Now is the time of year when we start seeing the holiday nutrition tag lines, “How to Survive the Holidays,” “The Toughest Time of the Year,” “Avoiding Weight Gain During the Holidays.” Whether we realize it or not, this kind of language creates a negative connection with Holiday eating. Which, for a lot of us, is a big part of celebrating! How many of you feel guilt and self-criticism even thinking about holiday eating? How many of you send yourself down a shame spiral when you go for that second piece of your Aunt’s famous pecan pie?

Let’s take a step back and start talking about food during the holidays in a positive way again, and use this time of year in a way that it’s very constructive for building a healthy relationship with food.

1) In January people want to “get back on track” after the holidays. If the handful of holiday events you took part in caused you to fall that far away from your routine, that routine probably wasn’t a great fit to begin with. Of course, there are lots of extenuating circumstances in this scenario, but if we’re talking strictly about ability to maintain consistency, then the holidays shouldn’t be totally derailing you in this effort. If this is happening to you, talk to a nutrition professional about a better fit.

2) There are a lot of factors that affect your ability to maintain a successful nutrition routine. Things like stress, mental health, available time, and finances, all play a role, and these and other factors can take a big hit during the holiday season. Not everyone likes to self-reflect, especially on areas we feel don’t feel confident about, but this is a crucial part of any habit-change process. If you find yourself struggling with maintaining healthy habits during the holidays, conduct a self-check to see if one of the above factors is putting a bigger drain on you than normal. Focus your efforts on stress management, time management, a little extra time fidgeting with your budget, to help relieve the pressure.

3) Around this time of year us dietitians like to remind our clients/patients about “mindfulness.” In our increasingly fast-paced society, we are offered less and less time to experience. The holiday food example of this is when we blow through 2 plates of food and a few desserts in little time with no memory of what any of that food tasted like. We consume more food than we need because our fullness signals haven’t kicked in yet, and we haven’t satisfied the psychological needs of eating because we weren’t paying attention.

Mindfulness takes practice, so don’t expect perfection on the first try, but an easy drill to start with is putting your fork down between each bite. Don’t pick it up again until you’ve swallowed that bite. It forces you to slow down and focus on what you’re currently eating versus what’s coming next.

4) With my clients, we use the term “treats” instead of “cheats.” It’s a better description for these foods, because none of them are truly bad, and it reminds us of what they’re meant for…occasionally instead of all the time. Holidays have more “treats” than usual. But, before we feel any guilt or apprehension about this, understand how much this actually matters. Think of all the meals you eat in a year. Now think of how many Holiday-style meals you eat in that year. It’s a small percentage

 This brings us back to point #1. In an otherwise well-fit and executed plan, a handful of “treat” meals during the holidays don’t account for much and aren’t going to throw the wheels off the bus. The idea is that you’re able to maintain consistency in that plan MOST of the time so that these treat meals can have a place.

 A healthy relationship with food looks a little different in the details for everybody. But what it does share between people is balance, a lack of extremes, physiological and psychological health, and sustainability. Holiday eating doesn’t become an anomaly in this scenario, it fits within it. Food should be enjoyable without negatively affecting your health. Need help finding the right routine for you? Chat with an experienced nutrition professional to get started. Check out the dietitian finder below to find a good match in your area: 

Enjoying Food During the Holidays