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How to Avoid the “All or Nothing” Mentality This Holiday Season

The holiday season is full of opportunities for celebrating gratitude, family, love, faith and service.  Food is often a big part of those celebrations, as it should be!  However, it’s during the holiday season that many are tempted to adopt an “all or nothing” attitude toward food, throwing all caution to the wind only to punish themselves come January.  Instead of falling prey to extremes in thinking and behavior that only leave you feeling exhausted physically and emotionally, these tips are aimed to help you enjoy the holiday season without feeling the need to pay penance.  

1. First and foremost, I would recommend approaching holiday meals like any other meal. While it may include traditional foods, seeing the holiday meal as different usually means you choose to eat differently, losing sight of listening to hunger or fullness levels.  Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating give you full permission to eat tasty and satisfying food all year round.  I would encourage you not to just eat or continue eating because that’s what you are supposed to do or have always done.

Essentially, you shouldn’t have to take a break from how you eat the first 9-10 months of the year. If your current eating patterns make you excited for a cheat day, a vacation or the holiday season, it’s probably a sign that your eating patterns (or at least your beliefs about food) are too restrictive. Restriction breeds rebellion and encourages the “all or nothing” mentality.

Come January 1st, you won’t feel the need to pay penance or set some short-lived diet goals. Find a flexible rhythm that balances your need for nourishment, pleasure, and satisfaction while being sustainable and realistic. The body craves balance and, if you let it, will lead you to it.

2. While it’s easy to feel too busy to do so, be sure to continue eating regular, balanced meals (Carbohydrate, protein, fat, fruit and/or vegetable, with a snack in between if meal times are longer than 3-4 hours apart).  It stabilizes blood sugar levels, which helps to reduce cravings. It also influences mood regulation as well as overall hormonal balance.  That’s going to come in very handy in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and managing stressful situations and schedules.  It will also allow you to stay level-headed about the abundance of food (any time of the year).

3.  While it could happen at any time of the year, the holidays make mindless eating more likely.  It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and forget to slow down, and food usually takes a back seat when that happens. I would encourage you to plate the food you are eating and allow yourself the time to sit and adequately enjoy it.

It’s always interesting to observe how much we talk about and anticipate food and how little time we actually spend preparing or eating it. Letting yourself actually taste and enjoy food puts you in a position to connect with intuitive signals of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.

4.  My favorite quote from the book Intuitive Eating is: If you don’t love it, don’t eat it, and if you do love it, savor it – Evelyn Tribole. LOVE the food you are eating.  Get picky! Only eat what is truly satisfying and enjoyable for you.  If you find yourself eating a treat or a portion of your meal that doesn’t taste good, leave it behind and move on to something that does.  If you love your Grandma’s pumpkin pie and she only makes it once a year on Thanksgiving, allow yourself to eat it without self-inflicted shame or guilt.

Remember, unconditional permission to eat leads to less preoccupation with food and facilitates self-trust and wise decision making over time.  Unconditional permission to eat also naturally gives you unconditional permission to stop eating. The fear of overeating usually leads us to restriction which is what actually causes overeating. Don’t get caught in that trap.

5.  Don’t neglect your self-care plan – adequate sleep, setting and keeping healthy boundaries (it’s OK to say no!), positive self-talk and enjoyable physical activity to name a few.  These are easily abandoned during the holiday season, leading to burnout, fatigue, and resentment.  I think you’ll find the holidays more meaningful when you have the energy to enjoy them.

I hope I have given you full permission to make your health and well-being a priority during the holidays and beyond.

I wish you nothing but a healthy, happy and mindful holiday season!

Adapted from a blog post by Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD