Food-related expectations around the holidays often include a roasted turkey or ham, a multitude of sweet and savory side dishes, and an array of desserts. Festive sweets find their way into the breakroom at work during Thanksgiving and literally *everywhere else* between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
For many, the holidays are filled with a mixture of excitement and dread: “How does anyone here expect me to stick to my diet?” we ask as we cram another decadent pastry into our mouths. Workout classes and fitness centers become another avenue for a heaping side of holiday guilt. The rhetoric around burning off future calories or “making up for” last night’s extra side of dressing piles the regret even higher.
How can we navigate these seeming food landmines WITHOUT reaching for the “safety” of overly restrictive and unsustainable diets on January 1 (and repeating this cycle until it’s time for the next post-holiday resolutions)?
Memphis Nutrition Group’s Top Five Tips for Navigating the Holidays with Enjoyment, Peace, and Autonomy:
REJECT THE DIET MENTALITY. This is the first principle of Intuitive Eating, a paradigm designed to help individuals connect with internal cues and leave cyclical patterns of weight loss/weight gain forever. The diet mentality infuses the holiday season: Feeling like you are OFF your diet from October to December can influence out-of-control eating in preparation for the impending food deprivation, compliments of New Year’s Resolutions. Research shows that those who avoid diets tend to display better attunement to authentic food preferences and feel less pressure to overeat out of fear that the food will soon be unavailable. Just do it: get rid of those dieting books once and for all!
CONNECT TO HUNGER AND FULLNESS CUES. Rejecting the diet mentality and giving yourself unconditional permission to enjoy the foods you genuinely want creates space to connect with your authentic body cues: how much food you are hungry for and at what point your body says, “Enough!” Our bodies are incredibly well-designed to inform us of exactly how much they need…without any calorie trackers at all! The caveat to this design is avoidance or deprivation: If you feel like you can’t or won’t have a food again, the deprived feeling can create cravings that persist despite fullness cues. Use this holiday season to practice tuning into your body’s *authentic* needs, preferences, and wants!
DO NOT “APPETITE SAVE!” We cannot emphasize this one enough. Skipping breakfast, coasting through lunch, and snubbing all snacks in preparation for an early evening holiday dinner typically leads to feeling absolutely famished by the time dinner rolls around (pun intended). At this point, all thoughts of enjoyable, moderate eating fly out the window and lead to the consequences of allowing the body to get overly hungry: feeling overly full, uncomfortable, and in need of that post-turkey nap. At the same time, however, it is NORMAL to feel a bit overly full after holiday meals – and there is nothing wrong with that! Be sure to eat regular meals and snacks prior to a holiday meal, and then enjoy as much as your body needs! You might also try setting an intention for the holiday dinner on how you’d like to feel before, during, and after the meal.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO USE YOUR “NO.” Well-meaning family members often push third or fourth servings of their specialty dish onto plates with this alarming subtext: “If you reject my recipe, you reject me!” Remember: Only you know what your body wants or needs. A fourth serving when you are already full is a recipe for stomach pain, fatigue, and indigestion. Instead of forcing in another helping, kindly acknowledge how much you enjoyed the dish, but since you are full, you’d love to take leftovers to enjoy later! Your ‘no’ is your voice! Don’t be afraid to use it.
ENJOY THE SPECIALTY HOLIDAY DISHES! Holiday specialties typically only occur once per year. Give yourself permission to savor each serving without guilt, staying connected to your internal cues of hunger and fullness. Research has shown that guilt around eating frequently INCREASES the amount of food eaten in one sitting. It also disconnects us from our internal cues and can lower enjoyment. To alleviate some of the holiday deprivation, consider giving yourself permission to prepare your favorite holiday dishes at other times of the year as well! Holiday food is meant to be enjoyed! Resist those guilty feelings and reconnect to what you and your body truly want.
Instead of dreading holiday foods, stay connected to your authentic preferences and internal cues, remove barriers to internal connection (such as diets or well-meaning pressure to eat more than you are hungry for), and enjoy this holiday season without guilt! Reach out to Memphis Nutrition Group for support or guidance in navigating holiday meals, family food dynamics, and setting table boundaries.
Emily Gause, MA, RDN, LDN is a Nutrition Therapist at Memphis Nutrition Group, a nutrition and lifestyle counseling practice specializing in a non-diet, weight-neutral approach. Visit Memphisnutritiongroup.com for more information.