The holiday season is here! While it looks a little different in 2020 (no more potlucks in the work break room or festive happy hours at the neighborhood bar), it hopefully will still include indulging in traditional meals and treats.
One thing that I hope your holiday eating doesn’t include? Prepping for holiday meals by drastically skimping on calories earlier in the day.
This attempt at self-control may seem like a good idea, but after years of studying and working in the field of nutrition, I can tell you that it goes against innate human biology. It’s not about a lack of willpower; it’s about our bodies needing vital nourishment to function.
As Marya Hornbacher puts so eloquently in her memoir, Wasted:
“You cannot trick your body. Your body, strange as it seems to we who are saturated with a doctrine of dualism, is actually attached to your brain. There is a very simple, inevitable thing that happens to a person who is dieting: When you are not eating enough, your thinking process changes. You begin to be obsessed with food. They’ve done study after study on this, and still we believe that if we cut back fat, sugar, calorie intake…everything will be the same…Nothing is the same.”Marya hornbacher, wasted
Can you relate? Do you notice this happening on those days when you try to trick yourself into eating less only to eat more? How much of your time is spent thinking about food? Does your body feel good?
The simple solution might shock you. As a dietitian, I recommend you eat! Nourish your body, just like any other day, and then let yourself indulge and enjoy holiday treats.
Although it may be easier said than done, the following tips can help you put this into action.
Eat every 3-5 hours.
Whether it’s a meal or snack, don’t go too long without eating. This can prevent obsessive thoughts about food as well as feeling tired, irritable, and cranky. If you don’t want to (or can’t) eat full meals throughout the day, no biggie! Snacks are good, too — which brings me to my next tip.
Don’t be afraid to snack.
Having a nutritious and filling snack 1-2 hours before a holiday meal can help keep hunger at bay. To get the most bang for your buck, pair a fiber-rich carbohydrate with a protein and/or healthy fat. Good examples include a piece of fresh fruit with ¼ cup nuts, ½ cup Greek yogurt with ½ cup berries and a tablespoon of nut butter, 2 hard-boiled eggs with fresh vegetables or fruit, or ⅓ cup of trail mix.
Balance your plate.
Just like any other day, try to include a fruit and/or vegetable, a protein, a carbohydrate, and some form of a heart-healthy fat at your meals. If your plate looks a little different from this at your holiday meal, that’s fine! One meal won’t make or break you, and beating yourself up about it is never helpful.
Savor your food by taking smaller bites, putting your utensil down in between bites, and chewing slowly. Taking more time to eat can not only help you enjoy your food but also help you notice your fullness before it reaches an uncomfortable point. (Find more mindful eating tips here).
Enjoy the moment.
Food is just one component of the holiday season; don’t give it all the power. Enjoy everything else the holidays have to offer. Focus on the wonderful conversation you had with your old friend, the laughs you shared with family playing charades, the beautiful decorations, or the comforting holiday music.
Some people will go to bed hungry this holiday season because they don’t have the financial means to buy enough food, let alone put a holiday meal on the table. Some people are lonely. Some people are managing medical conditions that keep them from indulging in their favorite holiday treats. Be grateful for the company and the food you will be enjoying this holiday season, if you are lucky enough to do so.
Most importantly, give yourself permission to eat, drink, and be merry this holiday season. If you work with your body, it will work with you.