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Holiday Eating: It's About Enjoyment, Not Guilt

IMAGE When the holidays roll around, it usually means we are in the midst of holiday cookies, cakes, stuffing, sauces, and hams. Trying to eat healthy foods can be difficult during this time of year, making some of us feel guilty when we veer from our usual meals. But should we feel guilty? And should we substitute reduced-fat goodies for traditional holiday fare?

Of course, there are ways to be sensible, but sometimes it's nice to drop your guard and go for the gold. If you walk the line most of the year by eating a balanced diet, holidays may be the one time can let yourself stray.

The bottom line, ultimately, is that we need to eat. If you think about it, food and social interaction go together. Food is almost always shared, whether it be with your best friend or your family. During the holidays, we are surrounded by people where we eat, drink, and catch up on the latest happenings. Face it, you're not in this for nutrition, although it's a bonus if you can pull a good meal out of the buffet line. When you approach the table, your food choices should be yours alone, and you should eat the way you want without feeling any shame afterwards.

Cutting Yourself Some Slack

If you think you'll waver too much, set a goal. Be reasonable and remember to focus on what you did accomplish. Beating yourself up is a waste of time and it will make you feel bogged down and overwhelmed.

Try to prioritize what you need to do. Grasp a hold of your inner child and realize that it is okay to be a bit selfish with your time and your diet. The truth is, you cannot do everything and be everywhere. Figure out what is most important to you and follow through with it.

Consider the difference between fact and fiction. You know that gym memberships are going to be advertised through December. They will talk about holiday weight gain and inactivity, while topping it off with some guilt and shame. The real question is, do people really gain up to 10 pounds during this time of year? You may be surprised to find out the answer is a resounding no. Many studies show the average person gains only 1-2 pounds during the winter holiday season. The issue is that most people do not shed that weight, and it adds up over the course of several years.

What does that mean for you? It means you can breathe a bit easier and think about how you would like to lose that pound or two, or maybe even not gain it at all. There are ways to navigate the endless sweets, gravies, and sauces, and still maintain your weight. You have heard it a million times, and it applies here: everything in moderation.

Balance Can Be Key

Like with most things in life, too much of a good thing can turn out to be bad. Here are some tips to help you get from Halloween to New Year's Day with ease:

  • Do not skip meals before going to a party. Try to stick to your normal eating routine as much as possible.
  • Have a healthy snack ahead of time. This will help curb your hunger and keep you focused.
  • When you arrive, check out the spread of food and alcohol, and make a plan.
  • Fill your plate with the good stuff first. That means getting to fruits, vegetables, or salad before the desserts.
  • Politely refuse food that you do not want.
  • Keep track of how much you drink. Alcohol adds calories to whatever you are eating. Consider drinking water in between.
  • Think about that one or two pounds. If you're going to indulge, cut back on something else to even yourself out.

Physical activity is also important. If you do exercise, stick as close as possible to your normal routine. If you do not, take a walk around the block. Schedule 30 minutes to do some sort of activity on most days. A good rule to remember is that it is better to do something than nothing. In combination with your holiday eating, it will help you maintain your weight and make you feel better overall.

Remember, the holidays are meant to be fun. Do it on your own terms and leave the bad feelings behind.

  • American Dietetic Association

    http://www.eatright.org

  • American Society for Nutrition

    http://www.nutrition.org

  • Healthy Canadians

    http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • Enjoy guilt-free holiday eating. Brigham and Women's Hospital website. Available at: http://www.brighamandwomens.org/patients%5Fvisitors/pcs/nutrition/services/healtheweightforwomen/special%5Ftopics/intelihealth1206.aspx?subID=submenu10. Updated March 23, 2012. Accessed September 25, 2013.

  • Food and eating: An anthropological perspective. Social Issues Research Centre website. Available at: http://www.sirc.org/publik/food%5Fand%5Feating%5F1.html. Accessed September 25, 2013.

  • Holiday eating: The good, the bad, the scary! National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website. Available at: http://www.anad.org/blog/holiday-eating-the-good-the-bad-the-scary. Published December 2011. Accessed September 25, 2013.

  • Holiday party survival guide. American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442473463&terms=holiday. Accessed September 25, 2013.

  • Stevenson JL, Krishnan S, et al. Effects of exercise during the holiday season on changes in body weight, body composition and blood pressure. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67(9):944-949.

  • Wagner DR, Larson JN, et al. Weight and body composition change over a six-week holiday period. Eat Weight Disord. 2012;17(1):e54-e56.

  • Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, et al. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(12):861-867.