They keep piling up – gifts of chocolate, boxes of cookies from that cookie exchange, tubs of popcorn from the school fundraiser, leftover snack foods from the holiday party with friends.
There seems to be an abundance of “junk” food around and you feel the panic set in. Do you try to stick to the “diet” limits you set or just “eff” it and try to start fresh in the new year?
I say a different option entirely: bypass all the holiday binge-restrict cycle so you can actually enjoy food without guilt!
Thanks for welcoming me into your feed this holiday season; let me introduce myself! I’m Melissa Landry, Registered Dietitian, and food freedom expert. I can help you heal your relationship with food so you can experience health without all the shame.
For many chronic dieters out there, the holiday season famously brings about the binge-restrict cycle in full force. This doesn’t have to include you – I can help!
Let’s talk about 3 easy tips rooted in Intuitive Eating that help break the cycle and bring joy back to your holiday eating.
Know why sweets matter to you
Around the holidays, sweets and treats are abundant. If you are someone who tries to restrict these foods, it can be difficult to navigate. When do you indulge? When do you skip?
As an Anti-Diet Registered Dietitian, I want to help you reconsider your food rules and restrictions that often cause unnecessary guilt and shame! This starts by quieting your inner critic – we don’t need that energy!
Quiet your inner critic
You’re standing at the food table at a holiday party, staring at the food choices…do you stick to the veggies and dip, maybe a couple of pieces of fruit? And then your eyes move over to those cheerful brownies over there with the little candy cane sprinkles.
That’s “bad” food. She’s not there, but you hear your grandma’s voice saying “a moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips” from a childhood memory. Just like when you were a kid – you don’t want to be or do “bad” in her eyes, or anyone else’s! So instead, you grab a carrot stick and think okay, I can do this. I’m sticking with the “good” food. Gold star!
It’s not just grandma’s voice in our head, the world around us has made us believe that we shouldn’t eat sugar, and it will make us fat. And since folks in larger bodies get treated differenty in our societyl – we’ve developed a fear of eating food that is perfectly safe. From our fear, we never learn to self regulate.
Unless you avoid sugar, its’ like you have no skills whatsoever to just eat and move on!
As a Registered Dietitian, I want to tell you it’s okay to eat sweets and even enjoy them! (Yes!) No matter what time of year it is – there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” foods for your body. Unless you are allergic, or there is poison in them, all food can offer nutrition in different ways.
The next time you notice our inner critic beating you up for your choices, remind it, a Registered Dietitian told you: all foods fit!
With a little more space in your brain – seriously, say “bye Felicia” to your inner critic – we can get curious about why we love these sweets and treats. Why are we craving it in the first place?
Sugar is fuel
Reason numero uno? Our brains and muscles love carbs. (Here is a full post all about carbs and why we need ‘em: real facts about carbohydrates (from a dietitian)).
Sugar is what we get from the breakdown of carbohydrates in our bodies. Carbohydrates come from bread, and pasta but also fruit and vegetables and of course sweets!
And guess what: your body doesn’t really care if the sugar came from a strawberry or a piece of fudge.
As far as your body is concerned, it’s alllllll energy. Carbs are the fastest form of energy for your body and what it prefers.
So, if you are limiting calories and trying to restrict sugars and sweets in hopes of eating less and losing weight, you may just be accomplishing the opposite. You can’t trick your body into not needing carbohydrate fuel.
You arrive at the party starrrrving. You have no mojo to dance. Instead, your body tells you that it wants sugar and it wants it NOW! So you delve into that brownie with the candy cane sprinkles. But instead of the 1-2 brownies that would satisfy your sweet tooth and feel good in your belly, you eat four…or six…or eight (1).
Status check? You feel guilty AND your belly hurts.
Instead of trying to sabotage or micromanage your hunger cues and cravings, Intuitive Eating is all about building trust with your body. It teaches you how to eat in a way that is balanced and flexible – so that you can experience fewer extremes around food.
Food gives our bodies energy, but it’s not the only reason we eat food. Our food choices can also be tied to our life experiences and emotions.
Recognize generational diet culture
How your caregivers thought about food growing up can greatly impact your own relationship with food. Would you say yours were big on diets and careful, “clean” eating?
Or, do you remember them being kind of controlling about food? You’re not alone.
You may have been brought up in a house where you were told to clear your plate before you could have any dessert. Maybe you were taken for an ice cream if you got a good report card.
Whatever your history, I want you to consider: what did that do for your concept of sweets? For example, having to eat your “healthy” foods before dessert or getting dessert as a reward puts the sweet on a pedestal; it raises its value. And this can set the stage for overvaluing sweets later in life!
Or let’s say your mom always talked about “feeling fat” in her holiday outfit. She and her friends chatted at get-togethers about a new diet they were trying and celebrated how they lost 10 lbs already. What messages do you think you learn from seeing this?
These are both examples of generational diet culture. It undoubtedly has an influence on what you think you should and shouldn’t be eating (or look like!) as an adult. If you feel gulit and shame about these experiences today, this holiday season you get to decide if you carry on these traditions that can harm your relationship with your body and yourself …or leave them in the past where they belong.
(P.S. Here is my dietitian-approved permission slip to leave the clean plate club for good: leaving the clean plate club for good.)
Food and emotions: majorly linked
Why else do sweets matter? Because they’re linked to many emotions! Foods – especially sweets – can have so many emotional ties in our lives. And the thing is: having an emotional connection to your foods is OK! Here are a few examples:
Is it comfort – you get your cozy PJs on and grab a book and sit by the fire with your tea and cookies? Or the bowl of chicken noodle soup that you ate during a childhood illness that still is soothing today?
Is it nostalgia – you went to your grandparents over the holidays and they always had a bowl of candies on the coffee table?
Is it escape – you’ve had a hard day at work and when you come home you comfort yourself with a bowl of ice cream and chocolate sauce?
Try keeping a diary of your mood(s) when you are craving certain foods. This can help us get to the root of why we make certain choices and how we feel about them. As you write, don’t try to make judgments about these emotional connections. Get curious and just write down what you think and feel.
Next: we’ll massage those connections a bit to make sure that our thoughts and emotions about food are positive (or at least, neutral).
Changing your mindset
Okay, this is the hard part…changing how we think and feel about sweets. Especially if you were judged for your eating habits or size growing up, this takes practice and guidance but is an important part of your game plan to stop the binge and restrict cycle this holiday season (and beyond!).
Instead of feeling guilt and shame for eating those chocolates, let’s flip the script. Quiet the inner critic telling you not to eat it or that you’ll have to run a mile to work it off after.
Here’s my advice that might feel unexpected: give yourself permission to eat the sweet that you crave and see what holiday miracle can happen.
Rather than try to eliminate sweets entirely, try having them regularly. Allow yourself to eat them, in abundance, without guilt. When you have had enough, and feel satisfied, your cravings start to fade (2).
Your body and mind will slowly figure out (and trust!) that if it’s always available, you don’t need to binge right now. That food will be available should you want some more later.
In my practice as an Intuitive Eating dietitian, I will help you stop depriving yourself of sweets, and quiet the voice telling you “no” so you can feel satisfied and physically free to eat what you want.
Remember all foods fit
There are many foods that we tend to have this all-or-nothing mentality about. If you have one sweet, then you’ve failed yourself and then you give up, defeated, and discouraged by the thought that you have to start over again (3).
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It doesn’t have to be a constant internal struggle with a binge-restrict cycle.
If we allow ourselves an abundance of choices, we can enjoy a wide variety of food and enjoyment from eating.
Flow with the seasons
I live in Boston, where there are four seasons. As the seasons change, so too does my tendency to eat certain foods.
For example in the heat of summer, I may like to enjoy a juicy, cool piece of watermelon. Whereas in fall I love warm, spiced roasted vegetables.
Your body is incredibly adaptable if you let it tell you what it’s asking for. Over time you learn what nutrition keeps you nourished, satisfied, and feeling good. If you feel particularly stressed about the amount of sweets over the holiday, remember, this time is temporary! Honor your body and you will be able to experience the variety of nutrition you need, over all.
Tune into your cues
From the time you were born, your body came built-in with the ability to let you know when you were hungry, and when you’ve had enough. We can tune into our hunger, fullness, and need for variety in our food (4).
Then we get told to clean our plate because there are “starving children in the world” and we lose that innate ability to listen to our inner hunger cues. Maybe it was well-meaning, but parents can disrupt your natural ability to listen to yourself, and make it hard for you to develop your skills as an Intuitive Eater.
The world is telling us to eat more of these things, and less of those things (5). I say “things” – BTW – because It’s kind of arbitrary which foods fall in and out of fashion. It’s not based on long-standing science, but rather based on diet culture trends!
Around the holidays, there is certainly more exposure to sweets. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Give yourself permission to eat all foods, all year round. Sweets don’t have to be reserved for special occasions.
This will help you to feel calm and present, so you can actually focus on how you feel as you eat. Is it bringing you joy? Is it awakening your tastebuds and keeping you satisfied? Is it stale and not what you expect? Only way to know is to really connect with your body. You’ll know what to do when you feel it.
Be honest: restricting foods hasn’t helped
By restricting a certain food, it becomes “the forbidden fruit” and that’s ALL we want.
When a food becomes forbidden and you feel deprived, you tend to crave high-energy foods like chocolate and other sweets (1).
Then when you eat the food you’ve been restricting, you feel like you’ve failed yourself again. You promise yourself once more that you’ll try again in the new year.
Let’s make peace with food this holiday.
An intuitive eating dietitian, like me, can help you sort through your feelings and body cues to explore what foods to add or replace, not restrict.
You will begin to become more confident incorporating sweets and listening to your body cues so that it feels effortless.
Recognize the stress diets cause
The holiday season can be stressful for many reasons – gifts to buy, places to be, people to see…expectations!
What if I told you that getting rid of that diet mentality could make you feel free this holiday season? Let’s scratch diet expectations off our holiday stress list.
Learning how to eat intuitively can give you the tools to feel better about yourself, feel comfortable with how your body looks and feels, and stress less about the types of food you’re eating (6,7).
Reframe our resolutions
The holiday season rolls into the new year and here it comes…the stress of resolutions. No doubt focused on being healthier.
But why does being healthy have to mean being thinner or eating less “junk”?
Diet culture has us focused on our weight as a health outcome, telling us it’s what we desire. But our wellness is so much more than the number on the scale or the food we eat.
Let’s reframe our typical new year’s resolutions this year. Commit to sustainable habits that really work for you.
Instead of starting the new year off with a diet mentality, how about an abundance mindset?
Focus less on restrictions and instead on what you can give your body. How about celebrating the variety of food available to you and how you can move your body each day?
By celebrating what you have and the things your body can do for you, you develop a more positive mindset and the need to self-soothe with delicious treats goes down. This is what leads to a sustainable relationship with food. Food can be easy.
Can you imagine not going through the binge-restrict cycle again next holiday?
Having sweets around this holiday doesn’t have to be a source of stress.
Investigating, and acknowledging our hunger cues, mood and upbringing can help us discover what drives our food choices.
Letting ourselves eat all foods and releasing guilt and shame associated with certain foods can help us feel food freedom.
I specialize in working with people who’ve experienced generational diet trauma – meaning they were prescribed diets from a young age by their families, and this has made eating, movement, and body image feel challenging as adults.
Maybe you’ve been working on this alone and you’re still feeling conflicted with the idea of eating what you want or having a hard time quieting your inner, critical food police.
If you could just find “your people” – those people that just “get you” and your struggles. Maybe then you could really kick diet culture in the butt and get unstuck from the binge-restrict cycle for good.
I’ve got you! Apply to work with me 1 on 1. I’ll help connected you with my clients also doing this work, and, help propel your journey to find food freedom.