How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food Over the Holidays

It’s that time of year again — the season of holiday feasts and celebrations. But for some of us, this season may bring feelings of guilt from all the delicious holiday snacks. But enjoying your favourite holiday foods doesn’t need to include guilt. Here are three important steps to maintaining and creating a healthy relationship with food over the holidays.

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By Cassandra Musick

‘Tis the season for work parties, family gathering, and holiday dinners. It’s the season for eating delicious holiday food and snacks. But for some of us, this season may bring feelings of guilt because of all the wonderful treats we enjoy at social gatherings.

But enjoying your favourite holiday foods doesn’t need to include guilt.

Ann McConkey, registered dietitian with the Provincial Eating Disorder Prevention & Recovery Program at Women’s Health Clinic, explained there are few important steps that can help us build healthy relationships with food over the holidays.

Don’t Think Good or Bad, Think Pleasure

Stop categorizing your food! There is no good and bad food you need to worry about during the holidays, or at any time of the year. Food is just food and it should be a pleasurable part of our lives.  

Dieting and limiting what you eat doesn’t work, and can make your relationship with food worse. So, enjoy the time and food you have with your family. Wipe away all the perceptions you have about food and focus on the enjoyment of eating.

It’s something that takes practice, especially if we are accustomed to saying, “I’m going to be bad and have another treat” as we take another cookie. Food and morality should not be intertwined. Eating a delicious cookie does not make you a bad person.

Let’s repeat that one more time for the folks in the back… eat the dang cookie, if you want to!

Food is just food. Food does not innately have power. It’s diet culture that gives food power by labelling it being as good or bad. Ignore all those toxic messages you hear about food and focus on the joy food gives us. Joy is not just about taste, it’s also about who prepared it and the happy memories associated with it.

It’s also important to listen to your body. When you find that the food is giving you less pleasure, that’s when your body may be telling you it’s satisfied. But at a family dinner, saying no may be difficult, especially when it is the ones you love who made the food.

It’s okay to say, “No thank you, I’m full.” If you feel your friends or family are pushing for you to eat more — and saying no isn’t working — ask for a doggie bag so you can take food home with you. This can show them that you care about the all hard work that went into creating the food, but you’re just too full to enjoy the foods right now..

Create an Anti-Food Shaming Environment

It is important to establish an anti-food shaming environment where there are no negative comments about any types of food.  This can be challenging depending on the person or group, but it’s important to remember not to shame people for their food choices or push food on others at the party.

You can lead by example to create a safe, comfortable food friendly environment where people feel welcome not only to eat, but to eat what they want and how much they want.

If you feel uncomfortable addressing people who do food shame others at the party, you can redirect the conversation instead. For example you could say, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this. Let’s talk about…” and change the subject. 

Many people aren’t aware of how their comments can affect others, especially to those who currently have or are in recovery from an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect people of all shapes and sizes, so you may not even know if someone in the room is struggling. You can help create and maintain a safe, respectful environment by not participating in diet talk and redirecting the conversation.

Feed Yourself Throughout the Day

Katherine Oksanen, WHC’s general dietitian, says it’s important you should eat throughout the day before a holiday meal. Try not to fast all day to “save room for later.”Without nourishing your body throughout the day, your body might feel the need to eat more than is comfortable for you at the dinner, or you might experience hangry (hungry and angry) feelings at the party.

Don’t be a hangry party pooper! Nourish your body throughout the day and eat when you feel hungry — don’t wait to eat because you’re saving room for dinner. Your body and mind will thank you and you’ll enjoy the holidays so much more. 

With these tips, you can work towards or maintain a healthy relationship with food, and help others do the same. Let’s celebrate our friends and family with the gift of a guilt-free holiday season!

Cassy Musick was a communications intern for Women’s Health Clinic. She is currently studying Public Relations through the Creative Communications program at Red River College and will be graduating in 2020.