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5 Tips to Avoid Holiday Guilt

Updated: Feb 26, 2022

Written by: Natalie Faella, MS, RDN, LDN | December 21, 2021

holiday treats, christmas cookies, guilt-free holiday, guilt-free eating

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Or at least, it should feel that way. As we cross those holiday parties off of our calendars and get ready for Christmas celebrations, we can often feel guilty for the way we've been eating and drinking all month. This can sometimes make us less excited for the actual holiday and even end up enjoying the day less.

The good news is, it does not need to be this way. And it shouldn't, because the holidays are about so much more than calories. Here are some steps we can take in order to avoid that holiday guilt:

1. Honor your hunger — eat as you normally would leading up to the holidays (and after).

In other words, don’t starve yourself or over exercise leading up to Christmas Eve/Day dinner so you can “earn” your meal. Sometimes when we know we will be indulging in rich food, desserts, more wine or alcohol than usual, we feel the need to compensate for it. Whether that is eating very little the day of (or days before), or eating very little the days after. We might even do more cardio or exercise than usual before and/or after the meal. This is not only unnecessary, but can set us up for failure. We may be famished by the time we get to Christmas dinner or hear that little voice in our head telling us we "earned it," which can both set us up for overeating.

Similarly, by telling ourselves that we’re “not going to eat tomorrow” or “will do extra cardio tomorrow,” it gives our minds the OK to overeat that day. This is just like how “cheat days” in diets end up being overindulgent (we restricted leading up to them and know we will go back to restricting after them). Restricting intake (i.e., dieting) is the number one predictor of overeating. So, you’re better off eating and exercising as you normally would in the days before and after Christmas. Just think of it as a regular day of eating — yes, there may be tastier options available, and yes you can enjoy them without “earning” them.

We feel the need to compensate for it... This is not only unnecessary, but can set us up for failure.

2. Know that it’s OK to eat past fullness.

“Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.” Sometimes this isn’t so easy. The good news is, nothing bad is going to happen to you because you ate past fullness; your body can handle this, and like with #1, you don’t have to fast or run 6 miles the next day. Of course, you don’t want to make yourself sick, so it’s good to check in with just how full you are feeling, but you don’t need to physically feel hungry in order to have dessert. You are allowed to enjoy yourself. Besides, does anyone ever really “save room” for dessert?

3. Know that it’s OK to enjoy all foods (and leftovers).

No day is a good day to be on a fad diet but the holidays are certainly a bad time to be avoiding carbs, fats, dairy, sugar, happiness… It’s tough because all of those “New Year New You” diet ads are out and can make you feel guilty for enjoying the holidays. Instead of walking into dinner and telling yourself you have to "take it easy... skip cocktails or dessert... lay off the carbs," etc., give yourself the permission to eat whatever foods you enjoy that day. By simply having permission to eat what you want, you are decreasing the likelihood of overeating and reducing any guilt afterwards.

It can also help to know that you can enjoy these foods the days after Christmas as leftovers, too. If we have permission to eat holiday dishes and treats only on the day of, then we may over do it that day. Kind of like a last supper or cheat day type of feeling. It can also be a helpful reminder for when you’re starting to feel uncomfortably full but still want to try a few more treats — just take some in a to-go bag and enjoy them in the upcoming days. (My favorite holiday leftovers are Christmas cookies and I always look forward to having them with my coffee as “breakfast dessert” after the holidays).

By simply giving yourself the permission to eat what you want, you are decreasing the likelihood of overeating and reducing any guilt afterwards.

4. Reframe the thoughts from the food police.

These can come from your own head or be influenced by your company. It’s OK if your aunt keeps talking about her weight loss at dinner, your uncle is Keto so just eating bacon, and your cousin ran 15 miles that morning and has told you about it 6 times. This doesn’t mean you have to analyze or change any of your food preferences or eating habits on Christmas or after. And if the food police are not the voices around your table but that little one in your head pointing out the amount of sugar, fat, or calories you’ve had, or how you “should” stop eating or compensate tomorrow, remind it that it’s the holidays (and it can kindly hush).

I know this is MUCH easier said than done. It can help to first try to make observations when you notice your mind is making judgements. For example, instead of “I’m eating so badly” try “I’m really enjoying this lasagna” or “Everything I’ve eaten today has been so delicious.” To piggy back off of this, work on reframing those hurtful thoughts so that when the come up later that evening, the next day, etc., it’s easier for you to more quickly change the narrative. Here are some common food thoughts with helpful reframes.

5. Remember what the day is really about.

Food is usually at the center of celebrations and it’s unfortunate that diet culture can take away the enjoyment piece and replace it with stress and guilt. Holidays are for enjoying delicious food and drinks, and they are also for enjoying friends, family, and celebrating all there is to be grateful for. The thought of calories, weight, sugar, and carbs should be the furthest things from our minds. But it makes sense they are not with “resolutions” on the mind and the pressure from society to look, eat, and move a certain way all of the time. If you find yourself zoning out and feeling guilty or worried about holiday eating, try to bring yourself back to the present moment and remind yourself what else this day is about.

If you’re really having a hard time and feel like those thoughts are endless, try this: stand outside for a moment, feel the cool air, and notice your surroundings — the trees, houses, maybe the scent of smoke from nearby chimneys. Take a few deep breaths, and when you get back inside, take a moment to do the same thing. This mindfulness practice can help bring you back to the moment and make it easier to make those observations and reframes from #4, too.

Bottomline, we’re human - we don’t have to eat perfectly all of the time and we certainly do not have to feel guilty for enjoying ourselves and celebrating with the people we love.

Wishing you the happiest, guilt-free holiday!

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