The end of the year can be stressful for many reasons, and if you're trying to lose weight or change your eating habits, that list of reasons gets longer. Shorter days and cooler weather don't exactly inspire outdoor activities, and seasonal comfort foods tend to be sweet and heavy with fats.
Still, you can appreciate the season without giving in to the stress of food-focused holidays and temptations. Whether you're managing your weight, keeping diabetes at bay, or improving your heart health, you deserve to enjoy the season with its trimmings.
This holiday, forget your food woes and remember the reason for the season. As cliche as it sounds, focusing on your values and family holiday traditions can help you develop a positive state of mind. Nostalgia, or sentimentally reflecting on the past, may make people more optimistic about the future.
So instead of counting calories, recount special memories with your family and childhood friends. Regardless of your diet's status, this can help you head into the new year with confidence.
The media often portrays the holidays as a dreaded obligation, but they're also beneficial for your health. Connecting with friends and loved ones—as long as they're a supportive bunch—inspires a sense of community and belonging. When we feel cared for and valued, it boosts our confidence and resilience.
These interactions are also meaningful in preserving family traditions and culture. Studies show that interactive learning and storytelling are valuable teaching tools for continuing generational knowledge, so get in the kitchen and help grandma with the latkes.
Turning down large portions of your favorite foods—especially those loaded with addictive sugars and caffeine—takes a lot of willpower. Give yourself some credit for prioritizing your health, and if you slip up over a cup of eggnog, cut yourself some slack.
Being more compassionate with yourself can help improve your resilience to stress and decrease anxiety.
Unless you have medically instructed restrictions, if your weight-loss plan includes a list of banned foods, you might be a doomed dieter. Human nature dictates that we want the things we can't have. A study investigating the effects of stress on our diets found that people tend to eat more unhealthy foods during stressful periods.
Many of the participants were on diets and binged on the foods they usually considered off-limits. Instead of obsessing over food, devise a plan to balance your choices and focus on moderation instead of restriction.
While it's never a good idea to overeat, it's okay to sample a little bit of everything to satisfy cravings. The odds are that no one else at the table is restricting their holiday food intake, and you're creating a barrier to connecting over these nostalgic flavors and rituals.
The American Psychological Association found that food restrictions limit our ability to bond with others, increasing feelings of loneliness and anxiety. After dinner, grab a dessert plate and help yourself to a few carbs and conversation.
Setting unrealistic goals may pressure you to be less honest about diet slip-ups during the holidays. A Purdue University study found that many people lie about poor holiday eating habits to protect themselves from negative perceptions.
It may seem like no harm, but the same study found that people who lie about health habits during holidays may be more susceptible to social pressure surrounding other activities. Don't kid yourself or others about your habits. Own up to your choices and pass on the side of guilt.
Also, remember you aren't obligated to explain your health-related decisions to anyone—"thanks for your concern, but I'd rather not discuss that" is a totally acceptable response.
Food-related stress isn't always self-inflicted. Family members can be aggressive when pushing food onto reluctant partygoers. A situation like this is the perfect opportunity to practice saying "no" politely and with conviction. A lighthearted joke could ease your tone with a cousin, while a polite "no, thank you" is more appropriate for an aunt.
Before losing your cool, remember that some people project their fears and insecurities onto others. Remind them that they have excellent taste and insist that they enjoy another helping themselves.
You can't avoid the holiday food struggle, but you can change your attitude toward seasonal temptations. Save a treat for the end of the day so you can look forward to it, or hold off on the not-great boxed cookie when you know grandma's are waiting at home.
By delaying these treats, you cultivate and express gratitude, an action linked to better mental and emotional health, and fewer signs of heart disease.
No matter how chaotic the scene is, take a moment to find a comfortable seat to enjoy your meal. Savor the flavors and textures in every bite or sip, and pay attention to your physical responses. When you eat mindfully, you are living in the moment and truly experiencing food and culture. You also know when to stop eating because you are in tune with your body.
Practice mindfulness meditation to help you eat more mindfully and notice when you stop feeling hungry or enjoying your food, at both the dinner and the dessert table.
Building your better self is a year-round endeavor that carries on for life, so there's no point in vilifying the holidays. Obsessing over food at holiday gatherings sets you up for overindulgence and defeat.
You're also more likely to make decisions that are harmful to your health when you're stressed. This winter, let go of your hang-ups and create the relationship you want with food.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.