Q. How can I avoid overeating during the holidays?
A: I could give you lots of tips: eat a good breakfast, have a snack before you go for dinner or to a party, fill half your plate with vegetables and select only one or two favourite treats. But I’m confident that you’ll be able to get that advice from every other dietitian-penned column this month. Instead, I want to talk about enjoying your food.
We’ve imbued food with such a sense of guilt that everyday eating, let alone special occasion eating, has become an emotional minefield. I recently saw an article comprised of dietitian confessions. I think the intention was to show the reader that, contrary to popular belief, we’re not salad-eating automatons… we’re human and often experience our own struggles with food. But the impression that I, and a number of other dietitians, were left with was that food is a source of guilt and shame and that anything other than ‘perfect’ eating is failure.
The fact of the matter is that food is enjoyable, and that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with deriving pleasure from cookies, gravy, latkes, sweet potato pie or whatever other culinary delights make up part of your holiday tradition. Eating and socializing with friends and family are a huge part of most cultural traditions, especially during the holidays.
Instead of dreading holiday parties, avoiding the lunch room filled with baked goods, or getting nervous before your family dinner, try to take a new attitude to the season of giving. It’s not going to be easy at first, I know. You may need to avoid the lunch room some days and you may want to keep treats in your home to a minimum, or tuck them away in the back of a hard-to-reach cupboard. That’s OK. You don’t have to go from one extreme to another.
Just because you’re allowing yourself to enjoy all the foods you love – but usually feel guilty for eating – doesn’t mean you have to eat all of them every day, at every opportunity. Plan in advance which treats you’re going to allow yourself so that you can still make sure most of your daily food choices are nutrient-rich and plant-based.
You know what they say about the best laid plans though. Allow yourself to be flexible and don’t beat yourself up if someone surprises you with a hot chocolate or drops by with homemade baked goods. One mug of hot chocolate or one shortbread cookie is not going to hurt you (unless you’re allergic, of course!). Just choose your very favourite treats and savour every morsel.
As much as you try to be mindful about your food choices, there are going to be days when you don’t get much vegetable and fruit, and days when you stuff yourself silly. Instead of punishing yourself by restricting your intake and working out extra hard the next day, tell yourself that it’s OK. Nobody eats a ‘perfect’ diet every day. In fact, I’ll let you in on a secret: there is no ‘perfect diet’, despite what low-carb, paleo and vegan worshippers would have you believe.
Ideally, your diet should consist of as many home-cooked meals as possible, made with minimally processed ingredients. These foods can be both delicious and nutritious. That doesn’t mean that all of your ‘treats’ have to be sugar-free, refined flour-free, hard-as-rock hockey pucks masquerading as cookies. Your treats can be whatever you enjoy.
While you might normally limit these treats to once a week, or some other quantity, it’s quite likely that you’re going to have more of them over the holidays. If you do have a treat-laden day, dust yourself off the following morning and go back to business as usual. You’re not a failure because you ate the better part of (or the entire!) box of chocolates while watching Love Actually. You’re not a lesser person because you had a little too much wine and cheese at a party. You’re human – we all are – and your emotions are connected to your food intake.
This holiday, instead of filling your stocking with guilt about the food you’ve eaten and your New Year’s resolutions with vows to lose weight, why not give yourself the gift of freedom. Allow yourself to enjoy your food and don’t attach your sense of self-worth to your ability to restrict your food intake, or to numbers on the scale. Treat yourself with the same love and respect with which you treat others.