As a registered dietitian, I’ve heard my fair share of silly nutrition advice, especially when it comes to eating rules. I’m here to tell you why you need to ignore these common holiday nutrition tips (and what to do instead!). Ready to ditch the rules?
The holidays are here and so are fun holiday parties and get-togethers involving delicious food. As fun as this time of year is, it can also induce a bit of anxiety in those who are trying to watch their weight.
Brian Wansink, a Food Psychologist and researcher out of Cornell University, states that the “holiday eating environment directly encourages overconsumption,” because it involves parties with long eating durations, friends and relatives (eating with others often results in overeating), and a multitude of distractions. As such, the internet is buzzing with blog posts and articles on how to “watch your waistline during the holidays,” or how to “eat without guilt at holiday parties,” but all too often, the advice offered is repetitive and can actually hinder your weight loss efforts rather than help.
Ok, sure. But let me back it up and offer this perspective instead. What if we stopped worrying about weight altogether? I am a strong advocate for ditching diet culture and let me tell you, it’s rampant around the holidays. If you’ve ever worried about weight gain, you can thank diet culture and fatphobia for that. I could go on about the many negative effects this has on our health, but to put it simply–diet culture messes with your relationship with food and body.
So that’s why I’d like to share five classic tips that are doled out around this time of year, and five reasons why you should ignore them (and what to do instead!):
1. Save up for the party:
Ah, a classic diet culture tip. Most people unconsciously “save up” for dinners out or for parties where food and alcohol are served. Here’s the thing: If you skimp during the day, thinking that you’ll just shift your calorie intake to later in the day at the holiday party (it will all even out, right?), you are setting yourself up to overeat and feel guilty (and your calorie intake will likely be much more). While it’s good to go in with a plan, that plan should involve setting yourself up for success. Walking into a party feeling comfortable, energized, and in control will help you to mindfully navigate the buffet table and treats, choose wisely, and listen to your body.
What to do instead
Always eat a breakfast that includes some protein (eg. Greek yogurt, eggs, milk, cottage cheese). Not only is there literature to support the fact that a protein-rich breakfast wards off unhealthy snacking later in the day, but eating breakfast also kick starts your metabolic rate, gives you energy and will likely set your eating day on the right track. Eating every 3-4 hours thereafter will help to keep your blood sugar level stable and will help with your decision-making capabilities (specifically about food) later on at the party or dinner. Having a snack such as veggie sticks with hummus, greek yogurt and an apple or a glass of milk prior to a party or dinner will help you to feel more in control once you get there. You’ll also be more mindful with your choices and the amount that you eat.
2. “Healthify” your favourite holiday recipes:
I’m all about adding in nutritious ingredients into my recipes wherever possible, but some things are sacred, and holiday recipes are one of those things. And heck, I sometimes enjoy a homemade frozen yogurt (such as my mixed berry Greek frozen yogurt recipe) over actual ice cream. However, I make sure to enjoy a variety of foods, including desserts so I never feel deprived.
What to do instead
I say, don’t sacrifice your favourite rich and wonderful once-a-year indulgence for the sake of saved calories. In fact, ditch the calorie-counting mentality altogether. Listen to your body and trust it to know how much you’d like of your favourite holiday dessert, or by-pass foods that are just “so so” and not really worth it anyway. The holidays are for enjoying those favourite foods that you don’t normally indulge in throughout the year. Enjoy mindfully and don’t feel guilty about it!
3. Sample a bit of everything:
I get the logic behind this one: take a bit of everything so that you don’t over-indulge on one thing…or something like that. But, there’s also a dark side to having a lot of variety in front of you. Much the same as standing in front of a giant buffet table with hundreds of yummy foods staring back at you, having dozens of little samplings of foods on your plate will almost always lead you to overeat. There have been numerous studies across all age groups proving that more food variety leads to increased consumption (this is why having more variety on your picky eater’s plate often helps them to eat more), therefore, more choices on your plate at a party will likely result in eating past the point of comfortable fullness.
What to do instead
Instead, become a picky eater at holiday events. Say what? Only choose those foods that you know you love (in satisfying portions) and leave the rest. When it comes to more nutritious fair such as vegetables, proteins or complex carbohydrates, take the opposite approach (serve yourself lots of variety here), which will help you eat more.
4. Stave off hunger by chewing gum or drinking water:
Ugh, this is the oldest diet trick in the book and I am NOT here for it. While I’m all about staying hydrated and avoiding mindless eating, I do not believe that suppressing physical hunger cues is a good approach, especially when it comes to your relationship with food. Quite the opposite, in fact. If you suppress true hunger signals, they will only come back to bite you at warp speed later on, which–you guessed it–will likely lead to overconsumption when you do eventually “give in”.
What to do instead
Instead, eat when you start to feel hungry (before you become over-hungry) and stop when you’re comfortably full but also satisfied. Satisfaction is a key part of this! For example, it’s easy to feel full on a salad, but was it truly satisfying to you? When you’re comfortably full and satisfied, you can put your napkin on your plate and push it away from you knowing that you got exactly what you needed!
5. Eat freely today, be “good” tomorrow:
This is also known as the “last supper” mentality and is a huge trope in our diet culture world. Get it in now, while you can, right? If you think this way about food, you are more likely to over eat. Many first-time clients confess to me that they over-indulged the day before their appointment with me because they thought I’d restrict their intake. When they realize that my food philosophy is inclusive (i.e. what can we add versus take away), they breathe a sign of relief! Whenever we feel that there will be deprivation or restriction in the future, we sub-consciously eat more than we otherwise would.
What to do instead
Don’t plan to restrict later–you’re only setting yourself up for being uncomfortably full and feel an immense amount of regret. Instead, trust your body to be your guide. I often eat a bit more than usual on Christmas Day (probably due to more variety, being around friends and family, celebrating etc.), but then usually end up eating less over the next couple of days (sub-consciously). I don’t restrict myself, but rather listen to my natural hunger cues and honour them. If you really tune in to your internal hunger cues (and shut out external cues as best as you can), you’ll eat the appropriate amount for you and it will all even out over the week.
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