3 Ways to Keep the Joy in Food This Holiday Season
Brrr! This chill in the air has us all thinking about the quickly approaching holidays. Thanksgiving is already this month! While there’s a lot of excitement with the holidays, there can also be a lot of stress when it comes to food choices. Many people experience both social pressure and self-imposed pressure to make the right food choices or to look a certain way. It’s a common experience to label certain holiday foods as “unhealthy” or to start a diet in preparation for seeing lots of family and friends. This restriction mindset is unsustainable and often backfires. So, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to keep the holiday food just as joyful as the holiday it’s associated with!
These are my 3 tactics for keeping the joy in food this holiday season:
1. Don’t underestimate the emotional value of food.
Food is so much more than just fuel for our bodies! There’s a strong emotional connection to food. It reminds us of people, places, events, and more. Have you ever noticed how there’s that *one* dish that you crave every holiday? Take a moment and think about why. Is it a loved one’s recipe and you’re reminded of them when you eat it? Does it remind you of the joyful celebrations of years’ past? Food triggers a deep emotional response because it always involves at least 4 out of 5 senses. When you skip those foods not only do you miss out on that joyful experience, but you’re also ignoring an emotional need.
Here’s an example! Christmas is right around the corner, and you find yourself longing for your grandma’s cookies. You remember baking cookies with her around the holidays growing up, and your mom still makes her recipe when the family gets together for a Christmas celebration. But you’re worried about the sugar and butter in the cookies, so you tell yourself that you’re going to make “healthier choices” instead. Now you’re at the family Christmas gathering, spending most of your mental energy convincing yourself not to grab the cookies and that the fruit you put on your plate instead is just fine. How would things have gone differently if you had added two cookies to your plate of fruit? You likely wouldn’t spend the entire evening in a mental battle, and you would be present and joyful!
2. Focus instead on what you can add of value to your food choices.
All foods fit into a healthful diet. But of course, you won’t feel too well if you only eat mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner! Instead of thinking in terms of what you “shouldn’t” eat, think in terms of what you can add of value to your plate. For example, if you know that Thanksgiving dinner with your family often lacks vegetables, consider offering to bring a fun, veggie-filled side! Enjoy those classic Thanksgiving dishes that you love but also add some veggies to your plate with the side you brought.
3. Give yourself grace.
If the above tips don’t go as planned, give yourself some grace! It’s easy to get caught up chatting about food, diet, and lifestyle because they are common conversation starters. Those conversations can make it tough to maintain a positive mindset about food around the holidays. It can start to feel like others are judging your food choices, and that opens the door for your own inner critic to take over. Don’t let it!
The holidays are for celebrating, and food is part of that celebration. Keep the joy in food this holiday season and cherish the foods that bring you happiness!
Jess, Registered Dietitian
MPPD, RDN, LD