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How To Have A Healthier Holiday

It's the most party-ful time of the year, and Dr. William Li, Rach's pal and author of Eat to Beat Disease, offers his tips for managing the emotional and physical cravings that come as we once again venture forth to gatherings, if not galas.

Party season is upon us. How do we avoid overindulging?

Everyone loves a good holiday party! But it's a long stretch, and if you want to feel good to the very end, eat in moderation. Be mindful when you're in front of food and pace yourself. Here are my tips to avoid overindulging.

  • Recognize the items that are healthiest—hint: it's not the bacon-wrapped anything—and start nibbling on those.
  • Eat as much as you want of the things that are good for your body's health defenses: veggies, fruits (including dried), tree nuts, legumes, herbs, and spices.
  • Go easy on things that overtax or harm your body's defenses, like red meat, processed meats, cheeses, cakes, and candies.
  • Don't overdo anything. There's a useful saying in Japanese, hara hachi bun mi. It means that you should stop eating when you're 80-percent full.
  • Drink only moderately. Overindulging in alcohol makes it easy for you to overindulge in unhealthy foods, as well.

Hors d'oeuvres are designed to be tempting and indulgent. What are your strategies for choosing wisely?

Be selective! Just because tasty morsels are passing by doesn't mean that you have to take one. Look for hors d'oeuvres that are made with vegetables, mushrooms, or fruit. Avoid deep-fried anything and cooked meats. Sample lightly. The term hors d'oeuvres in French means "outside of the main work." Whet your appetite, don't blunt it, and save room for the main meal.

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Credit: Illustration by Asia Pietrzyk

How many apps are enough? Where should you cut yourself off?

Try three to five items, each once. More than that and you're essentially eating dinner. If the apps are dinner, have five or so and grab some crudités so you get your fresh veggies!

Crudités: Can I brainwash myself into thinking they're as delicious as a mini-quiche?

Crudités make you feel good in the long-term! (But beware of creamy dips.) If that's not reward enough and you simply don't like raw veggies, just look for healthier apps full of cooked veggies.

Would pregaming be a useful strategy? What if you stuff yourself with raw almonds a half hour before the party?

The key is not to stuff yourself with anything. This is the time to be picky. Select items you really enjoy, that are really "worth it," and pass on those that you can do without. Do that and you win!

Let's talk booze. How much is too much?

Everyone is different when it comes to alcohol—one person can get tipsy with just one drink while someone else can shoulder five or six before they slide under the table. To truly enjoy (and remember) an evening, drink lightly. Most studies show one glass of red wine is healthy for you; more could be toxic to your liver and degrade your health.

For those who overdo it, got any morning-after tricks?

Sorry, but the best cure for a hangover is to not get soused the night before. If you find yourself in a bind, sip water to get rehydrated; take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID); try some coffee or tea for a little kick from the caffeine; and be sure to eat breakfast to get your blood sugars up.

Social anxiety is pretty common during the holidays. Any healthy coping strategies?

It can be overwhelming after self-isolation and quarantine to be back in a crowd. Ease back in. Begin by seeing a friend or two, then go out for a meal. Starting out small will lower your anxiety level and prep you for a bigger event.

Want to be a health-conscious host? Here are Dr. Li's healthy-but-indulgent party foods

  1. Hummus or bean dip
  2. Flatbread topped with sautéed spiced vegetables
  3. Tzatziki, a garlicky yogurt dip with cucumbers
  4. Vegetarian chili
  5. Tomato tart

This article originally appeared in our Holiday 2021 issue. Get the magazine here