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Eat Smart at a Party or Social Event Guide

How to keep it healthy, without losing any of the fun. 

Who doesn’t love a party? Whether it’s celebrating an engagement, the big game, a holiday ritual, or just a fun Saturday night shindig, gatherings with friends and family not only make for amazing memories, they’re almost impossible to avoid. 

What’s also hard to avoid are the piles of cookies, heavy dips, and other unhealthy items that tend to be presented at parties large and small. What to do when you’re confronted by an atmosphere, not to mention countless dishes, that fly in the face of mindful eating? We actually have some ideas on that.

One note, before we get into the nitty gritty: parties, while fun and awesome and all those great things, can also be stressful; take a moment to remember the most important thing of all: to be patient, kind, and loving with yourself. And now, let’s jump back in with some longer tips.

Plan ahead

For best results, plan ahead. Makes sense: right? It’s why we track (so we can make adjustments and plan for the future), so why would a party be any different? It might sound a little counterproductive, but it’s a great idea to make yourself a healthy snack beforehand. Your desire to scarf down a bunch of nachos at the Super Bowl party, or to dive into the canapés at a christening will be much diminished if you’re less hungry. The less starving you are when you fill your plate, the easier it will be to be thoughtful about portions and heed hunger (and fullness!) cues. 

Also, consider fixing a green option to bring with you if you’re worried there won’t be any on offer at the event—more on this below.

Eat intentionally

Once the event begins, you should also have a plate plan. Many parties, like viewing events for sports (or The Bachelor), have food laid out, buffet style. Don’t graze; instead, make note of the food that’s on offer, and what you might like to eat. And then make a small plate for yourself. Be intentional.

For appetizers, gather a few on a plate and stick to that. With dip, put it directly on the plate and eat from there, so you can see what you’re consuming. Keep hydrating with water, and if you’re planning to consume alcohol, wait until you start eating, as this will slow the sugar and alcohol absorption. 

As for your main course, stick to the Portion Primer and eat slowly, using tips from the Eating with Mindfulness Guide. It’s better to avoid seconds (especially if you’re planning to have dessert), but if you choose to have them, that’s fine. When you finish your first helping, give yourself ten minutes before adding to your plate. Choose an item or two, prioritize anything that’s high protein, and serve yourself a maximum of half of what you took before. 

With dessert, commit to a choice and stick to it—it’s much better to make the decision out-of-the gate rather than to keep grazing on other things in an attempt to fight off the craving. Your dessert, like your choices for seconds, should correspond to your plate plan.

If it’s a buffet situation that’s less organized around apps, mains, and desserts and more just a smattering of foods, you can double down on that intentionality. See what’s there and decide what you’re going to have before you start serving. Make a smart, small plate that prioritizes protein and vegetables. Feel free to add dessert, but tell yourself that once you’ve eaten that brownie chunk, that’s your sign that the meal is done.

As always, seek out greens. Gatherings and parties aren’t exactly renowned for their selections of kale salads and beans, so we understand if that advice sounds a little futile. If you’re worried there won’t be many, or any, at a party, offering to bring a green dish can actually be a great solution. 

Push back against food pushers

Give yourself permission to push back on food pushers. Parties are festive. People forget themselves, or their manners. When it comes to food pressure, your best bet is to be open, direct, and confident. Make your mantra to be polite, but don’t feel guilty. If there’s a type of food you don’t want or a second trip to the buffet you don’t want to take, there’s no need for a lengthy explanation or excuse. Chances are, there’s some part of the meal that person doesn’t feel like eating, either, so keep that firmly in mind as you stick to your own choices. 

Lean on your other pillars

It might feel kind of odd to step out of a party, especially if it’s in the middle of a show or a game, but you wouldn’t believe how understanding people are that you need “a breath of fresh air.” One of your fellow guests might even want to come with you. Or maybe they need some more beer or soda water—because you’re running to the corner store and can grab some. If you can’t get away, or just don’t want to, carve out time in the next several days to get back to your routine. 

Go back to normal afterward

Regardless of how much you end up indulging at a party, treat the next day as a NORMAL day. Don’t restrict or skip breakfast. Instead, reach for one of your go-to breakfast options, include some warm water with lemon, and try to get a little movement with an after-breakfast walk (even just a few minutes going up and down the stairs counts). Keep in mind that it’s never the act of having the treat that hinders progress; it is the “screw-it” mentality that sometimes comes after. 

If there are tempting leftovers, or your partner decided it was a good idea to bring home the extra mac-and-cheese, or the hosts gifted them a pie that’s calling your name, look to your healthy options as alternatives. Have a snack that satisfies the sweet tooth but doesn’t trigger you to eat more. This might be a few pieces of dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) with or without a tablespoon of nut butter. Or it could be a yogurt-and-cacao covered frozen banana. For more inspiration, have a look in our Healthy Snacks Guide and More Healthy Snacks Guide. And for even more inspiration, look to everything you’re accomplishing, and all your hard work towards improving your health. Party on…