Alison Sweeney is an author, actress, fitness advocate and former host of The Biggest Loser, so she knows what it takes to get and stay in shape – even during the usually overindulgent holiday season.
Sweeney, 39, shared her top tips for staying healthy during Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season while speaking to PEOPLE on behalf of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council and their Little Changes for the Holidays sweepstakes, which invites people to build a Pinterest board with their favorite recipes to enter to win $500 to create their own holiday meal.
1. Don’t eat unhealthy foods just because they are readily available.
The most important rule I stick to is that the calories have to be worth it. I don’t mind indulging, but I don’t want it to be thoughtless. You don’t want to cram food in your mouth just because you’re at this certain party. If it’s not exactly the delicious thing I wanted it to be, then it’s easy for me to just say, ‘No thank you.’
2. Eat a healthy meal before going to a holiday gathering.
I really try not to starve myself in between indulgences. A lot of people’s technique is to not eat, and then go to the party to save calories. That’s really a reverse logic – you end up eating more calories of the unhealthy stuff because you’re starving. If you eat a full healthy meal and make sure it has all the nutrients and all the good, healthy stuff that you need, you may be tempted to try the not-so-healthy dip, but you’re not going to eat as much, because you’re already full.
3. Make healthy swaps for traditional holiday recipes.
I like a cauliflower mash with celery root or apples, and I find that to be more delicious and more interesting than mashed potatoes. There’s also value and nutrition to that dish as opposed to plain starch with butter in it. I think there’s also a great opportunity to offer healthy appetizers and side dishes. Rather than serving a cheese spread, you could have fresh fruits, such as blueberries, available.
4. If you’re the one preparing the meal, make sure to have healthy snacks on hand.
One of the tricky things about Thanksgiving is that people end up consuming tons of calories before they even sit down to dinner. I make sure that I have a bowl of blueberries and some almonds out for myself, because I’m smelling these delicious things all day long, so that’s what I snack on instead of the stuffing.
5. Find alternative ways to stay active if you can’t make it to the gym.
It’s important not to stress yourself out if you’re too busy and don’t have a chance to go to the gym. There are other things you can do to be fit. Meet up with a friend and go for a walk rather than a drink.
6. Practice portion control, especially during the holidays when everything is so tempting and delicious.
Really keep the portions small. Enjoy your time with your family, and if you’re still hungry 20 minutes later, there’s always going to be seconds. Don’t pile up your plate the first time. Make yourself get up and walk back and forth if you really want seconds.
7. Serve your meals on smaller plates.
Those big charger plates make you feel like you need to fill them up. I serve dinner on 7″ plates. I’m always happy to have more, but your belly takes a long time to communicate with your mind that it’s full, so it’s always good to give yourself time to sit and digest and enjoy it, and then see if you need more.
–Gabrielle Olya, @GabyOlya