The holidays are here and while this may be the most wonderful time of the year, it can be tough to maintain your healthy diet and normal routine. From Thanksgiving to holiday parties to Christmas and New Year’s, we’re surrounded by opportunities to indulge. While many of us may start out with good intentions, a slow slide feels inevitable, leaving us feeling BLAH by the time January rolls around.
The good news is, it IS possible to fully embrace and enjoy this time of year without sabotaging how we feel, both physically and emotionally. I believe the key to success isn’t necessarily what’s on your plate, but rather can be found in applying healthy mindset strategies promoting balance, awareness and complete food freedom.
Don’t Diet During the Holidays
Diets don’t work, and they especially don’t work during the holidays. Most likely you will be faced with temptation on nearly a daily basis combined with elevated stress and a busy schedule. Willpower is a finite resource and will be especially tested during this time of year. Going into the holiday season with a diet mentality may set you up for feelings of guilt, shame and failure if you deviate.
On the other hand, some holiday foods hold greater significance than just their nutrition profile. Maybe they resemble something sentimental or represent a special family tradition. If it’s a “worth it” food for you, it may be the perfect opportunity to practice food freedom rather than restriction.
I encourage using the holidays as an opportunity to practice balance, control, and sustainable healthy habits (aka FOOD FREEDOM).
Swap your diet mentality for one of awareness, mindfulness and conscious eating. This is your key to success. Make an intentional effort to tune into hunger and satiety cues. Before eating or snacking, ask yourself the following:
- Am I truly hungry?
- Or, am I thirsty, tired, stressed or bored? Run through any other emotion that triggers the desire to eat for you.
- Am I just eating because it’s available, convenient or because other people are?
- What will truly satisfy me right now?
These filters will likely prevent you from popping 13 cheese cubes at your company Christmas party and help you honor your body, discovering what it’s really calling for – which probably isn’t 13 cheese cubes. Continue this awareness while you eat.
- Eat slowly and put down your fork every couple of bites.
- Savor and taste every bite of your food!
- Drink water.
- Listen for your body’s satiety cues, stopping when you feel satisfied.
The “Worth It” Filter
Next, if you’re wanting to indulge in something, ask yourself, “is it worth it?” If you know me, you know I have a huge sweet tooth and am ALL FOR the occasional indulgence.
In fact, I believe indulging in something unhealthy can sometimes be the healthiest thing for you.
This “worth it” concept is introduced and covered extensively in Melissa Hartwig’s Whole30 Food Freedom Forever book and a tool I use on a daily basis. Worth it foods are simply foods that you know may have negative physical impacts, but they are so special, enjoyable or significant that you choose to eat them anyway (Hartwig, 2016).
Example 1: You do your best to avoid dairy because you know it upsets your stomach, but your mom makes an epic eggnog that you only have once a year and look forward to every Christmas. You decide in the moment it’s worth it because it’s special and out of this world, crazy delicious. You decide to keep it to one glass because you drank it slowly, savored every sip and after a self-check-in realize you got your fix, so you opt for a Topo next instead.
Example 2: You walk by the break room at work and see one of those huge popcorn tins with cheese, caramel and butter popcorn for the taking. Everyone is having some. You ask yourself if it’s worth it. Is it enjoyable? Eh, maybe. Is it special? No. So, you decide to pass and end up feeling empowered by your decision, continuing to make positive choices for the rest of the day.
When you decide something is worth it- savor it and enjoy it fully! You made a conscious decision and therefore can let go of any guilt or shame you otherwise might have experienced. Keep in mind that because something was worth it last night doesn’t mean it will be worth it the next day or in two hours, etc. Always consider the worth it filter in the moment. This is a key step in food freedom and can be a powerful tool, especially during the holidays!
Reconsider Your Holiday Associations
In America, we’ve somehow adopted a mentality that holidays and celebrations are reason for nutritional reckless abandonment. Is it even Thanksgiving if you don’t spend the afternoon uncomfortably full on the couch, unable to move, watching football? The answer is yes, it’s still Thanksgiving and you might actually enjoy it even more with a different approach. Try shifting holiday association away from a food and drink free-for-all and towards an opportunity for meaningful, quality time with friends and family. For example, you haven’t seen your cousin since Easter and you make it a point to hear about his Europe trip over the summer. Or, maybe you take a genuine interest in your uncle’s new job, etc.
Overcoming the “What the Hell” Effect
The WTH effect is a commonly used term in eating psychology and is also discussed in Melissa Hartwig’s Whole30 Food Freedom Forever book. The WTH effect can happen when you decide to eat something “unhealthy” or give in to a craving. Feelings of guilt or failure may ensue and you’re immediately tempted to say “what the hell,” I already screwed up my diet today so I might as well go HAM. If this happens to you, you’re not alone. This behavior has been observed in scientific studies and is a challenge that many people voice to me frequently. The psychology behind it says that you respond to your feeling of guilt by trying to make yourself feel better, so you relieve yourself of the pressure to maintain your healthy intentions.
The key to overcoming the WTH effect is self-compassion.
Acknowledge that everyone has been there and silence your critical self-talk. Give yourself grace and hop back on your normal, healthy routine! Self-compassion has been clinically shown to decrease this behavior. Also, practicing mindful eating and “worth-it” filters are a great proactive approach to preventing the WTH effect. Next time you’re tempted to go HAM, try having some self-compassion and move on!
Practice Over Perfection
These mindset shifts take time. Know that you won’t be perfect at this right off the bat, or ever! At times, you may catch yourself scarfing down a meal, splurging on something not worth it or having a WTH episode. That’s OK! Again, self-compassion is the answer. Practicing these strategies throughout the holidays (or anytime) in addition to your healthy diet and active lifestyle will go a long way.