Consider the holidays, and chances are your thoughts will turn to food. If you struggle with weight or have an unhealthy relationship with food, the constant focus on food can be a source of significant anxiety. Here are my top tips to stay on track without feeling deprived.
1. Give yourself permission to eat
If you are truly hungry, don’t deny yourself. Over-restricting will only lead to getting too hungry later (making it harder to eat sensibly). Craving a treat? Give yourself permission to enjoy it.
The truth is, no single food will derail your efforts. Viewing holiday treats as the “forbidden fruit” (or “forbidden fruit pie?”), will only add to their appeal. Remind yourself that no food is off-limits. This can actually help you avoid obsessing and dreaming about that food. In fact, restriction and deprivation are common triggers of binge eating and often the reason strict diets don’t work.
I am a Registered Dietitian for the nutrition & calorie tracking app, MyNetDiary and one thing our users appreciate is that tracking calories provide them with a clear sense of how their choices fit into their plan.
Did you overdo it? Don’t dwell on it. Take a deep breath and move on.
2. Be choosy
Spend your budget on treats that are truly worth the calories. Stale grocery store cookies in the breakroom? Probably not worth it. Homemade fresh gingerbread cookies? Yes, please — totally worth it! Tracking your food choices using an app like MyNetDiary helps you see how holiday treats stack up.
Planning a holiday meal? You will find low-fat or low-carb versions of every traditional holiday recipe. You may enjoy some of these made-over versions, but you probably have an indulgent all-time favorite dish you wouldn’t dare change. That’s ok! Plan ahead to make room in your calorie budget for it.
3. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking
Traditional dieting mentality will tell you that you are either “on” or “off” track. It doesn’t leave room for flexibility and can actually lead to overeating in response to the feeling of having “blown-it.”
Indulging in a large meal or one treat will not cause lasting weight gain. It takes about 3,500 excess calories to equal a pound of weight gain. An extra helping of the desert will not even approach these many calories, although months of “holiday eating” could. If the scale shows a few pounds of weight gain overnight, it likely reflects short-lived water weight, so don’t panic.
All-or-none thinking also applies to exercise. Just because you don’t have time for your usual workouts during the busy holiday season, that shouldn’t stop you from doing anything. Remember that an energizing 10-minute walk is far better than nothing!
4. Build non-food holiday traditions
Food will always be a part of holiday celebrations, but it shouldn’t be the only focus. You likely have many fond holiday memories that revolve around your favorite treats, though it may be more about positive associations of spending time with loved ones.
Start a new annual tradition of walking in the park, completing a jigsaw puzzle, playing an epic game of Monopoly, or staging a dance competition. Incorporating a sense of playfulness will bring a calorie-free spark of holiday spirit!
A community service project, such as writing notes to isolated seniors or working at a food bank, can help you get outside your head and put your eating woes into perspective. Volunteering can even help ease stress and anxiety and boost your confidence!
When you are at the table, avoid talking about calories, weight, and dieting as there’s no quicker way to kill the enjoyment of the meal!
5. Consider “future you”
Think of eating sensibly and keeping active over the holidays as a gift to “future you.” At the beginning of the new year, you will be thanking yourself! You be able to ignore all the calls to start cleanses and intense workout plans as means of “repenting” for holiday indulgences.
Does the New Year seem too far off? Think about how you will feel, how you will sleep better and be more energetic the next day if you don’t eat and drink to excess at that holiday party.
As the Chinese proverb goes: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” Consider how grateful you will be to yourself next year if you plant the seed of healthy eating now.
6. Eat mindfully
Mindful eating is the opposite of food deprivation. It allows you to enjoy your food without judgment. After all, if you are going to eat that pecan pie, shouldn’t you savor every bite? Mindful eating helps you eat in response to your internal cues, rather than the countless external triggers, such as TV commercials, overflowing buffets, and friends and family nudging you get a second portions.
You can start practicing mindful eating by asking yourself if you are truly hungry. (You may choose to have a few sugar cookies even if you aren’t physically hungry, but at least you have made a conscious choice.) Slowing down the pace of eating, limiting distractions, and engaging your senses to notice the taste, smell, color, temperature, and texture of the food will all help!