5 Unhelpful “Food Rules” You’re Likely to Engage in Over the Holidays and What to Do Instead
Read this post before letting these dieting habits put a damper on your holiday season!
December is an exciting time of the year filled with love, laughter, and connection. It is also a time for gatherings that involve food…and usually lots of it!
Food and the holidays go hand–in–hand and while some might be anxiously waiting to indulge on their favourite holiday treats, others might worry about how the abundance of food will affect their ability to stay on their diet. Some might even delay their plans to start eating healthy and view January 1st as their opportunity to “start over”.
Sound familiar? If this is you, I encourage you to keep reading as I review some of the top dieting habits that come up during the holidays and instead show you how you can both eat well and enjoy your food this season!
1. Skipping meals during the day to save up for the “big dinner”
If you struggle with overeating during big holiday dinners, you have probably considered limiting your food during the day so that you can indulge later “guilt-free”. While it might be tempting to save your calories leading up to a big meal, this approach will make it more challenging to control your appetite and increase your chances of overeating. Irregular eating patterns can also increase food cravings, lower your energy levels and your mood…and let’s face it, no one wants to be around a hangry Grinch during the holidays!
What to do Instead:
Plan regular, well balanced meals and snacks throughout the day. Regular meals and snacks will help stabilize your blood sugar and energy levels. This will not only ensure that you have enough energy to keep up with the day’s festivities, but will also leave you feeling like you are in better control of your hunger and cravings at meals. If you are wondering what balanced meals and snacks might look like, try to aim for a grain/starch, a protein and a fruit or vegetable serving at each meal, similar to what’s shown on Canada’s Food Guide. You can also check out this recent post on nourishing snack ideas if you need a quick energy boost between meals.
2. Swapping ingredients in your favourite holiday treats
Perhaps to help you stay on track with your diet you’ve considered making ingredient swaps to try and make your favourite holiday foods “healthier”. While I usually love a good recipe hack that helps squeeze in some extra nutrition with each bite, finding out that Grandma’s famous buttery mashed potatoes have been replaced with mashed cauliflower is almost as disappointing as finding a lump of coal in your stocking.
What to do Instead:
Enjoy your holiday treats just as they are! When we think about healthy eating, we often get so focused on food and its nutrients that we forget that other aspects of healthy eating, such as enjoying our food, celebrating our cultures, and connecting with others are just as important. It is also important to know that the holiday season is only a short time during the year, and what you eat over the next few weeks is not going to throw a wrench in your overall progress toward a healthier lifestyle.
3. Exercising so you can “earn” your next meal
The narrative around needing to exercise to earn food happens all year round but becomes particularly pervasive during the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong, exercise provides awesome benefits to the body and engaging in some physical activity during the holidays can help you boost your mood and keep you feeling energized. But before you turn down dessert because you skipped your 30-minute HIIT workout, perhaps I can ask you to reconsider.
What to do Instead:
Whether or not we are having a particularly active day, our bodies need fuel from food daily. Rather than seeing food as something to be earned, consider making your food decisions based on whether you’d enjoy eating that food, or if having an extra portion of something would keep you feeling satisfied. Diet culture convinces us that we must make up for what we have eaten through exercise, but fails to recognize the true complexities behind our body’s energy exchange system. So if you do decide to add some physical activity into your day, do it because you know it will help you feel good and not because you feel like you have to.
4. Adopting the “last supper” mentality
With the holiday season only happening once per year, you might be feeling pressure to enjoy as much of your favourite foods as possible before they are gone. Maybe you’ve already decided that your journey towards “clean eating” will start on January 1st, so you might as well go all out now right? The act of over-indulging in your favourite foods due to the uncertainty of when you’ll be able to have them again is an example of “Last Supper Syndrome”. While it might seem harmless, having this all-or-nothing approach to your diet will make it more challenging to engage in long-term and sustainable healthy eating patterns. For some individuals, it may also lead to getting stuck in the binge-restrict cycle.
What to do Instead:
What if I told you that you can pursue healthy eating while still including all the foods you love? Sound crazy? The reality is that for a diet to be sustainable, it must include a balance of both healthful and soulful foods. If we don’t make space for the foods we love and label them as “off-limits”, we are more likely to obsess over them and ultimately “binge” on them once the opportunity presents itself. Rather than adopting the last supper mentality this holiday season, give yourself permission to enjoy the foods you love and remind yourself that there will always be more tomorrow if you want it. Also, as far as I know, there are no rules that say you can’t make Gingerbread cookies in July!
5. Setting unrealistic goals on January 1st to transform eating habits
A new year means a new opportunity for a fresh start, and you might already be reflecting on the resolutions you would like to set for yourself over the next year. While New Year’s Resolutions can span a wide range of categories, each year many individuals choose to work on improving their nutrition. As a Dietitian I think it is great when someone wants to take steps towards including more nutritious foods in their diet. However, each year I see far too many people fall victim to the “New Year New Me” mentality, which not only creates immense pressure to change come January 1st but also leads to unrealistic nutrition goal setting. While your goal to “meal prep every day” may seem like a good starting point, the reality is that goals that demand too much change too fast are hard to stick to.
What to do Instead:
If you have struggled to maintain your New Year’s Resolutions in the past, the truth is that you are likely not the problem, but your goals are. To help make nutrition goals that are more realistic, consider the SMART goal framework which specifies the “what, where, why, when and how” for your goal. Another thing to consider is that as humans, we’ve become accustomed to a world where things happen fast and efficiently. However, the truth about habit change is that it takes time, so have patience with yourself and start small. Lastly, if you’re not quite ready to flip the switch on your daily routine come January 1st, know that goals don’t need to be tied to New Years. Remind yourself that change can happen at any time of the year and if at first, you don’t succeed, there are always more opportunities to try again. Have more questions on goal setting? Check out this blog post on Setting Nutrition Goals.
Interested in learning more about how to have a healthful and soulful holiday season? Are you ready to let go of unhelpful dieting habits and find food freedom this new year? Our team of Dietitians at Health Stand Nutrition are ready to support you!
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Looking for more Holiday nutrition content? Check out these blog posts!
Jamie Lee Kwong
Disordered Eating, Pediatrics, Family Meal Planning & Chronic Disease
Jamie will greet you with a warm and approachable smile that has a way of putting you at ease. You can count on her to be adaptive and collaborative in coming up with right-fit solutions that meet your health, mental health and family needs. She also specializes in Mental Health, Anti-inflammatory Eating, and Arthritis.