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Holiday Eating: How to Enjoy the Food Without the Guilt

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The holidays… the treats are plentiful, the food is rich, and the drinks enticing. Here are my tips to enjoy holiday eating without the guilt.

christmas cookies

We’ve reached that time of year when the treats are plentiful, the food is rich, and the drinks enticing. We’ve also reached the moment when many of us start to make deals with ourselves:

“I’ll go all out until the New Year and then I’ll reset in a big way.”

“I’ll go nuts today and then will only eat salad and exercise every day for the rest of the week.”

“I’ll only eat a little bit/skip all the carbs/avoid anything with sugar, so that I can have X, Y, or Z.”

I know these deals because I used to make them with myself, not just at the holidays, but all year round. My eating was in a constant state of negotiation, until I learned to let go, listen to my body’s cues, and enjoy food again.

It wasn’t an overnight change, but this switch changed my life, so I wanted to share some of the baby steps that helped me to get to where I am (modified for the season we are in, so that maybe you can enjoy the holiday goodies, while staying sane in the process).

Cheese Plate: Holiday Eating without Guilt

Holiday Eating: How Let Go of the Guilt and Enjoy the Food

Enjoying Treats Will Not Derail Your Health Goals

Here’s a promise I can make you: enjoying treats during the holiday season is not going to derail the rest of your year.

Let’s pause and be realistic here for a second. It’s a little more than month from Thanksgiving to New Years, but to keep things simple, let’s say there are 30 days. Now, let’s take a look at how many days within that time frame you are actually eating outside of the norm.

  • Let’s assume that you go all out on Thanksgiving and New Years
  • If you celebrate Christmas, maybe you go nuts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
  • If you celebrate Hanukkah, then maybe you go crazy with the fried goodies twice in the eight days
  • If you celebrate Kwanza, perhaps two days of big time eating will happen
  • Then, for the sake of argument, let’s add in four holiday shin digs (if you are doing more than that, then you are my socializing hero)

So, in the end, you are probably going to have, at most, eight opportunities for major feasting. Which is roughly 1/4 of the days between Thanksgiving and New Years and is less than 1/40 of the entire year!!!

This means that, purely from a numbers perspective, those few celebrations are not going to derail your whole year.

Why did I break all of this down? Because sometimes, especially when it comes to our complicated relationships with food, it can be easy to fixate on the “bad” rather than keep a more realistic perspective. If this is true for you, then perhaps seeing the numbers laid out like this can help you to feel less stress about enjoying the holidays.

Let Go of the Guilt

If you are ready to move past the numbers, the next step, in my mind, is to change our narrative around food overall, and especially during times of celebration and community. I truly believe that food is meant to be savored and shared. It brings us together and allows for connection. It is part of what makes us human.

What is more, the holidays are a time when many of us look forward to special dishes that are family or cultural traditions that bring back meaningful memories and feelings of connection. This has value and depriving ourselves of those positive experiences will only leave us feeling the lack of something that is real and important.

I know that for some, after years (lifetimes) of food rules, this perspective can feel completely alien, but letting go of food guilt around special occasions can be a great way to try out shifting your feelings on food overall.

Eating Tips So You Can Enjoy the Food and Avoid the Guilt

If taking the leap and letting yourself just enjoy the holiday goodies feels too stressful (having lived through that for years I totally get it), here are some tips on how you can make small shifts that allow you to both feel in control and also enjoy the treats at the same time!

roasted carrot and beet salad with goat cheese

Look for (Natural) Color

Often I hear things like, follow the 80/20 rule (80% of your food is healthy and 20% are treats), but that can get complicated and stressful (not to mention, who wants to follow rules at a celebration?!), so instead, I suggest making sure there’s some (natural) color on your plate.

Why? Because naturally colorful dishes usually include fruits and vegetables, which will help to keep things balanced. Plus, who doesn’t love a good crudité platter with a delicious dip or a roasted vegetable salad?

eat with attention

Eat with Attention

Fill your plate with all the things that you are excited to eat and then, while you eat, check in with yourself. Am I eating slowly enough that my body has time to tell me when I am getting full? Am I enjoying this cookie or is it really not that great? (Hint: if it’s not that great, put it down and try something else. There’s no reason to eat foods we don’t enjoy.)

Mini-Fillo Raspberry Cheesecake Bites

Start Small

I love getting seconds (and thirds). I really enjoy the opportunity to have more of the foods I truly love- it makes the meal feel special. So, knowing this about myself, I always try to start with a smaller plate of food that has small servings of several items so that I can try everything and then see what I want to go back to get more of.

spinach and quinoa salad

Front Load the Day

If I know that I am going to be having a heavy, rich dinner I’ll try to focus on fresh, veggie-packed foods earlier in the day. Some of my favorites at this time of year are puréed vegetable soups, sautéed greens, and vegetable stews.

drink water

Drink Water

Many times, low-grade hunger is actually a sign of dehydration, so I try to make sure that I am drinking water all day and alternating other drinks (cough, cough wine) with a glass of water, to keep myself hydrated and happy.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars and holiday eating without guilt

Let Go of the Guilt, Enjoy the Food

Even when I am at my best on these things, I will still sometimes get that nasty voice in my head that tells me that I am being bad. I tell that voice to shut it and do my best to move on. Sometimes this happens easily, sometimes not, but at least it is a way to remind myself that it is OK to be imperfect and OK to love myself as I am, so that I can go back to enjoying the celebration.

Do you have tricks to enjoying the holiday eating without the guilt? I’d love to hear about them in the comments! And if you could use some support in cooking more and loading your days with fresh, delicious food, try out the free trial of our meal planning service to see how simple preparing meals can be!

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