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A Healthy Holiday Does NOT Mean Diets & Deprivation

Sarah Biskobing is a registered and certified dietitian specializing in the nutritional treatment of eating disorders at Rogers Memorial Hospital.

It’s that time of the year, the holiday season. For those overcoming years of disordered eating, such as anorexia, bulimia, or even those that struggle with body image the holidays can be a real struggle. Food is at the forefront of almost every holiday celebration and the bounty of calorie-rich foods often triggers a fear of weight gain during the holiday season. As a result, some make a hasty retreat back to their familiar disordered eating behaviors.

However, the holiday season does not have to equate to diets and deprivation. In fact, your holiday season can be healthy, Here are some how-to’s for a healthy holiday season:

  • Give yourself permission to eat and to enjoy what you eat.
  • Take the judgment out of the food and take yourself off the hook. Your values, and the person you are, are not affected by the food you just ate.
  • Do not starve yourself beforehand in an attempt to save up the day’s allotment of food for the holiday celebration. Doing so may trigger you to overindulge, which may in turn produce feelings of guilt and shame and start a cycle of disordered eating behaviors. Instead, nourish yourself with a balance of food throughout the day.
  • Slow down, settle in, and socialize first. Stand more than an arm’s length away from the munchies so that you can focus on the good company and festivities.
  • Have a support person available (in person or on the phone) who can help you work through momentary struggles and difficult situations. Anticipate some of the possible triggers in advance so that you can have a game plan for how to positively cope when you encounter them.
  • Plan ahead, assess your hunger and fullness level and evaluate your options. Consider portion size and moderation. Mindfully consider the foods you enjoy. Decide which foods you’ll definitely eat, which ones you will sample, and which ones you will skip.
  • Make a decision and stick with it. Do not play a back and forth game of this is good/bad for me, but this is better for me. The back and forth choices can cause confusion, frustration, anxiety and can trigger the cycle of disordered eating behaviors.
  • Slow down and become mindful while you eat. Enjoy the taste, texture, and smell. Breathe and assess your fullness (and/or your meal plan) while you are eating. It takes at least 20 minutes for fullness cues to arrive and signal us to stop eating. Therefore, instead of heaping your plate full right from the start, moderately fill your plate and remember that you can go back for seconds if you are still hungry.
  • Legalize the holiday yumminess! Deprivation, chronic dieting, cutting back, or labeling food as good or bad can lead to cravings, overeating (or binges), and poor nutrition.
  • Focus on moderation versus deprivation. When foods are forbidden, they take on a magical quality that is difficult to resist. Research shows that the more you legalize a food, the more in control you will be when eating that particular food. If you try to restrict yourself from all holiday treats, you may be more likely to overindulge at some point.

By following some of these tips and tricks, you can be healthy and enjoy your holiday season. And it’s ok to lean on family and friends, by talking about what you are experiencing.


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