Holiday foods to avoid if you're trying to lose weight

Holiday Foods to Avoid When You’re Trying to Lose Weight

Mary-Beth Folger NUTRITION, RECIPE, WELLNESS Leave a Comment

Tis the season… to stick with your fitness and weight loss goals! Personally, I am a moment away from throwing caution to the wind and buying a six-pack of Reese’s peanut butter trees, convincing myself that they are seasonal therefore I HAVE TO because they’ll be gone soon. This is one of many tricks the holidays play on your mind. Notoriously a time for indulgence, it can be tempting to put your goals on pause and live a little (or a lot.) But, we’ve worked hard and we owe it to ourselves to stay focused, my friends. In this blog, we will highlight the worst holiday food suspects AND introduce you to lighter versions that still feel indulgent. Let’s dig in.

The worst thing about festive foods are the additives. Rich ingredients like butter, salt, sugar, corn syrup, and toppings that can easily double and triple the calorie count and sugar intake of a single dish. As a good rule of thumb, the simpler the recipe the better it is for you. The same goes for processed food products in the center aisles of the grocery store: the fewer the ingredients and the more ingredients you can actually pronounce, the more healthful that product will be (there are exceptions, of course, which we talk about here.)


Sugar, eggs, whipped cream, and bourbon—there is certainly no Skinny Girl version of this (I checked.) The homemade version of this rich, creamy drink is loaded with sugar, and the store-bought version typically adds high fructose corn syrup too. The average recipe yields between 300-400 calories and over 7 grams of fat per 8-ounce serving, with booze added (here’s a breakdown of the nutritional values of many store-bought eggnogs.) If you’re looking for a lighter version, I love this recipe from SkinnyTaste: 106 calories and 2.5 grams of fat per serving. Now we’re talking.


It’s got fruit, and fruit is normally healthy… when there isn’t a cake around it that has been soaked in booze. This deceiving little cake averages 139+ calories per 1.5-ounce serving, for the smallest version, and packs a surprising amount of sodium. On top of that, it has little-to-no nutritional value in either store-bought or homemade versions. But, if you must have it to get by, Cooking Light to the rescue with a lighter fruitcake recipe.

Pecan pie

With copious amounts of butter, sugar, and corn syrup, it comes as no surprise to find this popular dessert on our list. A single slice of this pie packs over 500 calories, 37 grams of fat, 26 grams of sugar—shut the front door! Amazingly, I found a clean pecan pie recipe that is only 171 calories, 13 grams per slice, and The Gracious Pantry deserves a round of applause for this truly difficult feat. And, for our paleo friends, a recipe for you too.

Candied yams

Yams, and their close relative the sweet potato, are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. But, as all holiday recipes go, we have to go and ruin a good thing by smothering it in sugary, cinnamon goodness, thereby robbing it of any nutritional value. Le sigh. The serving size for candied yams is usually .5 cups and averages 100 calories, without the marshmallows. Of course, without the marshmallows! And yes, you’re visualizing that correctly; half a cup serving is not very much. Thankfully, Weight Watchers has a super simple recipe that will satisfy your craving.

Canned cranberry sauce

Emphasis on “canned”, this processed cranberry sauce averages 105 grams of sugar! It’s criminal, considering the overwhelming nutritional benefits of cranberries, like vitamin E, K, C, and dietary fiber. You’re much better off making your cranberry sauce at home, with fresh cranberries and sweetened with natural sugars, courtesy of If you’re looking for something sugar-free and low-carb, try this recipe from

Green bean casserole

As my favorite holiday recipe, by far, this one hurts a little bit. But I can’t say I am surprised. With butter, heavy cream, cheese, and salt, this holiday classic is a nutritional disaster. Let’s start with the good news: Great source of Vitamins A and C. Now, for the bad news: 8 grams of fat, a whopping 431 grams of sodium, AND the serving size is a measly .75 cups (I estimate that my preferred serving size has historically been 2 cups.) Eating Well saves the day with this lighter green bean casserole recipe that has me breathing a sigh of relief: 188 calories, 348 grams of sodium per one-cup serving.

Starbucks peppermint white chocolate mocha

I know, this one may generate some hate mail, but I call them like I see them. A grande peppermint white chocolate mocha contains 540 calories and 76 grams of sugar, and that’s with 2% milk. The worst part: it’s straight liquid calories and zero sustenance. In general, the average adult would have to participate in moderate to heavy exercise for 45 minutes to an hour to burn off this one drink. Insanity! Even the skinny grande is 160 calories, 13 grams of sugar, and the sugar-free syrups are loaded with ingredients you cannot pronounce. For a significantly less expensive and calorie-laden version, try this 35-calorie peppermint mocha recipe from Amy’s Healthy Baking.

Now is a good time to explain that the holidays don’t have to be about depriving yourself. If you’re working hard and meeting your goals, it is ok to treat yourself a little bit. Just remember, everything in moderation. Too much of a good thing can quickly become a bad thing.

Do you have a favorite healthy holiday recipe? Share it with us in the comments or drop us a line. We would love to feature it on our blog!