The No-Guilt Holiday – Really!

Holidays should never be associated with guilt. But in my nutrition clinic as the fall approaches, I can hear growing apprehension from some patients about the food. All the amazing decadent glorious food! There are endless articles on how to prevent or slow down holiday pounds, but a once-yearly strategy may only add to the build-up and anxiety. To reduce any stress or guilt, you might feel tempted to take a vacation from healthy habits during the weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

But let me share an unconvential thought with you: what if it’s not the holiday meals and treats that lead to weight gain? Maybe, just maybe it’s an all-or-nothing attitude. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in enjoying with zero guilt a full Thanksgiving plate or two, with pie afterwards. A healthy lifestyle includes indulgences, especially for special moments. True fat gain won’t come from a few high-calorie meals—it requires overeating for many days and weeks. People may feel they’ve failed after eating extra on a holiday, and that negative emotion can lead to self-sabotage by continuing to indulge the weeks after, slacking on exercise, and promising a reboot in the New Year. But the indulgences may mutate into more frustration and negativity if the scale ticks up.

Rather than an all-or-nothing attitude, consider these 7 tips to use mindfulness, awareness and balance that are great to practice year-round!

  • It’s fine to eat meals that are lighter than usual before an event, but completely fasting and skipping meals won’t necessarily save calories. This almost always leads to excessive eating later.

  • Trust your body to tell you what you really want to eat, when, and how much. Tune into your hunger, as well as when you feel comfortably satisfied and can take a break from eating.

  • It is vital to choose foods and drinks that you truly love and crave. If you choose instead a “healthier” option, those cravings for what you really wanted will intensify and you may eat them anyway.

  • Use mindfulness: savor the sight, smell and flavor of each bite of food. Take small bites and chew slowly so that you notice the textures and flavors. In this way, you might even eat less with greater enjoyment.

  • Pace yourself so you can enjoy everything. For example, if you’re already full gobbling up the appetizers, continuing to eat will just lead to physical discomfort.

  • Notice and enjoy things other than the food: holiday decorations, lights, music, conversations with people. Set a goal to get a life update on at least two people in the room.

  • Continue to include exercise throughout the season because you enjoy moving your body and feeling strong, not because you’re trying to work off calories. If the holidays are a busier time and you can’t fit it in your usual routine, be flexible and do shorter workouts.

Wishing you a joyful and peaceful holiday! Check out this recipe for a hearty side dish, or main dish for a plant-centric holiday spread:

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