4 ways to enjoy holiday food with less guilt, anxiety, and stress
If you’re feeling anxious about staying on track with all that extra-delicious holiday food around, you’re not alone. Navigating food challenges (oh haiiii, social eating and food guilt!) during the holiday season can be tough.
The good news is you don’t need to eat like the holidays don’t exist. Expecting yourself to be immune to the temptations and joys of seasonal food — such that you’re snacking on a dry broccoli floret while those around you devour homemade cookies — is both 100% unrealistic and entirely unnecessary.
We’ve got four strategies to help you enjoy everything you eat this holiday season, while also making progress toward your goals and avoiding food guilt, anxiety, and stress. Let’s explore!
#1: Create balance
“With nutrition, you can be flexible while still achieving great results,” says Ro Huntriss, our Chief Nutrition Officer at SIMPLE. “Shape your holiday eating to maximize enjoyment and health, and remember — YOU call the shots.”
Some ideas to get you started:
- Think about your food intake and physical activity across the entire week, rather than taking each day in isolation. There will be days when you eat and move more and days when you eat and move less. If you want to party the night away drinking hot buttered rum one night, then hit the sack early the next, go for it. Balance enjoyment and health as you wish.
- If there’s a social meal you can’t miss, or you want to kick back eating gingerbread cookies with your loved ones sometimes, feel free to reduce or adjust your intermittent fasting window as needed. No guilt required. You can always lengthen your fast on another day to balance things out.
- “Remember you can enjoy BOTH healthier foods AND seasonal snacks!” says Ro. “Eating delicious foods that align with your health goals will help you stay in control with the cookies, chips, chocolate, and cheeses that are around during the holiday season.” Think: which high-protein foods, colorful veggies, and fiber-rich whole grains do you love (or even just like)? Enjoy these foods too; they’ll fill you up, keep you satisfied, and take the pressure off your willpower.
#2: Look after your stress levels
For a fun time of year, holidays sure can be stressful.
If you’re someone who overeats and/or has a harder time staying consistent when you’re stressed, stress management is your #1 action for staying on track this year. Instead of white-knuckling it, hoping (and failing) to hold onto your healthful choices while the stress mounts, tackle it head-on.
What can you control?
For stressors you can control: remove, reduce, or resist. Ask yourself: Do you really have to make seven kinds of potatoes for your holiday meal? Could someone else help with gift buying? Do you need to go to your kid’s teacher’s cousin’s holiday party?
Make your life easier. You work hard enough. Consider this your permission slip to opt out of any seasonal stressors that no longer serve you.
Actively use stress-relief techniques
For stressors you can’t control: employ radical self-care. We say “radical” because the cultural expectation of taking care of everyone else first shows up even more strongly during the holidays. Taking some time to look after your own self is a radical act — and you might feel guilty at first. That’s OK. The stress relief methods you choose will help soothe that discomfort.
Create a personal playlist of destressors and use it often. Notice what makes you relax your shoulders, breathe a sigh of relief, and feel a sense of peace, even just for a moment. Moments can be extended. And moments add up.
Here are some stress-reducing, energy-uplifting staples to start with:
- Go for a walk. If you have access to natural surroundings, perfect. If not, urban settings are just fine. And if nowhere outside feels safe, treadmills work, too.
- Sit quietly with your eyes closed. Breathe.
- Listen to music that uplifts or soothes you. Dance. Sway. Drum, hum, or sing. It’s all good for your nervous system.
- Stay an extra minute or two in your daily shower. Use the fancy shampoo that smells good. Let the warm water turn you into mush.
- If you’re an introvert, leave the party when you want. If you’re an extrovert, be around people that give you the right kind of buzz.
Ro’s top must-have for your stress-recovery playlist?
Yes, we know this has “party pooper” written all over it, and social events are huge at this time of year. But “sufficient sleep can be a useful tool to regulate our eating and holidays are hectic. You’re going to need your rest.” Find the sweet spot between seeing your people and getting enough Zs. We promise it’ll make staying on track easier — and you’ll feel better for it, too.
#3: Try something different this year
“Instead of falling into your usual seasonal habits,” says Ro, “look for small changes that boost your health and wellness.” It’s a great strategy you can apply in all kinds of ways. For instance, if you usually:
- Plop your weary self down to “rest” in front of the TV for six days straight … how about trying a form of active rest like gentle yoga?
- Bond with your bestie over a giant eggnog latte that’s snow-capped with a mountain of whipped cream … how about an eggnog-latte-fueled neighborhood walk instead (maybe leaving the whipped cream at home)?
- Schlep cross-country visiting distant relatives or play host-with-the-most for everyone else … how about putting your needs and wants first?
- Tie yourself up in emotional knots about eating too many of the “wrong” foods … how about letting the guilt go, eating mindfully, and savoring every mouthful? (As a natural appetite regulator, mindful eating is A1.)
- Find it hard to set healthy boundaries around your eating … how about trying intermittent fasting? Take our SIMPLE quiz, and we’ll guide you on how to balance your eating and fasting windows in a way that works for you.
#4: Practice delaying gratification
As Ro explains, “When you delay gratification, you simply pause for a moment to “create space” between what you want NOW and what you really, truly want in the future.” For instance, you say, “Thanks, Uncle Jim, but I’mma pass on that whiskey sour” because you know that whiskey will flip your munchie switch and render you powerless to resist dessert at your Great Aunt Maude’s party later on.
But sometimes — because you’re human and not a machine with Terminator levels of self-control — temptation gets you. When it does, you feel like you failed. You didn’t fail. You just didn’t have all the skills and support that you needed. Let’s remedy that.
Get some back up
We can do more difficult things — like resist temptation during social occasions where eating is the main event — with someone we love by our side. Who’s in your corner to help you hold strong this holiday season? Buddy up with those who help you navigate challenges, lift your spirits, and cheer you on.
Learn to believe in YOU
When we believe our efforts will pay off, we’re more likely to control our impulsive choices. To increase your self-belief, prove to yourself at least once a day that you can do what you set out to do. (Because you can.) Like this:
- Choose an action you know you can do, like drink a glass of water first thing or go for a short walk after work. (It has to be something you’re sure you can do. Set yourself up to succeed.)
- Promise yourself you’ll do it.
- Do it.
Emotionally connect to your goal
Visualize the outcome you want clearly and vividly in your mind. Then, when you feel tempted to get jiggy with a cheese board that’s snuck past your best intentions two hours into your fasting window, pull that vision clearly into your mind and follow these steps.
- Move away from the cheese board.
- Ask yourself:
- What do I want right now?
- What do I want, ultimately?
- Am I willing to sacrifice my goal — and the satisfaction of achieving it — for this cheese?
- Is what I’m about to do moving me in the direction of the person I want to be?
- Notice and name — yes, out loud — all your available choices.
- Wait 10 minutes. During these 10 minutes, if you can, connect with a supportive friend, do something to de-stress, and/or take an action that directly links to achieving your goal.
- Now, decide what you want to do next and do that thing.
Think progress, not perfection
Remember — perfection is not the goal. Progress is the goal. That can look like:
- doing something differently than before to create a better outcome
- trying something new, even if you “fail”
- wiping the slate clean and trying again when things don’t go to plan
Part of change is learning to do new things in old circumstances. “Holiday seasons are ideal for this — they’re full of opportunities to practice making new choices!” Ro says. By reframing these next few weeks as a chance to push forward — instead of putting your goals on pause or feeling overwhelmed by the tide of temptation — you can hit January 1st, 2024, with more progress under your still-fitting-just-as-well-as-it-was-in-November belt!
What to do next
For more quick tips to sidestep food guilt, sail through social eating occasions, and stay on track through the holidays, check out our socials. And for more actionable, science-backed support throughout the season, get SIMPLE in your corner. Take our quiz, set up your account, and we’ll be there to help you:
- stay accountable to your goals;
- make balanced food choices that serve your health and well-being; and
- find the answers to meet any challenges that come along (Avo, your personal wellness assistant in the SIMPLE app, is always free to chat!)
You’ve got this!