So, you’re thinking about the upcoming holidays – Halloween, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and Christmas and with a sinking feeling in your belly, you begin to be worried about all of the treats. You begin to get anxious about how you should be eating healthy during the holidays…and you think about all of the work – and struggle – to get through the holidays.
You can feel the white knuckle grip tightening on your eating already…and if you’re honest, it totally sucks.
What would a registered dietitian do with all of the candy, cheesy appetizer dips, pumpkin pie covered with whipped cream, and frosted Christmas cookies?
If you have been looking at other “healthy eating over the holidays” types of articles, you’d expect to see tips about stuffing yourself with salad so that the Thanksgiving stuffing isn’t so tempting. Or to go on a walk instead of having dessert.
But as an Intuitive Eating Dietitian, my perspective is different.
I believe – firmly – that our relationship with eating matters as much as the actual food. I believe we can nourish our bodies and spirits with both the foods we eat as well as with our relationship with food and eating.
All of those holiday treats mentioned earlier? I’d eat them.
If they sounded good, I’d eat them.
Say what? Didn’t you say that you’re a dietitian?
I sure am. I’ve been thinking about health and wellness a lot lately. And how much people associate “healthy eating” with abstaining from anything fun. According to diet culture, it is more important to use raw veggies instead of those salty, crunchy delicious chips to scoop up favorite holiday appetizers and to actually enjoy that special food that you get once a year for a special treat. I am calling bullshit, because, quite frankly, it is bullshit.
Is the point of holidays really to see how closely you can stick to your diet, at the cost of enjoyment, pleasure, and making memories?
This article is about how to enjoy holiday eating. Let’s make room for your favorite foods AND fun!
Is that even possible? Yes! This article shows you how. Here are my five tips for actually eating healthy over the holidays: healthy for your mind, body, and spirit and making room for memories (not diet culture: you’re not invited).
#1. Eat Beforehand
When you’re looking forward to a delicious meal around the holidays, it can be tempting to “cut back” on food beforehand, especially when there will be food that you might consider to be “unhealthy” and don’t typically allow yourself to eat.
Unfortunately, this plan usually backfires. You arrive at the holiday party famished and don’t feel in control around the food. Not only have you made the food “special” and “off-limits”, but your body is also screaming for fuel.
Instead of being able to enjoy the special occasion of this once-in-a-while food and time spent with friends and family, you’re barely able to think about anything other than FOOD. RIGHT NOW!
Instead: set yourself up for an enjoyable experience, making room for your favorite foods and making connections with the other party peeps. Eat your regular meals and snacks and come to the party.
(Psst: Have you ever used the hunger scale to assess what levels feel best for you? Check out my post The Right Way To Use A Hunger-Fullness Scale for the full scoop on what the hunger scale is as well as how it can help you to have enjoyable party experiences that aren’t thwarted by intense hunger.) We’ll talk about the hunger scale more in tip #4.
Next step: see what all of the options are.
#2. Survey The Food
When you get to the holiday celebration, take a moment to give the food scene your full attention. Take a visual survey: what are all of the options available?
Decide what food looks good to you and fill your plate with that. Sometimes we can get so overwhelmed when we just go down the line and the next thing we know we need eight arms to carry our food! We might feel stuck with foods that we don’t even want and feel like we have to finish it all in order to be polite.
BTW: there is absolutely nothing wrong with filling your plate, but a lot of times we pick things we don’t even really LIKE. This commonly happens when you don’t do tip #1 and show up HANGRY! Then, we feel like we have to eat it all.
Remember, as an Intuitive Eater, you always have full permission to go back for more!
#3. Eat Mindfully
Here is where not being hungry like the wolf comes in handy.
It’s easy to get super excited, start chit-chatting, and eat on autopilot. The next thing you know you look down at your plate and are like “Where’d all the cheese ball go?!”
Instead, allow yourself to eat mindfully and truly experience your food without guilt. Questions I like to ask myself to stay present and truly enjoy what I’m eating might be:
- What does it look like?
- Smell like?
- Taste like?
- Does the fourth bite taste as amazing as the first?
- What memories pop up enjoying this food?
These questions will help you pay closer attention to your hunger and fullness and actually reduce guilt because you’re allowing yourself to enjoy the food. Gorgeous, you deserve to eat food without guilt.
And, no, you don’t have to laser focus on your food. You can still have convos and gently ask yourself one of these questions once in a while!
If you’re struggling with guilt about your food choices, please know that you’re not alone. But also know that you can learn to let that guilt go. I have another post on my top 10 mindful eating exercises and another on how to stop feeling guilty after eating.
#4. Use The Hunger Scale
Remember that hunger scale tool we mentioned in tip #2? Let’s talk about that just a bit more.
The hunger scale is a tool that I use in my own life and it has helped me to better understand my own body’s needs and to react to what I need in a given moment.
This trust-building work with your own body is crucial to finding food freedom, which is why I teach my clients how to use it to help them prevent over and under-eating.
This is a guide to help you avoid feeling food coma-ed and also to prevent hanger (which leads to more overeating!) Snag a copy of my hunger scale in my free e-book, The Ultimate 5-Step Guide To Food Freedom, and use it at your next par-tay to leave feeling amazing!
Loving videos more than reading? I’ve got you: I also have a YouTube video where I walk you through how to use the hunger scale.
#5. Don’t Dwell On Your Food Choices
If there is ONE tip you take from all of these and put into play, let it be this one: Move. On.
Don’t beat yourself up for feeling like you ate the entire cookie tray or twice as much mashed potatoes as cousin Katie.
What will that do for you? Nothing.
Instead, resume your regular eating pattern and don’t try to restrict food. Remember that restriction will leave you more likely to overeat later! Nutritionally, our bodies do not work on a daily basis. What matters for our health is our food patterns over time and our emotional experiences with eating over time. A party here and there has no impact on the big nutritional picture…let’s not let it have a negative emotional impact on how you view yourself or the party experience.
When you are 99 years old do you want to remember how you ate an extra 3 cookies, or how many memories you made? Think about that.
If you do eat in a way that doesn’t feel good, simply view it as a learning experience. Yes, reflect on it and think about what might help next time but then move.freaking. on. Don’t ruminate unnecessarily!
One other thing to notice? It might also be possible that without the fear of missing out, you might have not felt the need to eat quite as many cookies as you would have normally if you arrived at the party completely hangry.
I’m here to say that it is 100% okay if you ate nothing but cookies, but I also want to make space for the possibility that you didn’t feel that same urgent drive, either. Permission to eat any food at any time is a beautiful thing, especially around the holidays.
Healthy Holiday Eating PDF
Did these tips resonate with you? I am so glad. You deserve freedom from diet culture. You deserve to enjoy parties – including all of the wonderful foods – without guilt.
Feel free to download this Healthy Holiday Eating PDF as a reminder that you do not need to let diet culture set the tone for your experiences this holiday season.
Key Takeaways: Healthy Holiday Eating
This holiday season, I invite you to make room for an experience that feels good as well as tastes good. Your relationships with yourself, your friends and family, and your eating are worth nurturing. Letting food guilt tag along is not empowering you to live your best life.
We can’t avoid diet culture completely – especially when sharing a table with Aunt Karen – but we can learn to set firm boundaries about which ideas we allow to take space in our hearts and minds.
Nutrition IS important. I’m a Registered Dietitian, I know this! It’s so important that I actually have an entire community devoted to helping you learn Intuitive Eating and implement it. You’re invited to join The SociEATy membership community.
Need more guidance? Be sure to check out my YouTube channel for more tips to help in your intuitive eating journey and take the no food rules quiz which will tell you what’s holding you back from truly finding food freedom and give you customized resources (and a workbook!) to overcome it!