Dietitian Approved Tips for a Mindful Holiday Season

By: Amber Whittemore RD MHSc BSc

Happy Holidays everyone!

Here at HEC, we have had an awesome year working with every one of our clients, near and far. We want to extend our gratitude! We’ve been able to see so many clients grow and thrive throughout 2021, despite facing high levels of adversity. This has been truly amazing to witness, and we can’t wait to see what 2022 brings for our clients, practitioners, and the growth of HEC!

We hope that everyone makes space over the holidays to rest, relax and to rejuvenate for the new year!

The purpose of today’s blog is to work through some tips and tricks for moving through the holidays mindfully. It is all too common to have increased levels of stress, anxiety, maladaptive patterns with food (restricting, binging, etc.), and decreased self-awareness during the holidays. 

How many times have you heard (or uttered) one, of the following phrases this time of year?

  1. “I can’t wait for the holidays to be over, they are so stressful”
  2. “I don’t even have time to stop, think, or eat on Christmas, I need to get everything ready and perfect for dinner/Christmas morning”
  3. “I’m not eating all day; I’m saving up for dinner”
  4. “I’m being “bad” over the next week, I will start dieting in the New Year!”
  5. “My family triggers me each year when they comment on diets, my body, my food, etc…”

You are not alone! What if these were the phrases instead?

  1. “I can’t wait to connect with loved ones, I am grateful to have them in my life”
  2. “The holidays are an awesome time to catch up with everyone and connect over a delicious meal.  I deserve to listen to my body and respect my own needs and limits”
  3. “I am so excited for dinner tonight; I am going to nourish my body intuitively throughout the day so I can feel truly satisfied after my meal tonight”
  4. “I’m listening to my body and nourishing it accordingly so I can sustain my energy and mood, I don’t need to start over or change anything in the New Year when I can respect my needs everyday”
  5. “I don’t feel comfortable when I am forced to engage in conversations about diet culture, I can choose to set boundaries around that and/or walk away from a conversation”

In alignment with the previous blog posts on Intuitive Eating, we don’t need to be engaging in harmful dieting or lifestyle patterns. If something is not serving, or worse harming you, you deserve to make the changes necessary to enjoy your holidays. Reframe Christmas and make the season about connection and love, versus diet mentality, disordered eating patterns and stress. The following 5 tips may serve as a guide to navigating a more mindful holiday season! 

Tip #1 for Mindful Holidays: Nourish Throughout the Day

We may hear individuals stating that they plan to restrict their food all day to “make the most” out of their Holiday dinners. Often, our clients are triggered by family members who have normalized restrictive holiday eating. The idea that food restriction saves calories is not only harmful to our health but also nonsensical. By normalizing this type of diet pattern, we are essentially giving ourselves permission to binge eat dinner. As humans, we only have so much space in our stomach. So, you are setting yourself up to feel uncomfortably full and potentially sick after dinner – which, often takes away from your capacity to connect and engage with your loved ones.

The HEC challenge. We recommendation listening to your body as you would any other day. Nourishing it with a balanced breakfast, lunch, and snacks does not take away from the capacity to enjoy a robust Holiday dinner. If anything, we are more likely to move mindfully towards the meal in a level-headed way. This allows us to truly taste and enjoy the food on our plate. Rather than eating so quickly that we hardly get to relish what we have been anticipating all day! Nothing about our body’s nutrient needs change over the Holidays. We can still respect and meet our nutrient needs, even though the type or availability of food looks different.

Tip #2 for Mindful Holidays: Don’t Avoid Holiday Favourites

For those who are entrenched in diet culture the Holidays can be an overwhelming time. The increased availability and access to traditional foods like chocolate, baked goods, and candy can be guilt invoking. As was mentioned in the Intuitive Eating blog, the scarcity mindset instilled by diets (aka I can’t have that, I’m not allowed that) predisposes us to out-of-control eating. Particularly when we are exposed to the exact foods we have pegged as “off limits”. 

It is not uncommon to see chronic dieters enter the Holiday season with the mindset of “If I can’t control myself and end up cheating on my diet then I am going to eat everything; I’ll get back on the wagon in the New Year”. It is no wonder that people tend to over-do it on all types of foods over the Holidays with this all or nothing mindset. How could we possibly expect anything different? If you are walking into a situation where the foods you have been restricting are offered in excess, you will be biologically driven to binge on them. Yes biologically, as this is based on your scarcity mindset, not because you lack willpower!  

This does not have to be! If we were able to give ourselves permission to enjoy all foods mindfully, our bodies and brains would start to normalize these types of foods. When all foods are normalized and we are respecting and abiding by our body’s needs, our cravings, and the way we nourish our body’s, truly do start to normalize. To get to this space we need to individually understand what mindful nutrition and eating looks and feels like. The previous intuitive eating blogs offer more detailed information. Here is a brief tip: if we can truly align our eating with early signs of hunger and finish eating when our satiety levels rise, we are on the right track.

The HEC challenge. This year, experiment with the idea that you can have any of the foods you are craving in the portion and time frame you are craving them. In doing so, try to give yourself the space to be present and mindful when enjoying them. Notice when you are feeling satisfied – and remind yourself that you can return to that, or any other food, whenever you are craving it next. This is going to feel foreign from the all or nothing mindset. However, each time we give ourselves permission to enjoy and subsequently walk away from any food satisfied, we are telling our body we trust it! That is good news!  

Tip #3 for Mindful Holidays: Move Your Body

Just like any other time of the year, movement can be a great way to connect with your body, increase energy, help digest your food, and improve your mental health. So, if movement is something that serves these purposes for you during other times of the year – find interesting and fun ways to continue this practice during the Holiday season! 

The unwritten rule of having an “excuse to be lazy” during the Holidays is one that confuses us. This rule positions movement as being something mandatory and forced. It also sets the stage for individuals to distrust listening to their bodies when they feel exhausted and in need of rest. Listening to our bodies motivations for movement and selecting activities that serve us in positive ways is always going to be an amazing way to stay happy and healthy.

The HEC challenge. This Holiday consider continuing with joyful movement, not to earn or compensate for your Holiday dinner, or ensure you don’t fall behind in your athletic skills, but to show your body ongoing gratitude and respect for all it does for you. Find ways to move differently than your usual routine. You may even find yourself more joyful and energetic this year because of it. 

Tip #4 for Mindful Holidays: Initiate & Elevate Meaningful Conversations

If you’re prepping yourself for triggering topics of conversation this Holiday, you’re not alone. Often when family and friends visit, conversations surrounding diet, weight, body, and appearance can hit you hard. These conversations and comments are not only unnecessary but can be quite harmful. Particularly, for individuals working to improve their relationship with food and body shape.

While navigating common diet culture topics “on trend”, it rarely brings positivity or feelings of cheer to the environment. Most people will often leave conversations feeling disappointed in themselves or harbouring resentment towards those that wish to share their weight loss.  

The HEC challenge. How about elevating meaningful conversations about milestones in school or work, goals for our personal or career growth or the positive changes seen in the world, our relationships, or our family. This way, family members don’t need to prepare themselves to manage triggering conversations and can move into the Holidays with well-deserved excitement and joy. We all have more exciting conversations to offer!

Tip #5 for Mindful Holidays: Set Necessary Boundaries & Advocate for Your Needs

If the people in your life haven’t got the memo that it is not okay to comment on your food or body, or push their newest diet trend on you, then you may need to consider setting boundaries on this topic!

You have a right to happiness and wellness. So, this Holiday consider helping your family and friends to recognize how they might be crossing your boundaries. It is all too common for our clients to tell us “I know I will be triggered; I always am, I just need to suck it up”. We encourage our clients to set fair, clear, and kind boundaries with the individuals in their life that classically make them feel uncomfortable in their bodies or triggered to engage in maladaptive eating patterns.

Boundaries or our way of advocating for ourselves. The language does not need to be harsh; it can be simple. The following are models of how we could navigate some all-too-common triggering comments:

Comment: “You look great! did you lose weight?”

Reply: “I’m not sure, I’m not trying. But thanks, I feel great! I’ve been really working on my mental health this year and trying to not focus on my body shape or size.”

Reply: “Thanks, I’m not trying to lose weight, so I am unsure. The way I look today has nothing to do with my weight just my happiness! Thanks for noticing!”

Reply: “My body has probably changed, yes, it’s been a very interesting year for us all! I would really appreciate it though if you didn’t equate my weight changes to looking better or worse, thank you!”

Comment: “Wow, you ate that all! You must have been hungry!”

Reply: “I did, yes, I took the amount I felt my body needed and I was right! I feel great.”

Reply: “I was, yes, it’s dinner time! I would appreciate if you didn’t comment on my food choices or consumption moving forward though. Thank you!”

Reply: “I’m unclear of what the purpose of that comment was, but you don’t need to comment on my intake anymore, it makes me feel uncomfortable.”

Comment: “Did you see your cousin? She really let herself go with that weight gain!”

Reply: “I’m not sure what you mean, she seems really happy, and I’m sure she wouldn’t appreciate us talking about her weight or shape – I know I wouldn’t.”

Reply: “Hmm I am not sure why her body weight would have anything to do with that, she had a great year with work/family/school, I don’t see things that way at all.”

Reply: “Oh, it is not okay to comment on other people’s body shapes or sizes, I would really appreciate if you didn’t put me in this position again.”

The HEC challenge. Setting boundaries with family and friends takes courage and practice. We all know how difficult it can be to get started. However, once you start and practice, it will get easier. It may also surprise you when someone you love comes up to you and says, ‘thank you for sharing your thoughts, I am proud of you.’ 

Consider giving yourself the gift of listening to your cravings, enjoying seasonal foods throughout the holidays, and helping others to understand your needs. The Dietitians at HEC will be happy to help you get started! 

Have a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season!

The HEC Dietitians.