?

You don’t need to do anything drastic.  Even a few simple changes can make a big difference:

  • Take a small plate. A full, small plate feels more satisfying than a half empty, large one. And you end up taking less food.
  • Think twice. If you’re on the fence, take a moment to check in with yourself. Do you really want another slice of pie? If you do, go for it. But if you want it just because it’s there, it’s better to walk away.  
  • Stop before you’re full. Eat until you’re about 70 percent full. Then give it 20 minutes and see how you feel  — it takes that long for your body to tell your brain that it’s had enough.

How do you combat mindless eating? It’s too easy to keep snacking when that bowl of chips is sitting right in front of you!

I agree. The best thing to do is put some distance between you and the food. If the snack is out of reach, you’re less likely to keep going back for more.

How about when you’re out to dinner or at a party — you want to make smart choices, but it feels like everyone around you is filling their plates with unhealthy options.

I recommend using the buddy system and finding someone else who is also watching what they eat. That way neither of you feels alone and you can keep each other accountable.  

Sometimes people feel guilty or anxious about indulging during the holidays. Any advice on how people can keep their emotions in check?

Life is for living. You need to enjoy yourself and take care of your health in the context of your overall happiness. And if you feel like you need to set clear limits so you’re not constantly battling yourself, maybe pick a day, say Christmas Day or New Years Eve. Whenever it is, go enjoy it — give yourself that little gift — and the rest of the time, stick to your healthy habits.

What about your patients who have special diets, like someone with diabetes?

They need to be careful about sugar all the time — there’s no vacation from that. Even a single serving of dessert is an option only if they know how their body is going to react and they can properly manage the response.

How about those with heart failure?

Salt can cause real trouble. The problem is how it adds up over time — the more salt you eat, the more fluid you retain. And that can increase risk of heart failure within just a few weeks. That’s why we tend to see a spike in heart failure episodes in late December and early January rather than around Thanksgiving.

That’s serious! How can they reduce their risk?

I recommend that patients with heart failure avoid overeating salty foods like chips, pretzels, and Chinese food. And the best way to monitor your salt/fluid level is to weigh yourself each morning before eating or drinking. If your weight goes up more than two pounds in a day or five pounds in a week, call your doctor.

The takeaway:

It's all about balance. Make a few simple changes, set some clear limits, and let yourself enjoy the season.


The information in this newsletter is only for reference. It's not supposed to be a guide or a replacement for proper medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment you'd get from a doctor, nurse, or other health professional. So don't try to treat any health conditions based on what you read in this newsletter — that's not how we intended it. See your own doctor instead!