Experts say it’s OK to eat whatever you want over the holidays—there’s just one rule
As the year winds down, the rhetoric around weight loss resolutions ramps up. Additionally, ‘tis the season for unsolicited comments on how much we’re eating. For those of us trying to celebrate the holidays with a family meal, or just enjoy a pumpkin-spiced snack, this could lead to asking ourselves questions like, “Do I deserve to have this food?” or “Will my body pay for this later?”
“If our brain tells us that we don’t deserve to eat our favorite pie on Christmas day because we’re not at our ideal weight, when we inevitably cave and have our favorite pie, our brain is going to tell us how disgusting we are and how little self-control we have,” Clare Goodwin, a registered nutritionist and eating disorder practitioner, tells Fortune.
While ignoring internal dialogue about what we should be eating is easier said than done, there are steps that we can take to simply enjoy food. Experts suggest four ways we eat without feeling guilty over the holidays. These strategies will serve us well into into the New Year to push back against a diet culture that does not want to leave us alone.
1. Don’t restrict
Even if you feel like you will—or did—overindulge, restricting your food intake at subsequent meals may backfire.
“When you’re in this cycle it’s really common to restrict food to compensate for holiday eating, often by not eating the next day, or only eating something very low-calorie,” Goodwin says. “The problem with this is that your body doesn’t like low blood sugar, so it will drive you to go and find food to bring [blood sugar] back up.”
If you’re going to a holiday dinner, don’t skip lunch beforehand or avoid breakfast the next morning. Your blood sugar and hunger levels will be more stable.
Additionally, restricting ourselves at holiday get-togethers when others may not be doing so may make socializing with other people more difficult and breed bitterness. “From an emotional perspective, not allowing yourself a food that everyone else is enjoying leads to feelings of resentment,” says Lisa Ellis, a nutrition therapist and registered dietician.
2. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness means bringing attention to the present moment, which can help manage stress. It’s another helpful tool to prevent feeling guilty about what we eat over the holidays. Want to have a red velvet cupcake? Take time to really appreciate it. Think about the taste and how you’re enjoying it. If you’re with other people, you can also talk about how the food makes you feel, or how you’re glad to share a meal with others.
3. Forget the forbidden foods list
Food is often a central part of holiday events, but trying to navigate a list of forbidden ones is stressful, not celebratory. “Unless there is a specific medical reason to avoid something, or a specific food item is moldy, rotten, or actually toxic, I don’t believe there are any foods that are actually harmful,” says Ellis. “From a health perspective, in most cases, any food that is appropriate for the occasion is fine.”
4. Stop questioning whether you deserve meals or snacks
If you want to eat some chocolate from an Advent calendar, then allow yourself to do that without overthinking it. Second-guessing what we should or should not eat can negatively impact emotional well-being, says Ellis.
“Such negative self-talk robs us of joy,” she says. “If we accept that all foods fit, there’s really no place for such judgment.”
Let’s go ahead and enjoy ourselves—and our food—over the holidays.
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