Healthier for the Holidays Series: How to “Nudge” Yourself to a Healthier Holiday

Pine cone and red berries

This article was first published in the El Paso Inc. on November 27, 2017

Are you wishing you could make it through this holiday season without ruining the progress you’ve made on your health? Or maybe you just don’t want to get deeper in the hole before you start your New Year’s resolutions. Without having to modify your favorite family recipes to make them healthier – which you can still do with the help of online sources and cookbooks – there are some subtle secrets you can use to “nudge” yourself and others toward a healthier holiday.

Red apple and holly in bowl

All of us have been exposed to nudges in our lives. Marketing professionals use them all of the time. They are subtle cues in your environment that lead to changes in your behavior, often without you even realizing it, such as those candy bars in the check-out aisle. While we might not like the idea of being manipulated by marketing, you can use similar concepts to shift your behavior in a healthier direction.

Pomegrante and spinach salad

Size matters: Studies have shown that a change as simple as using a smaller plate can lead people to eat fewer calories. Apply this concept to your serving bowls and plates as well – and apply it in both directions. Put your healthiest holiday goodies in large serving containers and the less healthy items in smaller containers. For example, put the potato chips in a small serving bowl and the light popcorn in a large serving bowl or the creamy dip in a small bowl and the salsa in a large bowl. If slicing something to be served such as pie or brownies, make the slices small. Your guests can always take more than one if they want to, but by making the default serving small, some people will find it easier to consume less. You don’t have to worry about being a bad host and running out of food; the smaller bowls can be refilled if needed. But by using the smaller bowls, people are nudged toward eating less of the higher calorie, higher fat foods.


Variety: Research also shows that when people have more choices, they eat more. You can use this to your advantage – have multiple choices of the healthier items and fewer choices of the less healthy items. For example, your beverage selection could include several non-caloric beverages and just one or two caloric beverages. Provide a variety of fruits and vegetables but only a small selection of desserts. If you are not the host, ask the host if you can bring something to share. It is likely there will be plenty of the less healthy foods already available, so you can opt to bring something healthier. Or you could bring a large healthier item and smaller less healthy item.

buffet food-salad-healthy-vegetables

Placement: If you are serving a buffet, put the healthiest items at the front of the line. If you are attending a cocktail party, do not sit or stand right next to the food table – you will be less likely to mindlessly consume food if you have to cross the room to get to it.

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