Normally, It's best to practice listening to your body by eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full. But holiday foods aren't meant to satisfy your body's natural hunger cues. Really, the holidays are about celebration, tradition, family recipes, and enjoying the company of loved ones, and they’re a good time to practice eating what you really want and satisfying that physical and emotional craving—without going completely overboard.
Does the following scenario sound familiar? You've eaten a huge dinner, you've had dessert, and now all you can think about is having seconds. But consider whether or not you'd eat that second or third slice of pie in front of someone else. This question is meant not to create guilt around food, but to allow you to take a step back and reconsider why you want that extra piece. If you're dreaming of eating the rest of the pie late at night when everyone else has gone to bed, and it can be just you and the pie...you probably don't actually want the pie. It's more likely that you've entered the "all or nothing" mindset. You've fallen off the wagon, so you might as well fall as hard as you can.
The holidays can bring about a scarcity mindset. We want what we can't have. This applies to almost everyone during the holidays, but is especially true for those who diet and/or follow strict eating protocols throughout the year. Think about what everyone reaches for the most on Thanksgiving. Most can't wait to fill their plates with stuffing, sweet potato casserole, cornbread, and gravy. Sure, we all take some turkey and roasted vegetables, but there is really no sense of urgency there. That is because we typically eat some form of protein and vegetables year-round. Stuffing and gravy are specially reserved for Thanksgiving. We know that we won't have these foods for another year, so there is an urgency to eat as much as we can while we have the chance.
There are five "dos and don'ts" you can put into practice this holiday season to make navigating all of the parties, get-togethers, and celebrations a breeze!
Don't starve yourself, under-eat, or "save up" calories for the holiday gathering. Not only will this dysregulate blood sugar, create cravings, and physically encourage you to overeat, but it will mentally sabotage your efforts to remain calm around food. When you successfully "save up" for a meal, it implies that you've been "good" all day and that you stuck to the plan. You are asking for the floodgates to open. Typically, there are not varying degrees of being "on" or "off” plan. You are either on or off, and once you're off, one slice of pie leads to three more slices of pie, an entire pint of ice cream, three bowls of stuffing, and six cornbread muffins, because, well, who cares? Off is off.
Do eat blood sugar stabilizing meals throughout the day that include protein, fat, and vegetables. Meals like this will keep energy levels up, hunger levels stable, and have you arriving at the party ready to happily partake in the festivities and traditions without feeling out of control.
Don't save the best for last. This almost guarantees that you will eat past the point of satisfaction. If your favorite part of the meal is the mashed potatoes and gravy, don't try to fill up on turkey breast, Brussels sprouts, and squash in the hopes that you'll be too full to finish the potatoes. That rarely works. What often ends up happening is that you shovel in all of the foods you don't really want in order to get to your favorites faster.
Logically, then, do eat your favorite parts first. You are probably used to "saving the best for last,” but if the goal is to stop eating when you are truly satisfied, you'll never reach that point until you've satisfied your cravings. Eat the marshmallow topping first. Eat the stuffing before the turkey. Eat what you truly want--not what you think you should want. And if you eat your favorite part first and still end up finishing what's on your plate, that's fine! The point is to make sure you’re eating what you want because you want it, and you’re not eating one thing to avoid eating something else (which you will likely end up eating anyway).
Don't eat everything in your line of vision just because it's festive. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of seasonal goodies (remember that scarcity mindset?), but many times the only thing festive about these items is the packaging. Think little chocolates shaped like Santa, gold coins, trains, or snowflakes. It's the same milk chocolate you're able to easily pass up any other time of the year, but it now becomes enticing because of the festive foil wrapper.
Do enjoy the treats that are special to you during this time of year. If a friend or family member has a special traditional holiday dish they make every year, allow yourself to enjoy it. Many memories are made during the holidays. You don't want to look back years from now with regret over each bite of the veggie platter you chose over your grandmother's special dish.
By putting these five tips into practice, you will enter and leave holiday gatherings feeling like you’re the one in control instead of feeling like food controls you!