Should You Still Eat “Healthy” During the Holidays?

In a matter of less than 2 weeks, we’ll be going to parties and gatherings that involve some tasty and interesting food options; eggnog (alcohol anyone?), ham, cookies, cakes, you name it. It’s there.

Now, since we’re all into fitness and such (I’m assuming that’s why you’re all here right?), it can be difficult to navigate through these times. We want to keep on progressing in the gym because we’ve worked so hard to get there, but at the same time, we don’t want to be “that guy” or “that girl” who makes everyone else feel bad by not indulging in the holiday goodies. So, what should you do?

Well, the simple answer to that question is…

It Depends…

The most annoying answer you’ve ever seen in your life, I’m sure. Usually comes without a valid or applicable explanation too, which makes it worse. But don’t worry, I’m Zach, and I explain things…thoroughly.  

What Are YOUR Goals?

This is probably the most important question when it comes to dietary success during the holidays. Why do you train? Why do you track your nutrition and watch what you’re eating?

Is it for:

  • Enhancing your physique?
  • Gaining strength?
  • Having an overall greater sense of well-being?
  • Impressing chicks? (nothing wrong with that)

There is no wrong answer here. Everybody has different reasons for training. It doesn’t matter why you do it. My goal here is to help you stay aligned with whatever goal it is that you have. 

Let’s go over a couple of the most common goals that fall into broader categories that will most likely be applicable for most of you. If I happen to miss any of you, please don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments or DM on social media!

Bulking Phase

Hell yeah. This is the holy grail of goals to have during the holidays, which many people do. Being in a caloric surplus to gain mass during the holidays is a simple feat. And don’t worry, one day of more extreme overfeeding of a less than ideal ratio of nutrients is not going to make any sort of significant impact on your long-term progress. 

In one study of 31 young (mid-twenties) and healthy (non-obese and not overweight) people, subjects were overfed 1,250 extra calories per day above their normal levels. That equals out to a 3,750 calorie surplus over the course of 3 days for these people (1). Most people during the holidays (even if they are bulking) don’t even get to this number. But yet, we have to be realistic, some do. 

Even still, this study showed us that even though health markers such as body weight and fasting glucose and insulin increased, there was no significant increase in peripheral insulin sensitivity (the failure of tissues to increase the release of glucose in response to the release of insulin) or any biomarkers that are associated with insulin resistance, such as angiopoietin-like 6, insulin-like growth factor 1, selenoprotein-P, and C-reactive protein. 

So no need to worry here. You’ll see a greater increase in weight (a lot of it from water/sodium retention, so don’t get too excited) which will go away after a few days of eating on your normal diet. Plus, you’ll most likely get a good training session the next day due to the even higher acute increase in calories. 

Cutting Phase

This is the tricky one. To be quite honest, this one all depends on your view point.

Now, if your goal is to lose around 5-20 lbs, that’s what I’d unofficially call a light or mild weight loss cycle. In this type of cut, you’re allowed to be a little more lenient, since you don’t have nearly as much to lose as somebody who is carrying a lot more body fat on them. However, this doesn’t mean that you should go hog-wild and stuff your face with sweets and treats until you vomit. 

I can only give you my recommendations and insights as to what I would do. I wouldn’t go all out if I were in a phase like this, but if you’re one of those people with the “all or nothing” mentality, then go for it. I admit it can be fun sometimes. As long as it doesn’t promote an unhealthy relationship with food, then yes, stuff that face of yours. You’ll be able to catch back up to your set point sooner than you might think (depending on how hard you go). But if you feel like it’s messing with you psychologically and causing you more stress than its worth, then you got to learn to cope healthily. We’ll get into that into a future article.

No matter how big your weight loss goal is and you still want some treats to eat for the holidays, this is the approach that I’d reccomend:

  • Intermittent Fasting: No, this is no holy grail diet or solution to all of your weight loss problems. However, it’s been shown for many to reduce appetite in people more so than regular calorie-restricted diets (2). Because of this, I’d recommend following a diet like this for a few days previous to a party or gathering you plan on attending. If you’d like to find out more on how to perform this kind of diet and find out more about the diet in general, please read my other article on intermittent fasting here:
  • Whey Protein: It’s also been shown that whey protein, when taken consistently, can blunt both short and long-term hunger responses (3). I’d recommend taking it an hour or two before you head out to ensure that you’re not overeating during the event. 
  • Carbonated Beverages: Diet soda, sparkling water, whatever you’re into. It doesn’t take a scientific study to tell you that these types of beverages can fill you up and pretty quickly as a matter of fact. Just make sure you’re not adding a significant amount of calories to them such as through juice, alcohol, or other calorically-dense drinks. 
  • Variety: Get a little bit of everything. Anything that you see that you want to eat or drink, make yourself a sample platter of it. Do this in order to make you feel like you haven’t missed out on anything but also keep the portions modest, which can add up quickly particularly with typical holiday foods. 

Just Enjoy Yourself

Cliche statement alert. At the end of the day, it’s all about balance and moderation. The holiday season only comes once a year, so enjoy it to the extent that you want to. Don’t worry about what Joe Schmoe or Jane Doe is doing. Their goals are different. Their genetics are different. Their beliefs are different. 

This is all about you. Nobody else. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad about eating a particular way; holiday season or otherwise. Your the one who’ll be receiving the results of your actions, not them. So just freakin enjoy yourself!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and whatever else you celebrate!  


  1. Chen, M., Liu, B., Thompson, C. H., Wittert, G. A., & Heilbronn, L. K. (2016). Acute Overfeeding Does Not Alter Liver or Adipose Tissue-Derived Cytokines in Healthy Humans. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 69(3-4), 165-170. doi:10.1159/000452678
  2. Seimon, R. V., Roekenes, J. A., Zibellini, J., Zhu, B., Gibson, A. A., Hills, A. P., . . . Sainsbury, A. (2015). Do intermittent diets provide physiological benefits over continuous diets for weight loss? A systematic review of clinical trials. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology,418, 153-172. doi:10.1016/j.mce.2015.09.014
  3. Mollahosseini, M., Shab-Bidar, S., Rahimi, M. H., & Djafarian, K. (2017). Effect of whey protein supplementation on long and short term appetite: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN,20, 34-40. doi:10.1016/j.clnesp.2017.04.002

Leave a Reply