By Tayla Clegg – Student Dietitian
The festive time is great for joining friends and loved ones together, and it often involves the sharing of indulgent and delicious festive foods and drinks. Although this is exciting and enticing for some, for many, Christmas can bring with it feelings of guilt and shame around food. There are lots of mixed messages in articles, lists of tips, and TV segments talking about how to eat “right” during the holidays. But is there a right way to eat? Can’t we just have our Christmas pudding and enjoy it too? The answer is YES! The aim of this article is to help anyone who may struggle to keep a healthy mindset around food, especially during the festive season, but to also explain some ways in which we can help to build a positive and healthy mindset around food, to allow us all to enjoy this time of year to the fullest!
So why can Christmas time be difficult for those struggling with their mindset around food?
Christmas time can often be a very anxiety-provoking occasion for some. I am no longer afraid to openly speak up about this rather personal topic after going down a restrictive phase a few years ago. Where I do recall how difficult Christmas time was. These types of celebrations produced multiple triggers like- seeing relatives that you haven’t seen for a while (commenting on how you’ve “changed”), as well as being surrounded by lots of unfamiliar food and changing routines. In addition to this, is the overwhelming output of “healthy eating tips” we are reminded of, such as choosing smaller plates, eating salads first, or moving away from the foods you don’t trust yourself around, which can be provoking us to fear gaining weight from a single Christmas meal. So with so much going on, how can we keep a healthy mindset around food?
What is a healthy mindset around food?
So, what does it mean to have a healthy food mindset during the Christmas period?
It’s about not being worried about what we eat over this celebratory occasion. Considering that this is only a few days in the year, where there are many more days where we do and eat what makes us feel good.
A healthy mindset is allowing ourselves to enjoy a variety of delicious food, we may not usually eat throughout the festive season, where we are more likely to return to regular eating patterns afterward. Whereas an unhealthy mindset would have individuals seeing “bad foods” as the enemy and do everything to stay clear of them, even if they feel like them and have every right to enjoy them.
Try mindful eating
Let’s introduce the approach of ‘mindful eating’, where the focus and attention are brought to the present moment of eating. What it tastes like, listening to hunger and fullness cues, acknowledging what you feel like and what the textures are. Being mindful means being guided by your body and what feels good for it. This means choosing to focus on your choices, and acknowledging that what others eat is based on their choice, and that may be different from yours, and that’s okay because we are all different, therefore have different preferences and needs. Furthermore, it’s important to acknowledge that you may also eat past fullness or choose to eat foods that are different than you would “normally” eat, and THAT IS OK!. Accept it, and move on – there is no need to eat differently to make up for overeating.
The best mindset surrounding food also incorporates flexibility. Because it’s such a busy time of the year, don’t be hard on yourself if you miss your workout one morning because you had a late holiday dinner, because you’ll probably find another way to squeeze some movement in later that day? The same goes for eating. If you ate a big dessert before, you can most certainly still enjoy yourself the next day or return to regular eating regimes- there is no reason to restrict. The holidays are not a time for rigidity, that will only add additional stress – and who wants that!
From all of this, here are some key mantras to take away!
- I am allowed to enjoy any foods without guilt
- Food is not “good” or “bad”
- I don’t have to deserve this (“burn it off”)
- I am enjoying myself, and making memories with friends and loved ones
- Talk to an accredited dietitian/psychologist if you notice food is something you struggle with
And finally, allow yourself to eat, enjoy the food, try something new, trust your body and savour the company of others.