It’s the most wonderful time of the year! But with all the food, conversation, and New Years right around the corner, there is often talk of dieting, guilt, and pressure to avoid “holiday weight gain”. As a non-diet dietitian, I’m sharing how you can ditch the diet mentality during the holidays, enjoy the season and STILL be healthy.
It’s that time of year again, we gather with loved ones to celebrate the holiday season. We often do so over food, drinks, and conversation. It’s very common for that conversation to become about the food we’re eating or the drinks we’re sipping – or about the food we’re not eating and the drinks we’re not sipping.
Because it’s the holidays, traditionally there is delicious food all around us, often made with love or given generously from friends, co-workers, neighbours and family. With this abundance of food comes of course pressure to fear said food and “holiday weight gain”.
Friends, this is diet culture at it’s finest. Encouraging us to fear weight gain as if it’s the worst thing that could happen to us while selling us programs, advice and products that 1. We don’t really need and 2. Wreak havoc on our relationships with food and inhibit us from truly enjoying the holidays in a flexible, happy way.
It’s not Your Fault!
Before we go any further, I want you to know you’re not to blame. We’ve all grown up in a society that idealizes thinness and shames weight gain, regardless of the cause. There is constant pressure to earn or avoid certain foods, achieve perfect portion control, and manage our weight, and this gets ramped up over the holidays. While some of these messages may even be well-intentioned, they often backfire, leading us to feel out of control around holiday food and more likely to binge.
In order to feel not only sane, but happy, well, and able to enjoy the holidays, there are a few tips I have for you.
Ditch the Restriction
In order to ditch the diet mentality, we have to stop restricting food. As humans, our bodies reaaaallly don’t like restriction. I’ve talked about this before here. Under-fuelling or cutting calories in order to “save up” for your holiday party doesn’t work. Our bodies recognize when they’re not being fed enough and signal us to eat more (and often overeat) down the road. This is often how binges and feeling out of control around food happens. Food restriction often leads us to feel out of touch with our hunger and fullness signals, and it make us want to eat everything put in front of us that’s normally “off-limits”. This means that we end up even eating things that we don’t really like, but because we’ve put a mental “Do Not Touch” sign on it, we want it anyways.
Instead of restricting yourself over the holidays, make a point to eat regular meals and snacks. This will help keep your hunger and fullness levels in check, allowing you to tune in to what you want to eat and how much. I also recommend honoring your cravings. Give yourself full permission to enjoy the holiday foods you love and skip on the ones that you don’t. You’ll be more easily satisfied by eating what you truly want than if you tried to fill up on vegetables for the sole reason of avoiding the cheese (or chocolate, candy, stuffing, etc.).
Mind Your Own Plate (and encourage others to do the same!)
What you choose to eat is your business and no one else’s. What your aunt chooses to eat is her business and no one else’s. No matter the intent, you never know how a single comment about someone’s food choices could affect them. There should be no judgement or commentary around how much or how little someone else is eating over the holidays. It’s okay to let others know that too.
Let’s stop comparing our plates to someone else’s. We’re all different, and we’re not meant to eat the exact same foods or exact same amounts every single day. Base your choices off of your own needs, wants, and preferences this holiday season and we’ll all be much happier for it.
Change the Subject
There are so many more productive things to discuss with loved ones over the holidays than the newest fad diet or someone’s weight loss success, but somehow it’s always brought up. Comments about guilt or needing to “work off” the food after a holiday meal are also all too common. I encourage you to change the subject if you find yourself in a situation like this and talk about something more positive.
If you’re looking for some ways to respond to these comments, try something like this:
“Eating food doesn’t make you bad! Now let me help you clear the table.”
“That ___ was delicious! Now I’m perfectly satisfied, should we go join the others in the living room?”
Be Flexible & Kind to Yourself
Flexibility is so important during the holiday season, and I find that rigid “Fitmas” programs instructing you to work out daily, drink “x” ounces of water or “x” grams of protein may not only be restrictive in terms of diet, but also in terms of our social health and truly being able to enjoy the holiday festivities that we want to. In order to ditch this diet mentality, allow yourself some flexibility and be kind to yourself!
I obviously encourage you to move your body, hydrate adequately and eat balanced meals over the holidays (see the tip below) but I truly feel that adopting some flexibility throughout the busy holiday season will do you some good. Don’t be hard on yourself if you miss your workout one morning because you had a late holiday party. Maybe you find another way to squeeze some movement in later in the day? Same goes for eating. The holidays are not a time for rigidity, that will only add stress.
It’s also important to remember that external stress takes a toll on the body, too. Travelling, changing time zones, and challenging family relationships or situations are stressful and exhausting. If these are things you’re experiencing, be sure to show yourself some compassion if it’s all tiring you out. It’s okay to do what you need to feel good and take things day by day.
Take a Self-Care Approach
I like come at all healthy lifestyle behaviours from a self-care approach, but it’s even more important during the holidays. There’s so much talk about excess calories, alcohol, and holiday weight gain that it’s important to consider what the motivation behind our action is. Are you exercising on Boxing Day because you need to make up for everything you ate at Christmas dinner or because it genuinely feels good to move your body?
Try to do what feels good for you over the holidays and you’ll be much happier and less stressed! Add vegetables to your meals because they make you feel good, move your body because it’s energizing and mood-boosting, drink water in between cocktails because you want to feel good the next day! Choosing nourishing behaviours out of self-care makes them more enjoyable, sustainable, and less restrictive.
The holidays are a time to celebrate! To gather with loved ones and to enjoy all the goodness of the season! There’s no need to hold yourself back from enjoying it all, and you don’t have to hold back in order to enjoy yourself and feel well. It may just take a little mindfulness and care.
Happy Holidays everyone! I hope this post helps you ditch the diet mentality and enjoy the holidays. Sending love and wishing you a safe and happy season.