The holidays are a time filled with joy, presents, love, and, of course, food. Like many families, mine caters each and every activity around the act of eating. While opening presents, we'll sip hot cocoa. As we watch specials on TV, we'll munch on peppermint bark. As we prepare to go to church, we'll talk about the scrumptious brunch we're about to have.

But, as someone who has suffered through long-withstanding body image issues, this time of the year has troubled me in the past. I couldn't consolidate how I could be healthy without being obsessive, while still managing to enjoying myself. It took me years to figure out the magical formula of eating for both my mental and physical health, but here are the tricks that got me through severe bouts of disappointment and self-destruction.

Prepare in Advanced for the Feast

If you know that you're going to have a large meal where there's going to be some not-so-healthy treats, there are some things you can do to maintain your fitness and your mindset.

Lila Seeley

The obvious course of action is to work out that day. Burning extra calories can give you both extra leeway with your future intake but also improves your mood. You'll feel reassured and accomplished, rather than guilty and pressured, since you know that you did something productive and something that is good for your overall well-being. 

fried egg, egg
Marlee Goldman

However, don't starve yourself. Obsessing over getting into a calorie deficit so that you can binge later on (trust me, I've done this before) just leads to metabolic disruption and over-eating. Eat whole foods so that you enter the festivities satiated.

A combination of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats will provide you with the nutrients you need for optimal health and fuel to get through the day. You'll also less likely consume more calories than you need, since you already have some high-quality, satiating foods in your system.

Finally, get yourself in the right mentality. I used to worry myself about the prospect of a buffet: how I needed to track every single micro and log it into my food journal, how I would have to work off all the extra calories the following morning. You shouldn't feel burdened by eating; you literally have to eat to survive.

But food to humans represents more than that. Food gives us pleasure because it's just so tasty. And the tradition behind the holidays is supposed to be joyous. Keep that in mind and remember: this time of the year only happens once. There's always time to "get back on track" and to "eat clean." You're in control. But you're also allowed to have a good, wholesome time, as well.

Scan the Selection

meat, vegetable, salad
Natsuko Mazany

Upon arrival at the event, you'd usually pick up a plate and head straight to the first thing you see. You'd pick up a couple of hors d'oeuvres and nibble as you pile on the main courses, one after the other. It's only when your plate is full that you see the one item you've been craving.

Wrong strategy.

What I suggest is this: instead of stuffing your face the moment you're settled, you see all your options and then ruminate on what you truly want. This way, you'll satisfy your actual cravings rather than merely eating whatever is in front of you. It'll make each and every single bite that much tastier, since you know you're getting exactly what you wanted.

Eat Mindfully and Intuitively

nectarine, juice, pasture, apple
Amy Miller

Going off of the previous tip, make conscious decisions about what you are putting into your body. Yes, you are here, and you are veering away from your usual kale salad and green juice. However, just because you have access to all the junk food, it doesn't mean you have to consume all the junk food.

Be conscious of what you put into your body, because ultimately it will affect how you are feeling. Sure, the sugary desserts will give you instant gratification, but you might end up going home with a stomachache. Understand how your body responds to certain foods (for example, I feel sluggish after eating anything oily, so I avoid lechon at all costs) and listen to it when you need to stop. Eat until you're satisfied, not until you're stuffed.

Swap Out for Healthier Alternatives

Tiffany Gao

If you can, try to choose or create more nutritious alternatives. For example, if you're going to a potluck and you've been assigned a dessert, use natural sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup rather than artificial. Drink water instead of soda (this helps to flush out toxins, as well). And, if you want to be ~adventurous~ make a traditional dish vegan or gluten-free! There are plenty of recipes and tutorials online that you can explore to expand your culinary skills and palette. 

Treat Yo'self

Finally, and most importantly, allow yourself to indulge. In our hyper-competitive culture, we tend to get caught up in the numbers and the immediate results. If progress isn't immediately made—or, worse, if we experience a setback—we tend to freak out and punish ourselves. 

Understand that it's perfectly normal and healthy to veer away from that strict path you've paved for yourself. Sure, keep that end goal of "fitting into that bikini" in mind. But know that to live a truly happy life, you can't fixate on that perfected, ideal life. You have to allow yourself to experience other pleasures, especially if they involve being around the people you love and enjoying the season.

Although fitness and health should be priorities, your happiness is, too. In fact, they all go hand-in-hand. To be healthy, you need to physically maintain yourself, but also fulfill your soul. So eat your pumpkin pie and drink your eggnog. Just don't forget to savor the moment.