Another holiday season is upon us, and for many of us who pay comparatively close attention to the food we put in our bodies, this can mean increased temptation, frustration, and even regret (hence the huge amount of New Years’ healthy eating resolutions!). Most holidays in general are food-centered, and Fall/Winter holidays are no exception. Big meals with family and friends can be the highlights of this time of year.
Problems can sometimes arise when you are faced with multiple possibilities to OVEReat and/or eat foods you’d rather not. As a result, larger concepts than food come into play during this time of year, like restriction, discipline, and wellness, which I’d like to weigh in on.
Restriction. People often mistake decisions to eat healthier and/or more ethically/environmentally as restrictive. I devoted an entire podcast episode to this entitled “Making the Trade.” In it I argue that you are not in fact giving up anything when you decide to pay closer attention to what you put in your body, but are trading certain foods for feeling better. I give you cheese, you give me more energy and less allergies. When sitting with friends and family at a table that contains foods you don’t want to eat (not CAN’T eat, but won’t eat—there’s a very real difference), keep this in mind. The choices you are making affect your life long after the meal. Eating without regret or guilt means feeling better about your life—less stress, healthier body and mind, get it?
Discipline. In my practice I advocate for making small steps to greater health and happiness. The reason why most diets and quick-fix plans fail is because they move us too quickly ahead in behavior change. They are ‘all or nothing’ approaches that simply set us up for failure. The ‘beating ourselves into submission’ (e.g. by sticking to a diet and missing out on a holiday meal, and then running ourselves into the ground in spin class the next day to somehow ‘undo’ the damage) reality of these ‘plans’ generally leads to burnout, unhappiness, and often to binge or emotional eating later down the line. Easing your way into behaviors by incorporating small manageable steps allows you to be in control of the speed with which you improve your life, and puts you in a place of self-care and self-support. This means making it OK to enjoy meals that aren’t necessarily the physically healthiest, but give us great joy.
Wellness. I believe that we are all designed to be healthy and happy, and that in that state we are in balance with the world and ourselves. However, in the modern world we are bombarded with a huge amount of activities (e.g. big holiday meals) and foods that create great imbalance in us. The very foods that are the least healthy, least ethical, and least environmentally friendly are the most accessible, cheapest, and ubiquitous on holiday meal tables. Also, the least healthy foods for our bodies (I call them light-box foods) get us the most high, and it can be super hard to avoid these when they’re right in front of us. This fact can create conflict because, frankly, the temptation can be so great.
As you head into the holidays, remember this… your level of health and happiness is determined by what you do MOST OF THE TIME (I refer to this as your MOTT), meaning that a meal here or there isn’t going to make much of a long-term difference one way or another. Be crystal clear with yourself about why you are making the choices you make, and about the person you want to be. Most people I’ve coached don’t want to be restrictive, militant people—they want to be the kind of people that have a feast with friends and family now and then because that makes them feel good and happy too. If eating a certain food sacrifices an ethical decision you’ve made, then certainly it’ll make you feel better to NOT eat that food, but, again, that’s neither restriction nor discipline, but a choice that makes you feel good.
Holidays at their core are about celebration, and I think it can be super fun to indulge a bit here and there without guilt, regret, or shame. Lastly, remember that food is just ONE part of holidays. Time with family and friends creates incredible memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Taking the pressure off yourself food-wise (i.e. not being stressed about food, and not devoting a ton of mental energy to it) means more energy devoted to time spent with the people you love.
Sid Garza-Hillman, the Small Step Advocate™, is the author of “Approaching the Natural: A Health Manifesto,” and host of the popular Approaching the Natural Podcast with listeners in over 80 countries. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Philosophy, and for over a decade after college, worked as a musician and actor with a growing interest in nutrition. Sid is now a Certified Nutritionist and Health Coach. He works with private clients all over the country, helping them take control of their lives through his private practice. He is also the Nutritionist and Programs Director at the Wellness Center at the Stanford Inn, North America’s only vegan eco-resort (stanfordinn.com).
Sid’s Website: www.sidgarzahillman.com
Approaching the Natural Podcast: www.sidgarzahilman.com/podcasts/
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