We are officially in countdown mode for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Bring on the gratitude, joy and celebration. Here come the gifts, goodies and parties. And tis the season for mixed messages about food, indulging, and the resulting guilt.
Are you striving to be “good” during the holidays, as if your self worth and salvation depends on it? Well, it doesn’t. But it’s no wonder you feel this way. Each November the morning news shows start in on the, “eat this not that” and “how to make traditional foods healthier” and “how not to gain weight over the holidays” and blah, blah, blah.
It’s time to change the channel. This holiday season, tune out the food police and tune in to a different way of experiencing holiday food by following these 5 tips.
1. Don’t Save Up
You’ve got a big holiday party to go to and it’s probably tempting to skip breakfast and maybe just eat something really small at lunch. This concept of “saving up” calories usually ends up in overeating in the long run. How does this happen? By the time you get to the afternoon, after skimping on breakfast and lunch, you’re starving. And you’re certainly not in any frame of mind to make decisions about food and your body’s needs. Your body is desperate for energy so let the shoveling of turkey, stuffing, sausage balls, and artichoke dip begin! When you’re starving, it’s a little harder to slow down and find your fullness. It is proven that the hungrier you are, the more likely that you will overeat.
2. Don’t Arrive Starving
This is not just an extension of number 1, although they do go hand-in-hand. Even if you have eaten a satisfying breakfast and lunch, by the time you start getting ready for the holiday meal or party, you might very well be hungry again. The inclination is to hold off; you have a lot of great food coming!
You’ve probably heard that it’s a bad idea to go to the grocery store hungry. Why? Because the next thing you know, you have a cart full of foods that you don’t even usually eat and you don’t really like because Melba toast is BOGO and you just have to have it. For the same reason, it’s not a good idea to go to a holiday meal or party starving either. Have a light snack, even if it’s an hour or less before you head out the door. A light snack takes the edge off and still leaves plenty of room in your stomach to be able to enjoy the delicious party food.
3. Enjoy the Food
You can now leisurely make your way to the food table, being able to chat with friends or family along the way because you aren’t dizzy, faint and "hangry" from not eating all day. And, because you had eaten your snack earlier just before you left, you are not desperate for food and you have created some space for yourself to determine what sounds good. Survey the table. See any favorites? Take it all in, then ask yourself, what do I really want right now? And you know what? That is the only question you need to ask yourself to determine what you should have.
None of this, “fill up on the veggies first business” unless of course that is the honest answer to your question. It is OK and completely normal if you don’t put one measly raw carrot on your plate. Seriously. This is a holiday party and there is great food and this not a time to squander precious real estate on your plate and in your stomach with “should foods.” So decide what you really want, take some of each, and pass on what doesn’t appeal to you. The sole purpose of a holiday food’s existence is for enjoyment of the 3 F’s – food, friends, and family.
4. Savor the Food
Savor and celebrate the amazing textures and flavors of the holiday food spread. Take your first bite and make sure that it is holding up its end of the bargain by tasting just as good as you hoped it would. Does Grandma’s stuffing taste just as good as it always does? Does Sally’s famous pimento cheese taste just as good as it has in the past, or did she have an off year? If it hits the taste bud jack pot - enjoy every bite of that beauty and go back for more if you’d like. If it doesn’t, put it down, don’t eat it, and move on to the next delicious morsel. Since you had that snack before you came and you don’t desperately need to fill your belly fast, you have the time to eat slowly and for enjoyment.
5. Cut Yourself Some Slack
Now after all this, you might still eat more than you planned. So what if you do overeat? It is ok, I promise. As a matter of fact, overeating at times actually fits into the definition of normal eating. Overeating at Thanksgiving, a holiday party or Christmas dinner says nothing about your willpower, self-control, or your ability to eat well or care for your body.
Sometimes we overeat because it tastes good, and we need to leave it at that. There is no need to feel guilty about it. There is no need to resolve to do better tomorrow, eating less “to make up for it.” There is no need to resolve to do better the next time or resolve to “start over again” in the New Year. Why? Because this thinking starts a vicious cycle of overeating, guilt, and then restriction, which inevitably leads to overeating and then guilt and the cycle continues. This concept is worthy of its own blog post, or 20, but trust me Beloved, you did not mess up.
Holiday celebrations are about giving and receiving love. They’re about connecting. As the day that we celebrate the birth of Jesus draws near, push back on thoughts about food and body that distract you and keep you from enjoying family, friends, and the amazing gift of holiday food.
Megan is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. Megan specializes in non-diet, heath at every size nutrition therapy for women and nutrition therapy for the treatment of eating disorders. She believes that difficult relationships with food and body image are barriers to women living life fully the way that Christ wants for us and she loves helping women find freedom in eating and acceptance of their bodies so that they can turn more attention towards living.