The holidays are right around the corner, and I know for me, it used to be the time of year that created so much stress and anxiety, especially around food. Why? Because the holidays are always associated with decadent foods, an abundance of alcohol, and for some, a fear of unwanted weight gain. It’s the time of year when all of those food rules that we’ve created (and the ones society has imposed on us!) are heightened.
This year, I wanted to share this article to help you ditch food rules. I want this year to be different than years prior. I want you to step into the fullest and happiest version of yourself; not by avoiding or restricting foods, but by leaning in to all of the indulgences of the holiday season, and walking away guilt-free.
Now, I know that if you have a troubled relationship with food, implementing the tips I’m sharing below, might be really difficult or even impossible. I have been in your shoes, not just for one holiday season, but for over 15 holiday seasons. So trust me when I tell you, I feel you.
In fact, if you don’t know my food story, I suggest you start here, here, and here. But the holidays in particular were very triggering for me. I remember going to my aunt’s house for Christmas every year, gorging myself with all of the holidays foods and cookies, and then hiding in the bathroom and purging. It was the same thing around Easter time too; the moment those Cadbury cream-filled eggs started appearing on the shelves at grocery stores, I’d buy 25 at a time, and eat them all in a single sitting, then feeling absolutely awful for what I had done.
You might be wondering why I’d do such things to myself. I now know that the main reason that my binging and purging was especially heightened during the holidays, is because I told myself that all the holiday foods were off limits. I created this big food rule…that I had to completely avoid anything with sugar, butter, dairy, and gluten. I was so scared of gaining weight and losing attention from men. And at the same time, I’d watch friends and family members happily indulge, wishing I could too, but I couldn’t bring myself to. My body wanted it, and my mind wouldn’t let me.
So guess what happens when you completely restrict and ignore the natural food responses/cravings from your body (and brain)? You might think you are exercising willpower, but restrictive behavior can lead to binging, and perhaps even purging! NOTE: I’m not saying that this will happen to you, I am simply sharing my own experience, experiences of others, and knowledge I’ve gained from hundreds of resources on this topic.
Today, I look back on all of those holidays, and I feel sad. I remember the girl that so desperately craved a “normal” holiday of “normal” eating and enjoyment, without guilt, and I simply couldn’t get myself there. It took me many years of implementing the tips that I am going to share with you below, and adopting a new mindset towards eating during the holiday season, and that is FOOD IS LOVE AND IT IS CONNECTION AND IT IS ENJOYMENT.
You deserve to eat and enjoy all of life’s pleasures, without guilt. Period. And oh, you don’t get a badge of honor by exercising willpower that you don’t need to have in the first place.
Back in the day, if I was invited somewhere for a holiday dinner, I would eat a light breakfast, skip lunch all together, and bank all my calories for the party; I was so afraid of gaining weight, and I thought that I had to starve myself in order to freely eat the holiday meal.
However, that set me up for failure. Why? Because I was so hungry when I arrived to the party, I essentially ate enormous portions of food, only to feel terrible after, both physically and mentally. For one, I’d get a major stomach ache, and two, I didn’t get to enjoy a single bite of holiday food.
So I learned that it’s important to treat plan for a holiday meal just like you would plan for any meal, on any given day. It’s super helpful to eat a normal breakfast, lunch, and snacks throughout the day, so that you make food choices based on true hunger and true cravings, which almost always will lead you to eating when hungry and naturally stopping when full.
I think it’s really helpful to check in with yourself part way through the holiday meal, and ask yourself, “am I still enjoying this?” It’s very easy to eat quickly and mindlessly, when in fact, if we simply pause, check in with ourselves, we may discover that we are actually satisfied with what we’ve already consumed (and if we aren’t, then we keep eating and enjoying!).
But once I started to pay more attention to my food as I was eating it, I realized that the first few bites of something tasted really delicious, and then not as much, which I then interpreted as my cue to either be finished with the meal or move on to something else on my plate.
This practice is otherwise referred to as mindful eating, which is simply about paying more attention to the sensations you feel as you eat. I’m not saying that you need to excuse yourself from the holiday table and go in the other room to ask yourself if you are still enjoying your food (lol!), it’s as simple as a quick pause to in between bites. No one has to know!
I think this one is pretty important, because even during a holiday meal, it’s important to get those nutrient-dense foods in. They will not only keep you nice and full, they will help keep your blood sugar levels pretty balanced. Oftentimes, we get so excited to dive in into pumpkin pie and cookies, that we overlook all the greens, the salads, the proteins, and the other parts of the holiday meals that are actually great sources nutrients and provide satiety. Remember, all foods are on limits, but plan your treats around the food items where you will get the greatest nutritional benefit.
One of the things that makes the holidays so special is enjoying quality time with people that we love. And when it comes to holiday foods, the special foods are a reflection of love, celebration, and the festive time of year. So, when indulging in all of the special holiday foods (perhaps things you wouldn’t normally eat if it wasn’t a holiday), I think it’s important to savor the food and enjoy it with your loved ones (i.e., not sitting and eating it by yourself in hiding like I used to do).
When I was knee-deep in my eating disorder, I would take my plate of holiday food and lock myself in the bathroom, and shovel it in my mouth in private. Then I would make myself throw up. There was nothing special or enjoyable about holiday meals.
But when you can be mindful and eat that food in front of others, there’s no guilt. You are fully stepping into the entire purpose of the holidays, which is about love, friendship, family, and celebration of food.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram for any period of time, you know that I love my wine and cocktails. And around the holidays, there is an abundance of it. My only tip here, is to be mindful of consumption. Why? Because if you overdo the alcohol, it’s much harder, if not impossible, to listen to your true hunger cues. Additionally, because alcohol has no nutritional benefit (it’s broken down by your body as sugar), you might wake up the next day feeling a little icky – with a headache, brain fog, bloat, etc.
By all means, partake in the holiday drinks if that’s your thing, but perhaps go into the event with a general idea of your reasonable limit. For me, I know that anything beyond two drinks does not set me up for success, so I try to stick to that, not as a strict rule, but rather a general rule of thumb so that I can make informed food decisions and feel good, both during the event and the next day.
The day after a holiday of eating, I don’t feel my best. Why? Because while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the holiday foods – with no regrets – the foods I ate were much richer than usual, which sometimes leaves my stomach unsettled and bloated. It’s normal, friends! The way to combat that is NOT with a workout to punish your body for foods you ate; it’s with a workout simply to sweat, move, and get your digestion flowing again.
It’s a proven fact that movement feels good, and it’s an instant mood booster! And because I generally feel pretty lethargic after an indulgent meal, I opt for softer workouts – a walk, jog, or a yoga class just feels so much better on the body than does a high intensity workout. That’s just me. Just get up and do something, because you can, not because you have to.
I always like to think about what workout I’d like to do the day/night before, so I can sign up for a class, commit, and otherwise get my mind in the right headspace and prepare for the following days’ workout.
I hope these tips help you this year as you step into the holidays, and make sure to leave a comment below and let me know what you think!