Keep your holidays happy by letting go of food guilt

Every year around holiday time, there’s an influx of articles about how to stick to your healthy eating goals and resist temptation. You may read about how to say no to second helpings, stop gobbling up fat-laden appetizers or alternate alcoholic drinks with sparkling water to combat calories.

That advice is practical, but it focuses too much on what not to do. It could end up making you feel guilty if you break the rules and decide to - gasp - indulge and enjoy yourself. So, this year, let’s try something new. Instead of stress, pressure and guilt associated with family dinners and holiday get-togethers, let’s create a new narrative that will empower you to feel good about yourself and your food choices. Share these ideas to spread holiday cheer and remove diet stigma for you and your loved ones.

Here are nine things to tell yourself this year so you can enjoy family, friends and food.

1. I deserve to enjoy holiday meals without guilt. Yep, it’s just food. You deserve to take pleasure in it. Food is part of traditions and memories, so sample your favorite cookies or mashed potatoes and take time to really enjoy every bite of a reasonable portion. Focus on how your food smells, looks and tastes without distractions. This is called mindful eating, and it’s about fully enjoying what you eat without regret or shame.

2. What I eat every day matters most. Worry less about what you eat over the holidays and concentrate on what you eat year-round instead. If you have a healthy diet in general, a couple of days of celebratory food won’t be detrimental. If you don’t usually eat well, make that a goal in the new year. Remember: The holiday season is short-lived. In life, there will always be times when you can’t make your usual healthy choices - and that’s okay. Enjoy these special moments focusing on friends and family.

3. I have the power to control my portions. Only you can decide how much food to eat, and that decision should be based on listening to your body. Slow down and notice how your stomach feels before you start eating. If you’re still hungry, have another bite. But when you’re almost full, stop eating.

4. I have the right to eat seconds or to say “no thank you” when I’m full. Remember that you don’t need to make someone else happy by overeating or by denying your hunger. It’s the norm to eat more when a host graciously offers more, but it doesn’t need to be. Have faith in your ability to make good choices, and trust your own appetite.

5. It’s normal if I overindulge during the holidays. It’s human! Accept that you did and move on. Try not to become trapped in punishing self-talk or restrictive dieting behaviors. When you eat mindfully and enjoy every bite, it often takes less food to satisfy cravings. So enjoy some of your favorite foods with fervor, but respect your body when it tells you you’re done.

6. I will eat when I’m hungry, not when I’m feeling emotional. Many of us eat when we’re lonely, bored, sad or stressed, and those emotions can run wild at holiday time. Even the stress of being with certain family members can trigger people to overeat. There are more effective remedies for dealing with these feelings besides food. The answer is different for everyone, but calling a friend, exercising or practicing meditation can work for some people. Take time to learn what works best for you.

7. I don’t need to “healthify” my beloved and traditional holiday recipe. Enjoy your favorites as they should be - it’s just once a year! Really - no one wants sugarless sugar cookies or eggnog made from almond milk and flaxseeds.

8. I promise not to comment on the size, shape or weight of my friends and relatives. Their weight is their business, not yours. The same is true for you - no one has the right to judge you or comment on your weight either. And if you are met with a rude comment about your appearance, it’s fine to tell someone why it’s not okay to talk about your weight.

9. I will enjoy quality time with people I love. A very long-term (75-plus years) study at Harvard has been examining what makes people happy over the course of their lives. And guess what? It’s not a number on a scale or how many cookies they eat. Close relationships are the key to long-term health and happiness. So this year, mark the holidays by spending time with people you love, and try not to fret too much about what you will have for dinner. Embrace the joy of festive meals without feelings of stress and guilt, which should never be part of healthy eating.

- - -

Registered dietitian Cara Rosenbloom is president of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company specializing in writing, nutrition education and recipe development. She is the co-author of “Nourish: Whole Food Recipes Featuring Seeds, Nuts and Beans.”

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