Holiday desserts are special, delicious, and often occur only once per year. This notion often results in overdoing it at the dessert table, especially if these desserts (or desserts in general!) are usually “off-limits.” This mindset is the first thing I start to work on with my clients who are struggling in their relationship with food. Holidays and holiday treats can be extremely daunting if you fall into this category, but I am here to say it’s possible to enjoy them without stress or that “Thanksgiving full” feeling. Here are a few tips to get started.
The idea some foods are “good” and some are “bad” stems from diet culture and the myriad diets vilifying various foods and food groups while putting others on a pedestal. I have many issues with this sort of thinking, one being it associates morality with food choices. But you aren’t a better or worse human because of what you decide to eat for lunch or at a holiday party one day. I am a big proponent of food neutrality, or putting all foods (cookies and kale!) on a neutral playing field. You aren’t a bad person (or a good person) for choosing one instead of the other.
It’s really important to know you have full permission to enjoy the treats of your choice any time of the year, including during the holidays. I know what you might be thinking — but then I’ll just have sweets ALL THE TIME. The thing is, though, when you take away the deprivation, the food rules or limits, and the labels like “bad,” you won’t want dessert for every meal, every day. The body naturally craves variety, we just try to control that too much, too often. It is much easier to have a treat or two at the holiday dessert table and stop when you feel satisfied if you know you can also have another one tomorrow or the next day if you want.
Another behavior I often see clients practicing when they come to me is “saving up” for holiday meals or desserts by skipping other meals all day until the event. What happens here though, is you get to your holiday meal (dessert table included) starving. It is so much easier to overeat and so much harder to make rational food choices when this happens. No matter when the holiday dessert table is occurring, eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day. Make sure to include good protein sources, like chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, and Greek yogurt, as well as colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes. The goal should always be to arrive at the holiday table feeling comfortably hungry, not “hangry.”
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It can’t go unsaid that the holidays tend to be a stressful time for many people. And as such, this is a time when self-care practices should be a priority. If emotional eating is one of your coping skills, it can be easy to leave the dessert table feeling uncomfortable if you’re not practicing other stress-management techniques. Make sure you’re journaling, meditating, reading for pleasure, going for walks, connecting with friends and family, limiting screen time or doing whatever helps you relax when times get stressful.
Eating dessert every day is completely OK, and possible in a healthy, plant-forward diet. Some days this can look like a square of dark chocolate, other days a cupcake or ice cream cone, and other days nothing because you just aren’t feeling it. Cultivating a positive relationship with food is being able to recognize just what it is you want or don’t want, and permitting yourself to do just that. This can make the holiday dessert table a lot easier to navigate! If you’re struggling, a good first step is to take the dietary restriction away before and after the holidays and work on having a more positive relationship with food year-round.
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