This time of year, with all the parties and the punches and the cookies, so many websites and magazine articles tell us how to avoid this and deny ourselves that. I saw a couple blog posts recently recommending things like "Weigh yourself every day!" or "Wear your tightest clothes so you will be uncomfortable and won't eat much!" or "Only make food you hate!"
Seriously? These are all things that will make you feel extremely guilty, unhappy in your bodies, and like food is the enemy, turning situations that should be fun into stressful internal battles of will. That makes me really sad.
So, how do you enjoy the holidays in a way that embraces the deliciousness of the season, but also leaves you feeling good, both physically and mentally? How can the holiday eating experience be joyful, not stressful?
Here are a few of my tips for enjoying what the holiday season has to offer without stressing yourself out, feeling guilty, or waking up with sugar or alcohol hangovers.
1. Place nothing off limits.
Yes, I realize this is counter to most of the advice out there, but hear me out: When a food is off-limits, it becomes much more appealing. And if guilt is involved and you do end up eating that food, the "Screw it, I've already had a bite and ruined everything so I'm going to eat the entire party and have a thousand cocktails" mentality kicks in.
The solution: Give yourself permission to get pleasure from food. Food is supposed to be fun, not stressful. Remember?
2. Don't ever go to a cocktail party or arrive at a holiday dinner absolutely starving.
A lot of people try to "save up" all day before a big holiday meal or cocktail party, eating a super-light breakfast and lunch and no snacks to try to cancel out the calories that they'll be consuming that evening.
Friends: This approach is a terrible idea. It's impossible to make sound eating decisions when you're absolutely ravenous – and, even worse, you probably won't even enjoy the food you're indulging in because you're too hungry to eat slowly and pay attention.
So what should you do? The day of a holiday party or dinner, eat normally, but especially focus on high-quality foods — lots of veggies, protein, healthy fat, and unprocessed grains. If there will be a lot of appetizers but not a full dinner, have a little something to eat right beforehand like a small salad with chicken or beans, or some veggies with hummus or guacamole.
3. Decide which indulgences you most deeply desire.
When you arrive at a party, first do a lap. Assess: What's there? What are your options? Then, ask yourself whether the food or drink that you're considering enjoying is something that will be really worth it.
This does not mean that guilt should come into the equation or that you should be assessing options based on calories. Rather, it's more about being checked in. Are you thinking of eating that cookie because you will really enjoy it or just because it's there?
Too often we indulge not because we really want to, but because we're on autopilot or feeling awkward and just want something to do with our hands. It's easy to mindlessly eat and drink at holiday gatherings, and simply stopping and checking in goes a long way.
Not being completely ravenous will help (see above). And by all means — if you find you don't love something as much as you thought you would, don't finish it!
4. Stop when you're satisfied, not stuffed.
This is another place where being mindful and really checking in with your body is important. You can't tell if you are satisfied if you aren't paying any attention, or if you are eating too quickly, right? The key here is to eat slowly. Take frequent pauses.
To help with this, physically set down your silverware, plate, or drink and take a deep breath. Give your body time to catch up. Also, make sure you have some veggies and salad on your plate!
5. If you do overindulge – forgive yourself.
There's no point beating yourself up for something that has already happened. Learn from the experience, and take that knowledge as a reminder to be more mindful next time. You've got this!
More about Anne: Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, is a Registered Dietitian specializing in helping clients develop happier, more positive relationships with food. Check out her blog, fANNEtastic food, for more stress-free health tips and easy recipes, and her business website, AnneTheRD.com, for details on her virtual one-on-one nutrition coaching services.
What are your best tips for a positive and stress-free holiday eating experience?