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Holiday Eating

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Written By Staff RD Sara Sheridan

At 12:00 AM on November 1st, a number of things happen. Stores dump Halloween decor for evergreen wreaths, tinsel, ornaments, stockings, and other Christmas decorations. Mariah Carey wakes from her 10-month hibernation to sing “All I Want for Christmas” on repeat in every retail store. Black Friday sales commercials and ads bombard cable television and the Internet. And with all of the holiday madness comes strategies for navigating holiday meals. Timeless holiday headlines include: “Take larger portions of simply prepared foods such as baked sweet potatoes, steamed vegetables, and skinless turkey breast”, the ever-so-familiar “Buddy up with someone who is also trying to keep his or her weight in check”, and my personal favorite: “modify dessert recipes by using applesauce or pumpkin puree in place of butter”, “skip seconds”.

These tips will certainly aid in weight loss or maintaining weight, but how do they impact our relationship with food? All of these tips “taboo-ize” holiday food, or make them seem more forbidden in our minds. When we think of foods as forbidden, we give them power over our thoughts and experiences. Evelyn Tribole, one of the originators of Intuitive Eating, calls this the “Last Supper” mentality: “Upon eating a forbidden food, if you truly believe that you will never eat that food again – it can easily turn into a farewell to food feast, a Last Supper.” Because the holiday season only happens once a year, we tend to tell ourselves that November and December are the only times we can eat our traditional holiday fare. Although the holidays are a special time with family and friends, at the end of the day, holiday meals are another breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We can literally have any of the foods we eat at holiday meals at any other time of the year. When you reframe holiday meals as “just another dinner” and internalize the year around availability of these foods, you neutralize these foods, which, according to Tribole, takes away the urgency and thrill of eating them.

One thing that can fuel “Last Supper” mentality is seeing a buffet spread of holiday foods. Rather than eating portions of every food offered as fast as possible, take a second to take in all of the foods available and try to identify what you’re craving in that moment. Remember that you can always go back for seconds (and thirds) if you don’t feel satisfied after your first helping. Remember that there will likely be leftovers to eat the next day. When you remind yourself of these things and eat what you’re really craving, you’re more likely to enjoy the meal and move on with your day. On the other hand, when you deny yourself what you’re craving, you’ll probably remain fixated on those foods until you “cave” and eat them, most likely with guilt attached to the experience. According to Tribole, this is the paradox of food permission – “when you truly know you can eat a food, you can really ask yourself – do I really want it right now? If I eat it now, will I enjoy it?” I think of this as eating intentionally, or making informed decisions about what you eat based on your nutrition goals and your cravings. This is especially applicable during the holidays, and goes hand-in-hand with the idea of neutralizing food. 

All of this is easier said than done. Challenging your thoughts about food and making small changes over time can help neutralize food. Over the next few months, remind yourself of these things: 1. Holiday meals are just another breakfast, lunch, or dinner; 2. Any of the foods you eat over the next couple of months are available to you the other 10 months of the year; 3. Eating outside of your normal routine for a few days won’t negate months of consistency in your diet and exercise; 4. Food is food! Yes, it is fuel, but it is also meant to be enjoyed. It should not be a source of guilt; 5. Identify what you’re craving, eat that food while acknowledging how it fits in with your nutrition goals, and move on with your day.