A big weekend is upon us. The biggest one of the wear, I’d argue, because I’m absolutely, positively obsessed with Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday. Nothing has ever been able to compare, even my own birthday, even as a little girl.
There’s just something about the lights, the music, and the food that creates an ultimate joyful experience. Or would, at least, if I didn’t torture myself every once in a while with thoughts about having to keep myself in check, not having to overeat, and maybe going easy on a Christmas day breakfast after having a large Christmas Eve meal.
I have become better at controlling these invasive pest-like thoughts, but they do still take over my mind every once in a while. Nothing like an older aunt telling you to watch your portions because “you look so good right now, dearie; you don’t want to put on weight; it’s harder to lose at your age.”
(Just how old does she think I am?!!)
And - like a charm - here it is. The Food Guilt. Maybe I am eating too much. Perhaps I should watch myself better. I’m an adult; I should exercise more control over my actions.
I know I’m not the only one who gets hounded by guilt during the holiday season. Even people who rarely experience food guilt otherwise become more sensitive about the subject in this time period. So what can we do to combat or assuage it?
10 Pieces of Advice: Unrealistic vs. Realistic
I’ve scoured the internet hundreds of times for good advice about managing my food guilt, if not avoiding it altogether during the season. What I’ve learned is that there is no good advice, just realistic and unrealistic ones. Some things are easier to practice during the season than others. You just need to find the ones that work for you and do your best.
Unrealistic Advice: Watch Your Hunger Cues and Eat When Hungry
Is it a good piece of advice at its core? Yes. Any person should be mindful when eating. Using food primarily as a tool to satisfy hunger and leaving it be when full is a very healthy approach to eating.
But here’s the deal: people with such a well-controlled approach to food rarely experience food guilt. It’s an excellent habit to develop, but it’s a long-term goal, not a short-term solution to a specific problem.
Not to mention, most people will eat when not particularly hungry, if at all. It may be due to social engagements, distorted daily routines, emotional cravings, etc. I know I’m not peckish whenever I grab a chocolate Christmas candy from the bowl. I do it because it’s there and I love chocolate.
Realistic Advice: Try Not to Overeat. Start with Small Portions and Get Seconds Only if You’re Unsatisfied
Portion control is so deeply rooted in diet culture that many of us have developed an automatic distaste for it, I think. But when implemented in a casual way, instead of weighing every single thing you eat and calculating macros, it becomes an easy tool to keep yourself from overeating.
Instead of two scoops of mashed potato, take one. Instead of three chocolate candies, eat two. Ask for a smaller piece of cake. And if you’re still craving something, once you’re done with it? Then you can take another portion. Often you’ll find yourself satisfied - even if you’d have finished a larger piece if it were on your plate.
Unrealistic Advice: Be Mindful of What You’re Eating and Think of it as Nourishment for the Body and Soul
Again, at the core of it, this is solid advice. But it’s solid advice for a lifestyle change, not for dealing with food guilt over eating one too many gingerbread cookies. Reimagining food as nourishment that keeps your body strong and able is good. But it may just as easily trigger food guilt. I know it did so for me. I didn’t think of chocolate Christmas candy, gingerbread cookies, or a hefty portion of chips and dip as nourishment when trying to contextualize my holiday eating similarly. On the contrary: I found it devoid of any meaningful nutritional value, which only amplified my food guilt.
Realistic Advice: Ditch the “I Should’ve” Mentality and Focus on Mitigating
As the proverb goes, “no use crying over spilled milk.” Instead of focusing on what you’ve “done wrong,” focus on what you can do better after. No use punishing yourself for eating too much turkey, buttery mashed potatoes, bread, or cake. But you can resolve to eat more vegetables today. You can resolve to drink more water and less sugary soda today. Focus on mitigating rather than cutting: always say less, not “no” or “instead of.” More vegetables, not vegetables, instead of meat and gravy, more fruits, not fruits, instead of cake and candy.
Unrealistic Advice: Plan Your Meals. Eat at Normal Times. Keep a Routine
If you’re actually able to pull this off? Congrats. You might be the person with a will stronger than fire-forged steel. I’ve seen this advice a couple of times: eat at times of the day you’re used to, stick to your old schedule, and even if you have a social engagement planned, remember you don’t have to eat there; communication is not just about food.
It’s Christmas! All communication is about food during the Christmas season! You may not feel very hungry when you get to your event, but a combination of cravings watching others enjoy a delicious meal AND the awkwardness you experience when everyone else is eating, and you’re sitting alone, nursing your drink? You will more likely than not find yourself ordering.
And this is just a pre-planned event. One that can be anticipated and planned around. But what about all the times you find yourself grabbing a candy, a cookie, or a pack of chips, while a little inside voice reminds you that you shouldn’t be snacking because it trips up your routine?
If anything, this is advice on how to invite food guilt, not how to fight it.
Realistic Advice: Don’t Try to “Save” Calories and Starve Yourself, if You Have a Social Event Planned
Starving yourself is a surefire way to overeat later. If you do have a social event planned and you’re getting hungry beforehand - go ahead and eat. Maybe go for something lighter, but if there’s a chance that eating something lighter will just leave you feeling hungry still AND unsatisfied, then just go ahead and eat a full meal.
And then eat another when you get to your event because it’s Christmas, and food should be enjoyed, dammit. Eating before will allow you to take control of what you’re eating at the event and eat for enjoyment, not to fill an empty stomach, which will help with portion control. The hungrier you are, the quicker you’re likely to eat to satisfy the hunger, so you run a high risk of overeating (because you’ll consume food faster than your body can register that its demands have been heard and sustenance provided). This, in turn, may result in you not enjoying the experience as you should (because consuming food quickly decreases our ability to fully process the flavors).
So yes, you may eat more calories than you had planned if you eat before going somewhere. You may even experience some form of food guilt. But you’ll also have more control over what and how much you’re eating, and the guilt will be easier to assuage the next day.
Unrealistic Advice: Don’t Let Other People Get to You. Your Plate is Your Business
It’s nobody’s business if you don’t want to eat the second helping, says the advice. It’s nobody’s business if you don’t want the mashed potatoes and gravy. It’s nobody’s business if you don’t want cake.
Just say “no,” says the advice.
As a picky eater who does actually say “no” quite a lot simply because I’m nigh-physically incapable of tolerating certain smells and flavors, I’m telling you - it’s just swapping food guilt for the guilt of upsetting whoever’s hosting, especially if they prepared the meal personally. We care about making people feel good during the celebrations. That’s not a bad thing. But that gives others a strong ability to peer-pressure us into something we don’t want. Like getting a piece of cake because “you’re the only one not eating it; come on, just a small one!”
And that’s when you genuinely don’t enjoy food. If you enjoy and want to taste something, saying “no” to constant attempts to get you to try it will be very hard.
Realistic Advice: Remember to Look at the Bigger Picture Every Once in a While
Food guilt may attack particularly vigorously if you’re feeling heavy and bloated. You didn’t just overeat. You overate so severely that now you’re physically feeling the effects. You have no control over yourself and your cravings. Honestly, you may just as well give up where you are, as apparently, you don’t even have a modicum of self-control.
If this one feels rather specific, it’s because I’ve been here myself many times. This was my teenage self’s favorite post-Christmas Eve dinner speech. And still, I repeated it every single time.
But one day of eating, even one that hits up to 6,000 calories (which is apparently how much an average American eats on Christmas Day), won’t ruin your health and have you put on a ton of weight. In fact, if you eat like you usually do over the next few days, it’s doubtful it’ll affect your body in any meaningful way at all.
In the end, it’s just one day out of 365. You’re allowed to let yourself go for that one day - even if you’re in physical discomfort by the end of it. Just remember to take it one day at a time and keep track of how your body feels in the coming days.
Unrealistic Advice: Focus on Eating, Be Present, and Enjoy the Taste
Again, great advice - many dietitians and nutritionists claim that eating slowly and mindfully helps us feel fuller faster and experience higher satisfaction levels from the meals. Only eating during the Christmas holidays isn’t a mindful event. It’s either a social one, so you’ll be chatting with others paying more attention to what they’re saying and less on what’s going on with your plate, or a relaxing one, when you’re eating alone, taking a break from all the communication, and aren’t really interested in focusing on anything.
If you can do it, be fully present with your food and savor every bite. Good for you. Do that. But for most of us, it’s a somewhat unrealistic piece of advice.
Realistic Advice: Rethink New Year Resolutions and Don’t Treat Christmas Dinner Like Last Supper
“This is going to be the final time. I’m going to go all out and enjoy all the foods I’ve been craving, and then, from January, I’ll do better!”
Sounds familiar? If “going on a diet” has become a less popular New Year’s resolution, it’s because it’s been swapped with “I’m going to become healthier.” Becoming healthier, of course, means cutting all the junk food (sorry, chips and dip!), eating more vegetables (and maybe even losing some weight, though people aren’t admitting it so readily anymore).
Stop. Treating December like it’s your last opportunity to eat what you want is a surefire way to keep overeating. Don’t treat January like a reset time, as many do. It’s just another month, no more, no less. You’re not running toward a red line.
Yummy Bazaar Wishes You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Enjoy the last week of the year (or maybe start the new 2023 one if you’re late to the party!) with gourmet holiday treats from all over the world! Yummy Bazaar hosts one of the largest selections of traditional winter season cookies, candies, cakes, and more from all over the world! Simply stock the cart with whatever tickles your fancy, and we’ll ensure it gets delivered to your doorstep ASAP. Life is so much better when you can enjoy good food along with your loved ones. We hope you’ll be doing just that in the upcoming days - and let us play a small part in your joy.