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6 sane holiday eating tips

POSTED: December 6, 2017 11:19 p.m.
Paige Smathers/

Most of the food advice you see this time of year is unscientific and unhelpful at best, and harmful at worst. Learn how to approach food during the holidays in a way that's healthy and sustainable, both mentally and physically.

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It's the most wonderful time of the year — right?

The holiday season can be particularly difficult for people who identify as struggling with food and/or body image concerns. It's a food-centric time of year: everywhere you turn there are candy jars on desks, parties and get-togethers with delicious desserts, favorite family recipes cooking up in the kitchen, etc. While there's nothing wrong with a fun time of year filled with lots of yummy food, there can be some things to think about that might help to be able to transition from fearing food during the holidays, to finding joy and balance with food during this time of year.

Here are some tips to enjoy the holidays and the special foods they bring, without all the stress and chaos that you may have experienced in past years.

1. Give yourself permission to eat.

So often, we try to set hard-and-fast rules about what we can and cannot eat during the holiday season. Instead of this working in your favor, it often backfires and leads to bingeing on the foods that you've told yourself you can't have. Instead of saying "I will NOT eat any of that fudge this year!" say, "I will enjoy that fudge and will remind myself that I truly can have yummy, indulgent treats all throughout the year. Fudge isn't scarce."

Giving yourself permission to eat fudge will help you remember there's always another opportunity to eat it and therefore, a reasonable portion size can be enough.

2. Be intentional and mindful about your eating.

Trying to be more intentional about where and how we eat can create clarity in all the decisions we make each day around food. Obviously, you don't need to put pressure on yourself to eat completely mindfully every single bite, but perhaps you could identify situations where you are a bit more vulnerable to mindless eating and set an intention prior to the event to check in with cues of hunger and fullness through the event.

3. Make plans to make some of your favorites again in February.

This time of year, it's very common for me to hear about how "I only get this fill-in-the-blank food once a year, so I have to eat as much of it as I can because it will be another whole year until I have it again!" To them I say: plan to make your favorite holiday treat again in February — there's no harm in that.

In order to fight that voice in your head arguing that you should eat that third piece of peppermint pie or else it will be all gone for another 364 days, tell yourself you'll make it again in a few months. This helps to demystify some of the once-a-year foods and helps you to practice mindfulness and presence with foods this time of year.

4. Focus on people.

Take time to enjoy this time of year and the people who bring you joy. The food part of the holidays is definitely fun, but the people and the memories we make are what it's all about. Take a step back and look at what really matters to you this time of year and don't let your struggle with food get in the way of connection and meaning.

5. Remember that your body is well-equipped to handle imperfections with eating.

If and when you overdo it at a holiday party, don't fall into the trap of telling yourself that you've ruined your health or that you've done something completely terrible. The truth is, we all occasionally over or undershoot it with our eating and our bodies are well-equipped to be able to handle the times we fall short in heeding our appetite cues. Identify your all-or-nothing thoughts this time of year and replace them with gentleness and compassion for yourself.

6. Don't buy into the dieting messages.

One of the most difficult parts of this time of year is the incessant talk about diets, weight, food guilt, etc. and for someone who is grappling with their relationship with food, these messages can be so harmful and difficult to work through. Learn to recognize diet talk and diet culture and large, and practice rejecting those messages. You don't have to reject the people who are saying things about dieting or good food/bad food, but you can reject the ideas in order to truly be able to connect to the food and people you love this time of year.

Overall, take some time during the holidays to enjoy the people who matter to you most and enjoy the yummy food this time of year brings, too. Be intentional about your choices, practice being present and allow yourself to enjoy food this time of year without guilt.
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