Dec 10 2014

Dr. Sherry Pagoto,


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Change, Healthy Lifestyle



‘Tis the season of parties…every weekend. If you are lucky like me, in addition to holidays, you have a slew of birthdays in the next month too. With parties come buffets, persistent relatives, stress, lots of leftovers—and a shocking Jan 1 weigh in. In fact, studies have shown that the weight that people gain each year is gained largely during the holiday season. Healthy lifestyle means healthy partying. Here are 18 ways to make your party time a little healthier.

  1. Hungry Like The Party Wolf.The combination of extreme hunger and lots of yummy choices can be the recipe for overeating. Be sure to eat regular meals prior to parties so you don’t have a raging appetite at the party. Also, consider having a light snack before the party so you aren’t going in hungry.
  2. A Kid In A Candy Store. There is a reason this is a saying. When we are confronted with tons of yummy options, we get excited and want to dive into everything. Take a step back, look at all that is being served, decide which food is your favorite and enjoy a full portion of that. Ignore the desire to try everything. Studies have shown that the greater the number of different foods served, the more we eat. You can reduce your intake by eating only 1-2 foods.
  3. Drink Mindfully.Alcohol makes us throw caution to the wind and a second dessert onto our plate. Before the party starts, decide how many drinks you wish you to have and stick to it. Share it with your partner so he/she can help you stay on track. This will force you to spread your drinks out and probably enjoy them much more.
  4. Create A Little Leeway.You might consider adding a workout or two during the week to offset the extra calories consumed at a party on the weekend. The danger to this option is overcompensating. If you added a mile to your walk once, keep in mind this may not be more than an extra 100 calories burned. That doesn’t give you many extra calories to work with.
  5. Stop The Bleeding.One problem with parties is that food is out the whole time and so we continuously munch—for hours. To avoid the slow and steady intake of calories, serve all the food you will have all at once on one plate and work only off of that plate. This adds punctuation to your party eating, when the plate is empty you know you are done. Ask for recipes instead of leftovers so you don’t feel like you are missing out on the things you passed over.
  6. A Little Help From A Friend.Tell a friend or family member who will be at the party to help you stay on track. Share your goal for the party (e.g., only eat one plate, no dessert, etc) and ask them to help keep you accountable.
  7. Sneak In A Workout—At The Party.I’m a big fan of sneaking in workouts in unusual places, including parties. Initiate an active game at parties (e.g., active video game, lawn sport, plank off) to keep yourself occupied and away from food. Plus, it’s a ton of fun.

Party Is At Someone Else’s House

  1. Persistent Host 1. If the host insists that you eat more than you care to (or eat a food you don’t care to), tell her/him you are watching your weight. You might be surprised at how helpful some people become once they know you are trying to lose weight.
  2. Persistent Host 2. Ok so the host isn’t giving up so easy. She insists you don’t need to lose weight and that you should eat her pie!  Don’t fight, just agree instead to take it in a doggie bag for later. Once you get home, either put it in the fridge or trash it.
  3. Persistent Host 3. The host won’t settle for the doggie bag—she wants all that food gone, now! Tell her you are eating light because you aren’t feeling so well today. I’m a fan of fabricating subclinical tummy ailments. “Oh my stomach just isn’t right today, I hope I don’t have that norovirus that is tearing through the schools.”  Most people will back off at this point. No one wants you yawning in technicolor on their berber.
  4. Persistent Host 4. Turns out the host is willing to take her chances on your tummy ailment and plops that piece of pie on your plate anyway. Time to bring out the big guns. At this point, channel your inner 6 year old by pushing the pie around your plate, fake eat it, only to throw it into the garbage, disposal, or feed it to the dog when the host isn’t looking. Why grandma, dare I say your lemon pie was even better than last year! 
  5. Courteous Host. Some party hosts are more understanding than PH’s 1-4. A good friend, for example; one who is always there for you. Talk to the host in advance to let them know you are trying hard not to overeat and to not be offended if you go easy on your portions. This could head off at the pass the embarrassing call-outs at the table, “Hey, you are eating like a bird, what’s wrong?”
  6. Aunt Marshmallow and Uncle Potato Chips. Ever notice that there are some people who don’t offer a single healthy option at their parties? This makes things difficult. When I visit Aunt Marshmallow and Uncle Potato Chips, I am sure to help them out by bringing a healthy dish or snack so I have at least one thing I can eat and feel good about. A veggie and/or fruit tray are great options.

Party Is At Your House

  1. Menu Planning.  If the menu is in your hands, be a little selfish and a lot of sneaky. Find healthy recipes for your favorite party dishes and don’t tell people you went the healthy route (unless it’s a crowd that will appreciate that). Cooking Lightis a great website for healthy recipes. Do a search for your favorite party dish and see if they have a healthier version.
  2. No One Will Leave Hungry, I Swear. When we plan parties, we have this intense fear of running out of food so we cook way more than is needed. To minimize leftovers, ask guests to RSVP so you can prepare only the amount of food you will need for the number of guests. Keep in mind that thanks to cold and flu season, usually less people come than RSVP’ed, not more.
  3. You Take The Leftovers. NO! YOU Take The Leftovers. As much as people love the food at parties, have you ever noticed how reluctant they are to take leftovers home? These people are no different than you and me, they are worried they will overeat too!  Don’t push leftovers on guests if they aren’t chomping at the bit for them or you become Persistent Hosts 1-4! Put leftovers in single serving containers and pop in the freezer so you have them for lunches or dinners over the week.
  4. Screw Cooking 1. At some point in life we decide we are done cooking for parties. If you like to order in, then be selective about the catering company you choose. Find one that has healthy choices (e.g., turkey sub sandwiches, hummus platter, Boston Market). Ask for nutrition information before ordering.
  5. Screw Cooking 2. Why cook when you can have your guests do it? Whoever invented the potluck is a damn genius. For your next party, plan a healthypotluck by asking guests to bring their favorite healthy dish and to bring copies of the recipes to pass. Everyone leaves with a healthy meal in the belly and a healthy cookbook of recipes.

Got other tricks of the party trade? I would love to heat them.



Dr. Sherry Pagoto is a licensed clinical psychologist, Associate Professor of Medicine, and co-founder of the UMass Center for mHealth and Social Media at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Her research is focused on weight management, eating pathology, depression/stress, and cancer prevention. Her research has been funded by the NIH for 12 years and she has published 116 papers in scientific journals.  Her work has been featured in Time, Good Morning America, NPR, NBC News, ABC News, Fox News, CNN, WebMD, AAPR, Huffington Post. As a behavioral scientist with expertise in digital health and social media, she has given talks and/or consulted for major companies including Apple, Sears, and Weight Watchers. She actively engages the public on social media with over 9K followers on Twitter (follow her at @DrSherryPagoto). She started an exercise trend on Twitter called #plankaday, and it is one of the top 10 most popular health hashtags. She shares her scientific and clinical expertise on how to develop a healthy lifestyle on her blogs, and Shrink, on Psychology Today.


Follow on Twitter: @DrSherryPagoto