Negative feelings about the things you eat — or want to eat — during the holidays are nothing new. This is the time of year when you’re not only surrounded by cravings for your favorite treats, but reminders that overindulging on those treats will ruin January.
The thing is, there shouldn’t be any shame in spending time with family members you love and eating foods you enjoy. Approaching the holiday table with a new mindset might just be good for your mental health.
We invite you to let go of the food guilt this holiday season and embrace the joy that comes with balance and food freedom.
What is food guilt?
Food guilt is a feeling of shame or regret over food you’ve eaten or would like to eat. In serious cases, it can be a sign of an eating disorder or disordered eating. Both are harmful — not only to your overall sense of self-worth, but also to your gut-brain connection.
How do I stop feeling guilty about eating during the holidays? To stop feeling guilty about indulging during the holidays, remind yourself that eating your favorite foods can be a form of self care as you spend time with community and share your favorite dishes.
Take a step back from Food Guilt.
Keep some perspective if you’re worried about overeating during the holidays. Quiet the noise from trending diet culture enthusiasts on your social media feeds — or across the table. Recognize that an indulgent meal here and there doesn’t mean you’ve broken your diet or that you are out of control.
You also shouldn’t worry about any perceived “damage” after a big meal. You would need to consume an extra 3,500 calories to gain even a single pound. You probably aren’t doing that with an extra slice of pumpkin pie.
Remember: one meal won’t lead to massive weight gain or ruin the healthy eating habits you embrace year-round.
Give yourself a break from Food Guilt.
The biggest self-care tip we can give for holiday dieters: cut yourself some slack. Constantly worrying about your diet harms your body image and will affect your holiday time with loved ones. Over worrying can also increase the stress hormone cortisol that contributes to unneeded anxiety.
What should I do if I want to indulge in the holiday food? If you want to indulge in the holiday food, you should allow yourself to indulge. Return to mindful eating or intuitive eating practices the next day and drop that all-or-nothing approach to your weight loss journey.
If you sense those negative thoughts creeping in as your stomach is growling, check in with yourself. Remind yourself to think forward, not backwards. You’ll be saving yourself from some side effects of stress in the process.
Take your time.
Eating slowly will not only help you savor the meal; chewing thoroughly helps to reduce digestive enzymes efficiently. Put your fork down in between bites to ensure you are taking a break to properly emulsify your food. You may also take a digestive enzyme to help with the process of breaking down food particles for optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Note: if you are experiencing acid reflux, find a digestive enzyme that doesn’t have HCL.
Stay positive and Free of Food Guilt.
Elimination diets can be a useful tool in figuring out food triggers that affect certain conditions. That said, they shouldn’t be used as a way to punish yourself.
Instead of fixating on food restrictions, focus on what you can add to your plate.
That can include more fruits and veggies, or adding habits like starting the day with a walk or yoga to manage your stress, or drinking more water throughout the day. Focus less on what you shouldn’t be doing and more on what you can do to feel great without all the food rules.
How do I bounce back after holiday food? You can bounce back after holiday food by adding healthy habits to your daily routine.
Tips for Joyful Holiday Eating
How do I deal with the urge to overeat during the holidays? To deal with the urge to overeat during the holidays, take a few steps to prepare yourself for food cravings and be more mindful about your eating. Here are a few more tips:
- If you’re attending a family potluck, bring a healthy dish you can fill half your plate with and still enjoy. Fill the rest with more indulgent foods you really want to try.
- Skip the dishes that don’t bring you joy. Focus on foods that you really love to avoid overeating on things that are just fine.
- Drinking water 30 minutes before a meal can increase satiety, decreasing the amount that is eaten during meals.
- Focus on high protein foods on your plate, as proteins help to absorb simple carbs.
- Try to stop eating during the first sign of fullness. Your brain will most likely tell you that you are full and satisfied not too long after.
- Enjoy yourself. Take pleasure in the food and spending time with your loved ones. Savor those bites, especially when you get to your favorites.
- If you overeat, wash your hands clean of the meal as soon as it’s over. Recommit to your goals the next day. You don’t need to wait for the new year.
Happy Holidays from PrimeHealth!
At PrimeHealth, we’re all about balance during the holiday season. Health goals aren’t realized overnight, especially as you develop new habits.
- Steenhuis, I. (2009). Guilty or not? Feelings of guilt about food among college women. Appetite, 52(2), 531-534.
- Kuijer, R. G., Boyce, J. A., & Marshall, E. M. (2015). Associating a prototypical forbidden food item with guilt or celebration: relationships with indicators of (un)healthy eating and the moderating role of stress and depressive symptoms. Psychology & Health, 30(2), 203-217.
- Hazzard, V. M., Telke, S. E., Simone, M., Anderson, L. M., Larson, N. I., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2021). Intuitive eating longitudinally predicts better psychological health and lower use of disordered eating behaviors: findings from EAT 2010-2018. Eating and Weight Disorders, 26(1), 287-294.
- Chey, WD. (2019). Elimination diets for irritable bowel syndrome: Approaching the end of the beginning. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 114(2):201-203.