9 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating
by Rui Tanimura
How many times have you heard a New Year’s resolution about going on so-and-so diet, or losing X amount of weight?
Probably too many times. This mentality ties into the binge-and-deprive cycle that often punctuates the holiday season. First comes the emphasis on over-imbibing holiday food, then comes the guilt and determination to "work it off."
This mental seesaw causes the body and mind to sense restriction on the horizon – which, in turn, can lead to an overly indulgent mindset at the holiday table.
So how can we leave the table or party feeling comfortable and joyful, instead of overly stuffed and guilty? Here are nine ways to say “no thank you” to holiday food guilt, and savor the spirit of the season instead:
1. Give yourself year-round permission to eat what you want
No miracle fasts or juice cleanses necessary! On the contrary: Allow yourself to eat all of your favorite foods – of any amount – at any time. Give yourself the permission you deserve. Trying to avoid your favorite holiday foods actually causes more cravings rather than decreasing them, which is an accidental setup to overeating these foods.
The holidays are many things. They’re time for presents, family memories, and reflection on a year completed. However, they are not the only time you can have cookies or pie. You have full permission to eat your favorites whenever you want.
Note: If you have a history of disordered eating, this concept may seem overwhelming, or even scary. Permission to eat can help you notice and pause when you're full – before you become too stuffed.
2. Practice mindful eating
It’s almost alarmingly easy to wolf down a meal without paying note to its unique flavors and delights. By practicing mindfulness when you eat, you give yourself a chance to slow down and actually enjoy the whole experience, thereby reducing the compulsion to overeat.
Try these mindful exercises the next time you sit down to enjoy food:
Name your food: The simple act of naming each dish and beverage helps us to elevate the experience of consuming it.
Gratitude: You could say a brief statement of gratitude out loud before eating, or repeating it to yourself. Try something along the lines of, “I am grateful for the farmers who grew this food, for those who picked it, the drivers who delivered it, the store that stocked it, and the loved ones who prepared it.”
Unplug: Turn off the TV, look away from your phone, and (as cheesy as it may sound) be one with your meal. Eliminating distractions will allow you to be more mindful with each bite.
3. Try not to purposely skip meals
Skipping meals will leave you even hungrier than usual, thereby setting yourself up to over-eat. Instead, try to eat frequently throughout the day. Whether it’s three solid meals, or an addition of more nourishing snacks, see what works for your unique body.
Whatever you decide, do make your meals enjoyable with a lot of variety. Eating should be a time of fun and nourishment, for both your body and your soul.
4. Take a moment to check in with yourself before eating
Before digging into a delicious holiday meal, pause and ask yourself how hungry you feel. This is an especially important step if you have a tendency to deny yourself, as you may have lost that mind-stomach connection.
Sometimes, rating your hunger or fullness on the following scale from one to five helps:
1- I could eat a whole country
3- Satisfied, but I could use a nibble…
5- Uncomfortably stuffed
5. Remind yourself of the bigger picture
Remember: No one single meal, snack, or type of food/beverage will make you healthy or unhealthy!
6. Remove expectations and labels from your food
Try not to judge your food choices. Do your best to remove “good/bad,” or “right/wrong” labels on food.
If someone questions your food choices, remember – it’s often less about you, and more about themselves. Thank them for their concern, and continue eating whatever delicious treat you’d planned to eat!
7. Fill your feed with body positivity
If you’re feeling down, but aren’t mentally in a place where you can to reach out to a loved one, try tuning into encouraging words and online presences instead.
Try listening to these podcasts:
The Mindful Dietitian
The Body Love Project
And following these Instagram accounts:
@rui_tani (That’s me!)
8. Build a fun, satisfying plate that’s full of variety
This will look different for everyone, so remember not to compare your choices with others. Try to include most food groups: Protein, carbohydrates, fats – and, of course, everyone’s favorite, unofficial “food group” of dessert!
9. During meals, stay connected to yourself – and your loved ones
Experience the food and the shared experience with your loved ones completely. Staying connected to your body while you eat through mindfulness will help you to eat to comfortable and enjoyable satisfaction.
So few New Years and holiday tips focus on actually making sure you’re enjoying the people you’re with – and creating precious, holiday memories. Learn to truly enjoy the time with our loved ones, by nourishing our internal emotional and physical needs!
Rui Tanimura is a dietetic intern and graduate student at Simmons University in Boston. She is pursuing her Master's in Nutrition & Health Promotion, with a concentration in the Treatment of Eating Disorders. Through her personal experience, Rui discovered the great need for medical care around mental health, specifically involving food, body-image, and self-compassion.