SALT LAKE CITY — As my nutrition clients transition into full holiday mode, I've noticed a few trends: they’re really excited about but also dreading the holidays. With this season comes a lot of expectations, tasks to complete, parties to go to, parties to plan, food to eat, and all those Christmas cookies.
Remember being a child, when these fun parties and all the cookies and food were just about the best things to happen? There’s something magical about this holiday season, regardless of what you celebrate or how you celebrate. Unfortunately, some or a lot of that magic is clouded by all the holiday eating that could derail our best-laid intentions.
Instead of focusing on avoiding all those cookies or parties, I try to work with my clients to find ways to eat the foods that they enjoy and find ways to really focus in on the joy, enjoyment, and good times that occur during this special season. I’m not saying that this is easy, but it’s something to keep in mind as you move through December. And, it's a perspective that can enhance your life.
I’ve collected expert quotes about eating during the holidays, and here are a few quotes that spoke to me. They range in topic from eating what you like, giving yourself a break, practicing mindfulness, and including aspects of self care and compassion.
Eat what you like
I often hear clients dreading having to face all the holiday foods. All the desserts, all the rich foods, all of the whatever.
- "I give you permission to eat the foods you enjoy this holiday, surrounded by friends and family you love. Slow down and enjoy every bite - you may find you are satisfied sooner. And remember...pumpkin pie is available all year round - not just at Thanksgiving. Understanding this will reduce the feeling that you have to eat #allthepie right now!" — Christin Morgan MS, RDN, CSG
- "The more you enjoy your food, the better you absorb it. Giving yourself full permission to eat and enjoy your favorite holiday food not only can help you have less GI (gastrointestinal) upset afterward, but less of a biochemical stress response. A stress response in the form of increased cortisol can occur when we internally criticize ourselves for a given food choice." — Tiffany Haug MS, RDN, EDOC
- "Check out the holiday buffet table before picking up your plate. When at a holiday party, go ahead & admire the beautifully set table. Take note of all the foods being offered [and decide what you really want]." — Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD of Eat Well to Be Well RD
- "It’s ok to say 'no.' If you’re genuinely full or just don’t want to eat something, you don’t have to! You can politely decline the food pushers by saying something like, 'That looks wonderful, but I’m stuffed.' Also, if you try something and it just doesn’t taste good or satisfying to you, nobody says you have to finish it!" — Kaleigh McMordie MCN, RDN, LD of Lively Table Nutrition.
Also, holiday parties, particularly holiday buffets, can be a great opportunity to try new foods, or to introduce foods you have restricted in the past. You can get as much as you want on your plate, and you have the opportunity to mindfully eat it. At that time, you’ll cue into your feelings about that food and if you like it or not. If you like it, continue to eat, if not, move on to another food on your plate. No expectation, no shame, no guilt.
Give yourself a break
Eating well doesn’t mean eating perfectly. Eating well incorporates listening to your body’s cues and needs. Trying to eat so perfectly is exhausting for many, and not necessary to be healthy or happy. Eating is a pleasurable experience, and should often be that way. If eating isn’t pleasurable or if eating stresses you out, consider talking to someone about it.
- "In preparation for a big holiday party or feast, do not skip meals as this may result in intensified food cravings and/or overeating. Instead, focus on eating regular meals during the day (every 3-4 hours) and rely on your body's natural hunger and fullness cues to help guide you in making your plate." — Samina Qureshi RDN, LD of the Wholesome Start
- "If and when you start to feel stressed about eating, pause and take a breath. Remind yourself that for the rest of your life you have permission to eat whatever, whenever you want. Only you get to decide what is best for you. Let the food rules and diet police pass you by." — Haley Goodrich RD, LDN of Inspird Nutrition
- "Know that you don’t become a good person by eating ‘healthy’ foods, or a bad person by eating foods from the ‘naughty’ list. Keeping this perspective helps normalize what food is: simply nourishment for our body; nothing that has power over us. This holiday season, un-invite the Food Police and regain your ability to neutralize your eating experience, outside of the good versus bad mentality. Without unnecessary food rules in place, you are more likely to feel satisfied at meals, feel less inclined to "indulge" or overeat, and more able to focus on the things that are most important, like relationships and memories." — Adapted from Crystal Karges MS, RDN, IBCLC
Mindfulness is a great non-judgmental, no guilt way to tune into your own body to realize what you really like and what your body needs.
- "Start the way you wish to go. In other words, if you make your everyday eating mindful, enjoyable, and satisfying, then the holidays won’t be much different." — Adina Pearson, RD
- "Reflect before beginning to eat. Take a deep breath, give yourself a moment to check in to see how you feel. Do you feel stressed? Sad? Bored? Hungry? Are you eating what you really want?" — Christine Smith MS, RDN, LDN
- "Remember these two words to guide you through the holidays — intention and attention. Set an intention before sitting down for a meal by pausing and considering how you’d like to experience the wonderful food you’re about to eat and how you’d like to feel when you’re done. Pay attention to hunger/fullness cues, choose foods you truly love or want to try, savor and enjoy each bite." — Gretchen Zimmermann RD, CNSC, the Happy Go Healthy RD.
Include aspects of self-care and compassion
Take care of yourself, do what feels good, and leave the habits that don’t enhance your wellbeing. Eat foods you enjoy, participate in activities and movement that you enjoy and will want to continue-whatever that is.
- "Nourishing ourselves goes beyond what we eat. It includes how we care for ourselves, and during the holiday season especially, this is essential. Making space for enjoyable activities, surrounding yourself with people who support you, and creating healthy boundaries can add peace rather than stress to this busy time of year." — Samantha Lewandowski MS, RD, LDN, of The Big Picture RD.
- "Keep up with your normal exercise habits/routines. Do what feels good and not just as a way to counter what you ate (it doesn't necessarily work like that). Keeping up with your normal habits makes it easier to get back into your routine after the holiday season." — Jenna Gorham, RD, LN of Jenna Gorham Nutrition.
- "Remember not to place morality on your food choices. Eating a particular food doesn’t make you ‘bad’ just like eating ‘clean’ doesn’t make you ‘good’. You are allowed to enjoy foods that your body craves, both during the holiday season and throughout the rest of the year." — Amy Shen RD.
- "Take a moment to zoom out and consider what the holiday season really means to you — I'm assuming it's not restriction or weight loss! Use that to help you set an intention to guide you throughout the holiday season." — Vincci Tsui, RD, certified intuitive eating counselor.
- "Food has two purposes: nourishment and pleasure. It’s ok to make food choices based on either of those purposes. Also, nutrition is about what you do over time, not what you do on any one day or at any one meal." — Stacy Lewis MS, RDN, LD
There can be a lot to be grateful for during the holiday season, but few of us show our gratitude toward our own bodies. Take some time to write down either: what your body allows you to do or what you're grateful for about your body. Not what it looks like, but instead what it allows. We often think of our bodies as objects, not the instruments they are to allow us to do incredible things. This can be difficult so give yourself the space to fumble through it.
And remember that you’re worthy of enjoying the holidays and all the holiday foods no matter your size, shape or health. For further reading on enjoying the holidays at any size and health, read this uplifting article on medium.com.