The holiday season is among us, which means you have likely started thinking about all of the delicious food and social gatherings that are just around the corner. While this time of year often brings a lot of joy, it can also be a time of stress caused by the pressures of dieting and weight management.
Yet contrary to the many dieting messages put out in the media, the holidays are perhaps the worst time of year to start a diet. Read on to learn why this is along with some helpful holiday survival tips you can follow to get through this holiday season healthfully, and with peace and food freedom.
Reasons not to diet during the holiday season
While you’re bound to hear and read headlines about avoiding weight gain this time of year, there are a few reasons for why this can be the wrong thing to focus on, such as:
1. Temptation is everywhere.
There is likely no other time of the year that you will be faced with as many seasonal and special treats and foods than during the holidays. This means that if you choose to diet, you will be forced to constantly avoid temptation, which is very difficult to do and only sets you up to fail. Prolonged or frequent food restriction nearly always leads to overeating when you finally do give in (which is pretty much inevitable). This in turn can lead to guilt, food shaming, and an unhealthy relationship with food and your body.
2. There’s enough things to stress about already.
On the flipside of the joy that the holiday season can bring is often a lot of stress. Things like buying endless gifts, being on a tight budget, prepping tons of food and attending multiple social events all while also trying to live your otherwise normal life are no small tasks. If you add following a specific diet during this time of year, it can easily become too much to handle. Spending time with loved ones and enjoying this special time of year is much more important than dieting.
3. Your mental health matters, too.
People tend to think of only physical health when they think about caring for their bodies, yet mental health is arguably just as important. Dieting can be super stressful on the mind and body and may cause things like disordered eating, which can have significant long term consequences. It’s important to recognize that a short season of eating perhaps more than you usually do won’t “ruin” your physical health or weight as much as most people assume, yet the emotional and mental damage can be much longer lasting.
Learn more about the anti-diet movement and how it may benefit you in the long run.
Holiday diet survival tips
While dieting should not be your main focus, it’s perfectly okay (and even recommended!) to still take steps to honor your health this time of year.
Here are some survival tips to help you navigate this season with health still in mind:
1. Refuse to “save your calories.”
While it can be tempting to skip meals on days when you know you will be faced with larger meals and extra treats, doing so nearly always backfires and can lead to overeating. Instead, continue your normal eating pattern as closely as possible throughout the day. Doing so allows you to go into a holiday event with a clear mind and without feeling deprived, which means you can truly savor and enjoy your favorite holiday foods.
2. Balance your plate.
While you don’t need to say “no” to any specific food item, there are many health benefits in choosing a combination of foods that provide all three of the macronutrients carbohydrates, protein and fat on your plate (rather than just carbs alone, for example).This balance will help provide the most amount of nutrients and will also satisfy you quicker and for longer periods of time.
3. Say goodbye to “all or nothing” thinking.
While you don’t need to focus on dieting, it’s also not helpful to turn to the other extreme and eat as much as you want, whenever you want. Try practicing the principles of intuitive eating, which is all about listening to your body’s cues to make empowered decisions about what and how much you want to eat, while checking in with how your body is feeling throughout the day or event.
4. Focus on gentle movement.
Exercise is still important, but don’t try to out-exercise your diet. Trying to overwork yourself physically just adds more stress to your body and life. Instead, focus on activities you enjoy and that leave your body feeling refreshed. Things like walking, yoga, hiking and light weight training can help reduce stress and anxiety while also promoting healthy digestion. Bonus points if you can find someone else to exercise with you!
5. Give yourself grace.
Approach food during the holiday season with kindness, flexibility and an open mind. There are bound to be times that you overeat, or eat more sugar than you planned to. Accept this as just part of the process, and trust that your body will tell you what it needs to stay on track moving forward.
There are so many more important things to focus on during the holiday season than your diet or weight. While being healthy and fit are still important and are good goals to strive for, they shouldn’t be an added source of stress this time of year.