For better or worse, office holiday parties are known for overly intimate co-worker chats, Secret Santa gifts with a person you don’t know well, and of course excessive amounts of eating and drinking. Showing up to work after your office party can be hard enough—without the added 5 lbs. from chugging eggnog and clearing the buffet.
Here are six tips that are guaranteed to keep you slim and smiling (despite the awkward interactions) during your office parties.
Spoil your appetite. Never go to your office party (or any party) hungry. Although your office is picking up the tab, and it may be tempting to show up on an empty stomach, eat something before you go. Contrary to popular belief, fasting then feasting is a guaranteed way to pack on the pounds. Instead, have a small, healthy snack that combines both fiber and protein before you go. Fiber and protein are the two nutrients that take the longest to digest, so they keep you feeling full for a longer period of time. By filling up before you go, you safeguard yourself from arriving in a ravenous fury of hunger, capable and ready to take down the first platter of mini quiches you see. Free of judgement-clouding cravings, you will be able to maintain composure when trays of tempting appetizers pass by and make responsible decisions about what you will eat as the evening progresses. Good pre-party snack ideas include an apple with a handful of almonds, high fiber crackers with sliced turkey or Greek yogurt and blueberries.
Dress for success. When scouring your closet for the perfect party outfit, look for items that are tailored and even a bit snug. It’s much easier to overeat while wearing loose fitting clothing such as tights, a loose dress, or anything with an elastic waist-band. Slipping into fitted pants or a tight skirt will help discourage you from eating too much (not to mention the new hottie in accounting may finally notice you!). After all, this is still a work event, and an opportunity to network, you want to look polished and professional, not like a slob; if dressing in a more tailored manner helps keep you from overeating, that’s a win-win. That’s not all though, your bag choice for the evening can help prevent you from overeating too. When you carry a clutch instead of a purse with a strap, you have one less hand available to hold a plateful of pigs in a blanket. Have a cocktail too and look at that—no free hands to pop another stuffed mushroom in your mouth.
Be a social butterfly. You’re invited to the office party as a thank you from upper management for the hard work you did all year, not your ability to clear out the buffet or lick all the plates clean. People often feel pressured to eat in situations where the company is picking up the tab, and everybody else is indulging. In reality, there’s little chance your coworkers and superiors would even notice that you didn’t try every single item. What will be noticed? Not saying hello to everyone when you arrive and gobbling down all the food before any of the other guests can serve themselves. So, when you first arrive, do not situate yourself directly in front of where the hors devours come out or make a bee-line over to the buffet. Instead, say hello to your boss, catch up with co-workers, or meet someone new. Once you’ve done that, then you can size up the edible offerings.
Scope the situation. Once you’ve said your hellos and are ready to eat, scan the full buffet and choose what you are going to have. Studies show that people who effectively manage their weight tend to scout out buffets and review their options before even grabbing a plate. Once you’ve scanned the buffet for your favorite items, if there are different size plates available, grab the smaller option (usually there is a salad or appetizer plate in addition to the entrée plate). Although seemingly inconsequential, using a smaller plate can actually impact how much you eat and how full you feel. First, our eyes play tricks on us. The same amount of food looks bigger on a smaller plate than it does on a larger plate so we feel fuller after eating it, despite eating less food. Also, studies show people eat more simply because more is on their plate. Smaller plate equals less food, and because it looks bigger, the difference in hunger is minimal.
Start by filling your plate with vegetables and salad before going to the entrees and desserts. For a visual cue, imagine your dinner plate as a peace sign, the two side portions are each 35 percent and the bottom is 30 percent. Put lean protein on one side and vegetables on the other. The starchy sides or dessert gets the smaller bottom section, which is equivalent to a few tablespoons. This way you fill up on the leaner foods that will keep you feeling fullest the longest (remember–fiber and protein!). And hey, you may even inspire your co-workers to make healthier choices too.
If you’re drinking heavily, keep it light. Office holiday parties are notorious for people (especially the quiet, unassuming ones) drinking too much. A toast to the season and a successful year is fine, and you should imbibe, but do so wisely. Special holiday drinks are not so waistline-friendly to begin with (a glass of eggnog for example is the caloric equivalent to a size medium McDonalds Fries!), so when one drink turns into two or three, calories, carbs, and sugar can add up fast! Even low-fat versions of holiday favorites can be a slippery slope (low fat eggnog is still 50 calories more than a small size order of Mickey D’s fries). Have a sip of drinks like eggnog to be festive, if you must, but if you’re planning to imbibe, switch to wine, champagne, or spirits like vodka or tequila on the rocks, all of which are around 100 calories per glass with no extra fat. Your best bet: alternate between a glass of wine or champagne and a glass of water. This will help you 1. stay hydrated, 2. prevent a hangover, and 3. keep you from being “that person” (you know the one who has no recollection of dancing on the table while belting out slurred lyrics to Jingle Bell Rock – that person never lives it down).
The Three Bite Rule. Let’s face it, everyone needs a little something sweet at holiday time, so you can indulge yourself, but have 3 bites and 3 bites only, of your favorite dessert. Studies show that people always rate the first and last bites as the best. Three bites give you a first, middle, and last, which is all you need to appreciate a dessert completely. No cheating: this does NOT work if you have three bites of every dessert, so choose wisely.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.