The holiday season used to be SO unnecessarily stressful for me because I’d consume my mind of diet-related thoughts for avoiding “holiday weight gain.” I was terrified of all the sweets, sugar, and other treats that would be available at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, fearing that I’d lose control around them, gain weight, and subsequently feel awful.
To try to be proactive about staying slim, I’d make an effort to diet extra hard in the weeks leading up to parties so that when I inevitably overate, my waistline wouldn’t suffer too much. If you’ve ever done something similar, it should come at no surprise that this method didn’t work out so well.
My excessive dieting attempts circa Thanksgiving only left me famished, low-energy and crabby, and did absolutely nothing to help me keep my eating under control. The all-consuming dieting mindset led me to overeat — not only at the holiday parties, but on other evenings too. The binge eating left me so stuffed, groggy, ill and ashamed that I found myself hardly able to enjoy the season at all. Instead of engaging with my family, I was holding my breath and sucking in my stomach for pictures. Instead of thanking God for the delicious desserts and holiday side dishes, I was cursing myself for my lack of willpower. Instead of savoring, I was stuffed.
When I point-blank gave up dieting altogether, I experienced an enormous shift in my mindset which paved the way for a far more balanced approach to holiday meals. If you struggle to stay in control of food during the holiday season, here are some tips that actually work…no dieting involved!
The Ultimate Recipe for Guilt-Free Holiday Meals
1. Avoid Extremes
The single most important thing to help prevent out-of-control eating is to keep up with regular self-care in the form of nutrition. Throughout the holiday season, eat balanced, regular meals and snacks. Don’t skip meals, cut out food groups, or try to “save calories” for evening feasts. Creating an energy deficit leads to overeating, binge eating, guilt, and shame, and nothing about those is festive. Even if yesterday’s dinner was especially rich, you still need to eat a balanced breakfast today! When we don’t try to force outside control over our eating, our bodies naturally compensate for energy surplus by adjusting our appetites. But this is only possible if we are engaging in a long-standing pattern of honoring our hunger and fullness signals.
2. Save Some For Later
When you know you can eat pumpkin pie again tomorrow, you don’t need to eat an extra slice today. Facilitate enjoyment of holiday meals by not punishing yourself for eating them, stuffing yourself silly, or feeding into the lie that sweets and treats are only for Christmas dinner. If you’re full but still want the rest of the pecan pudding, save it for later! Food tastes so much better when we are actually hungry for it, so honor your body by taking a break now so that you can maximize your enjoyment later.
3. Be Proactive
If putting down your fork when you’re full feels too hard, it may be because of the anticipation leading up to the holiday meal. If you’ve been daydreaming about pumpkin pie since November 1st, it’s more than likely that you’ll be shoveling slices into your mouth as fast as you can when Thanksgiving finally rolls around! My favorite way to combat the distraction of this sense of food obsession/fixation is to eat pie more often. A healthy and balanced diet has plenty of room for sweets and treats, even on a daily basis. There’s no reason to wait for Thanksgiving to start enjoying your holiday favorites — after all, the holidays aren’t really about food, anyway! Bake a pie today in all its homemade, festive glory, and enjoy a few bites every day in the weeks leading up to the “big event.” More likely than not, you’ll find that the Thanksgiving dessert table doesn’t have as much allure.
4. Have Grace on Yourself
Holidays aren’t the only time that we sometimes overeat. Eating past fullness is part of normal life, just like under-eating on occasion happens regularly. Out of respect for our bodies and ourselves we obviously should try to avoid doing either of these things with regularity, but sometimes they just happen! Overeating at Thanksgiving dinner is no different from overeating in the middle of the summer…it’s just another meal. Try not to give too much power and attention to the concept of overeating — direct more of your energy and time to trying to maximize relaxation, gratitude, relationships, and enjoyment during this merry time.
5. Say Grace
When we get too wrapped up in our pursuits to avoid food (or too much food) we can sometimes forget that food itself is not a bad thing. Rather, it is a wonderful and satisfying gift from God, and it brings him glory when we keep it in its proper place in our lives. Use the holiday season as a reminder to practice your expression of gratitude for all of God’s blessings in your life, including food. When we see food as a gift rather than our enemy, we bring healing into our relationship with it. For more on the relationship between faith and food, check out my 20-day devotional, available on Amazon.