Just because you’re on a mission to lose weight doesn’t mean you have to become a hermit. You can still enjoy an active social life and successfully lose weight. It just takes a little planning. In this article, we’ll share some helpful strategies you can use to avoid sabotaging your nutrition plan and eat healthy at parties.
5 Hacks to Eat Healthy at Parties
Surely, you’ve heard of BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze). But what about BYOF? If you want healthy food options at the next party you attend, leave nothing to chance: Bring Your Own Food! If you leave the menu up to the host and other guests, it’s highly likely you’ll face a smorgasbord of tasty, highly-palatable, calorie-dense foods, which promote overeating.
On the other hand, if you bring an appetizer or two—or even a main dish—you’ll be guaranteed to have a healthy option. The great news is that we have a ton of delicious, super-healthy recipes, thanks to resident superstar Coach Cristina. Here are some of our party-perfect favorites:
2. Pre-Game Meal
Perhaps the most common tip you’ll hear is, “Never go to a party hungry.” It makes sense and is along the lines of the good advice to never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. Unlike many diet maxims, this one seems to hold up in the real world for many. Research, including a study in the prestigious JAMA Internal Medicine, indicates that people tend to choose more calorie-dense (junk) foods when they shop hungry.1
Similarly, it’s reasonable to conclude you might be prone to overeat—particularly calorie-dense foods—at a party. According to Cornell researcher and food and behavior psychologist Brian Wansink, “Even short-term food deprivation can lead to a shift in choices such that people choose less low-calorie, and relatively more high-calorie, food options.”
Instead, Wansink recommends eating a light dinner or healthy snack before arriving at the party. For this “pre-game meal,” it’s a good idea to include some protein and fiber, as these nutrients tend to be the most satiating or filling.
3. The Hunger Games
While the above strategy works well for some, for others, it won’t make a bit of difference. You see, we eat for many reasons—not just because we’re hungry. And we don’t necessarily stop when we’re full. This is particularly true when we’re exposed to a wide variety of foods with different sensory characteristics (like taste, texture, smell, and appearance), such as at a party, via a phenomenon called sensory-specific satiety.2
Another tool, which runs completely counter to the above advice, you might want to consider is using intermittent fasting (IF). This is a way of controlling calorie intake that is gaining popularity as a strategy for weight loss and health benefits. Alternate-day fasting (ADF) is one particularly effective form of IF shown to support metabolic function and heart health, favorably impact appetite control and satiety, and be a safe approach for weight loss.3,4
ADF typically consists of a “fast day” (calories are restricted to ≤ 25% of your daily needs) alternated with a “feed day” (where you are free to eat according to your hunger). So, if you find you overate at a party, balance your intake out with a “fast day,” which may involve limiting your food intake to a healthy breakfast or dinner (about 400 – 500 calories or so).
Please note that ADF (and any form of IF, for that matter) may NOT be for everyone (e.g., pregnant or nursing mothers, children and adolescents, individuals with an unhealthy relationship with food, folks who struggle with blood sugar issues, and people who need to exercise/perform at a high level). So you’ll need to determine if this is an option for you.
4. Damage Control
When it comes to weight loss, the unfortunate reality is that the overall body of scientific evidence yields the very grim conclusion that “exercise alone doesn’t work.”5 That said, research shows intense exercise does “counteract” the negative metabolic effects of short-term overeating (such as at a party). It also reduces the expression of factors associated with increased fat storage.6
Intense exercise before a party can offer additional advantages. On one hand, muscle mass is the primary storage depot for dietary carbohydrate. By “emptying the tank,” so to speak, with intense exercise, you have a place to store the carbs you eat. Not only that, intense exercise “sensitizes” your muscles to carbs, meaning they’re even more likely to soak them up like a sponge. Even more, intense exercise acutely blunts appetite, decreasing “hunger hormones” and increasing satiety hormones.7,8
Interval training (HIIT), high-intensity resistance training, high-intensity circuit-training, metabolic resistance training, and complexes are excellent examples of types of exercise that are time-efficient and increase calorie burn—up to 38 hours or more after exercise. You can find out more about these strategies in this blog post.
5. The Melting Pot
In the party spirit, the final tip is a potluck of strategies you can consider adding to your toolbox.
- Chew gum. Chewing gum does more than freshen breath. It may also help control appetite, decrease cravings for salty and sweet snacks, and reduce calorie intake.9,10
- Watch what you drink. Parties are notorious for excess consumption, which has obvious health repercussions and can negatively influence your food choices. Moderation (or abstinence) is key when it comes to booze. If you choose to drink, sip it slowly, and if you have more than one drink, have at least one glass of water between cocktails.
- Focus on the company. The real reason we go to gatherings is for the people and the social interaction. Both the number and quality of social relationships affect mental health, physical health, and health behaviors.11 When you engage yourself in meaningful conversations, food and drink take a backseat. And your health and feelings of wellbeing tend to get a tremendous boost. I’m by no means an extrovert, but at parties, I often find myself so socially immersed I forget to eat!
- Don’t hover near the food table. One of the simplest ways to eat healthy at parties is to position yourself as far away from the food as possible. The further away you are, the less likely you are to indulge. On the other hand, if you’re hanging out around the food table, there’s a good chance you’ll fall victim to mindless eating. Dr. Wansink’s research has shown that moving a chocolate tray just 6 feet away results in a 50% reduction in the number of treats eaten.12
- Evaluate your priorities. If you’re the type of person whose calendar is seemingly always filled with parties and social events, and they’re hindering your weight-loss efforts, it’s time to seriously evaluate your priorities. If you’re feeling a sense of ambivalence, or internal conflict, listen to what your body is telling you. It’s time to make the tough decision to prioritize yourself and eating healthy at parties.
- Learn to say “no.” Along those same lines, one of the most important—albeit difficult—things you may have to start doing is learning to say “NO.” Warren Buffet said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”
Wrap Up: Eat Healthy at Parties
Parties and social events can easily derail even the most dedicated folks from their weight-loss program. Just like virtually every aspect of healthy eating, surviving parties and the social scene is a matter of taking time to plan ahead. Evaluate the strategies available, and find the tool (or tools) that will help you eat healthy at parties. Most importantly, enjoy yourself and your company!