Tips to Enjoy a Heart-Healthy Holiday

Heart Health Before, During and After the Party

During the holidays, it is challenging for families to be heart healthy. Holiday celebrations may also last for several days or weeks, so vigilance is required across the holiday season.

Some irony is built into holidays. For example, while experts say to plan, plan, plan for the holidays, holiday parties and celebrations are often planned by others, and food may be prepared and brought by others. Another example is that holidays are a time to eat traditional dishes—frequently with great quantities of food—and time to sit and relax in a way that occurs no other time of the year. Experts agree that this scenario is just the opposite of heart-healthy.

In fact, researchers have found that weight gain during the holidays in adults typically ranges from about 1 to 3 pounds. This weight is not necessarily lost after the holidays. A new study6 found that a strategy of self-weighing with a graphic readout of weight change over time (n=56), was successful in reducing weight gain during the holidays compared to a control group (n=55).

How much control over holiday decisions does the partygoer with heart-healthy intentions have? Several websites1-5 offer a variety of suggestions for before, during, and after parties.

Before the party

  • Have foods to nibble on when cooking1 to avoid the tendency for extra tastings
  • Bake healthier for parties, with monounsaturated fats such as canola oil2
  • Never go to a party hungry3
  • Learn about portion size, as it is a learned skill4

During the party

  • Don’t indulge in high calorie and fried appetizers1
  • Be in charge of your party choices3
  • Control portion size4
  • Don’t feel you have to sample everything on the table1
  • Say no politely to seconds3
  • Bring homemade foods like those with fruits, vegetables, and lean protein and eat those foods4
  • If bringing processed foods to a party, note they often contain ingredients like lard, bacon fat, or palm oil, things that you might not normally buy or consume4
  • Eat the foods with little or no breaded coatings or cream sauce4
  • If you chose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation and be cognizant of the high-calorie drinks (eggnog) and sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Allow yourself the occasional treat4
  • Be the life of the party: focus on socializing, not food2,3
  • Make exercise part of the fun2

After the party

  • Enjoy leftovers in moderation2
  • Take time to relax and get back on track for heart health5

Cardiovascular nurses can share these ideas with patients as well as use them for their own heart health and wellness during the holiday season. Partygoers can use and tailor these strategies to their own specific holiday party situations. So, enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Related Tool

The Heart Healthy Toolbox is a set of patient and provider tools that cover eating, exercise and other lifestyle challenges. This is a free downloadable resource.


  1. American Diabetes Association. (2019). Planning Ahead. Retrieved from on 7/31/2019
  2. United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA) (2018). 10 Tips: Make Healthier Holiday Choices. Retrieved from on 7/31/2019
  3. Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Eight tips for healthy holiday eating. Retrieved from on 7/31/2019
  4. Mayo Clinic (2019). Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease Retrieved from on 7/31/2019
  5. American Heart Association (2019). Holiday Heathy Eating Guide.  Retrieved from on 7/31/2019
  6. Kaviani, S., vanDellen, M., & Cooper, J. A (2019). Daily self-weighing to prevent holiday-associated weight gain in adults. Obesity, 27, 908-916.

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