The holidays can be a stressful time. Spending time with family can be joyful but also stressful. Shopping for gifts can be fun but also hard on the wallet. Being busy with Thanksgivings, Christmas parties, family get-togethers, etc can be a blessing but also a lot to handle. The holiday food can be delicious but also unhealthy and overwhelming for someone who tries to eat mostly healthy. Between stress eating, and just generally enjoying holiday food, it’s a time of year when people are likely to gain a few pounds.
It’s definitely a hard time to be “on a diet” or in a calorie deficit, or just trying to live a healthy lifestyle, and the numbers on the scale can lead to even more stress. But completely restricting yourself can make the holidays un-enjoyable and can lead to resentment, sadness, and general scrooge-like behavior.
But, you can enjoy the holidays without stressing yourself out about how many Christmas cookies you ate or whether or not the scale is going to be higher the next day. Here’s a few tips on how to enjoy the holidays without stressing out about ruining your diet:
- First of all, you’re not required to worry about your weight. You don’t always have to be trying to lose weight. Place your focus else where. During November and December, focus on maintaining a consistent workout routine, getting enough sleep, balancing holiday foods with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, and drinking enough water. The holidays are stressful enough without also beating yourself up about your weight. Be kind to yourself. The number on the scale might go up but that doesn’t mean a damn thing about your self-worth. Quit focusing on the number on the scale and just focus on healthy habits. And if the scale is totally stressing you out, stay off of it, or at least weigh yourself less frequently.
- A lot of people feel like starting with Halloween, November and December are just months where there’s an abundance of unhealthy foods. That’s not really true. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and News Year Eve are only a few days in the span of two months. Sure, you’ll probably have multiple Christmas parties or maybe a couple different Thanksgivings, but you don’t have to go balls to the wall at every one. Load up on veggies from the veggie tray or fruit from the fruit platter and then have one or two cookies instead of four or five. Pick one Christmas party that you’re going to go all-out on and be a little more reserved at the other ones. And on days that you don’t have a special holiday event, stick to eating to fuel your body and reach your goals.
- We’ve all heard the metaphor that giving up on a goal because of one setback is like finding one tire slashed and then slashing the other 3 as well. Or something like that. Don’t feel like just because there’s going to be a few days that you indulge that means that November and December are already shot so you don’t have to try. Not every day needs to be a party. Don’t eat like you’re at a party every day. Don’t just tell yourself you’ll start over in January, start building small healthy habits now so you’re already ahead of the game on January 1st.
- Remember that one day is not going to ruin months or years of progress. Even if you completely stuff yourself on Thanksgiving, you’re not going to gain 10 lbs and set yourself back. It’s one day. Don’t overthink it.
- Don’t eat like an asshole. What do I mean by this? You can have one serving of mashed potatoes instead of 3. You can have one slice of pie instead of half of a pie. You can have 1-2 rolls instead of 5. Some people say to limit yourself to one plate. Load up however much you want on that plate, but don’t keep going back for seconds and thirds and fourths. My theory is that you shouldn’t feel overstuffed. Don’t eat until you hate yourself. Take a serving of all the yummy foods you enjoy, but eat them slowly and savor them, and if you’re full, don’t get another serving. Don’t eat with a scarcity mindset – eating like you’re never going to be able to get that food again. It’ll be okay, you don’t need to eat the entire bowl of potatoes (talking to myself here).
- Find a healthy outlet for stress other than overeating, or excessive drinking. We’ve already established that the holidays are stressful AF but eating like shit or drinking your feelings is not going to make you any less stressed. Work your stress out at the gym, find a friend to vent to about it, journal, meditate, read, lose yourself in a Netflix show, but don’t lose yourself in a bottle of wine or a bag of Doritos every night. Not saying you shouldn’t enjoy a drink or two or more, just don’t use it as a stress reliever.
- And my last tip is…. DON’T feel like you have to ‘earn’ your holiday foods or punish yourself for eating unhealthy. You are allowed to eat Christmas dinner even if you skipped the gym that day. You do not have to do extra cardio or eat less the days leading up to it to ‘make up’ for the extra calories. This is establishing a negative narrative around both food AND exercise and it is not a healthy way to look at either one. Food is meant to nourish and fuel your body, and exercise is meant to make you stronger, help you live longer, and help you to be healthier. Exercise is not a punishment for the food that you put in your body, and food should not be a reward for the amount of exercise you’ve done. Bottom line: you do NOT have to do extra cardio to make up for the extra calories, you CAN enjoy holiday foods even if you skipped the gym or didn’t do any extra workouts to “earn” it, and you are allowed to eat whatever you want without feeling guilty about it.
The holidays are full of yummy, “unhealthy” foods that can lead to guilt and shame. But you don’t have to feel guilty for enjoying the holidays with your family. And you also don’t have to stuff yourself to the point of being painfully full to enjoy the day. Find a balance. Focus on making the non-holiday days count, eat mindfully so you don’t overstuff yourself, and remember that you are so, so much more than the number on the scale, the size of your jeans, or the reflection in the mirror.
If you’re feeling extremely overly stressed about being around all of the holiday food, that may be a sign of something more serious and you may need to reach out to a professional who specializes in eating disorders.