At Burnalong, we are passionate about pursuing overall wellness and focusing on holistic health over crash diets, traditional fitness models, and an “ideal” body type. We realize that this time of year, festive meals and the ever-present sweets can present a challenge to a healthy lifestyle.

As a certified nutrition coach, I wanted to share a perspective shift that can help you (and your loved ones) with healthy holiday eating.

How to approach healthy holiday eating

In a true embrace of the holiday spirit and preparation for the new year, why don’t we pioneer a new approach to holiday eating? And while we’re at it, eating in general! One where we retire decades of restriction and allow love and kindness to settle into a foundation for moving forward.

We live in a culture where putting ourselves last is the norm.  Self-love is looked upon as a lofty ideal, rather than a necessary way of being. In order to conceptualize this fundamental practice of loving ourselves, let’s look at it from the lens of how we show love to others. Specifically, the love you would give to a young child as a parent or caretaker. 

To highlight the contrasting conversations, let’s imagine your response to a child as it compares to the internal dialogue you likely experience during celebratory eating, due to a response conditioned by diet culture.

Try on healthy eating

Before the festivities begin, as an adult who is attuned to your child’s needs and natural hunger cues, you’ll likely provide a balanced and tasty breakfast to start the day. As a caring parent, you probably wouldn’t inform your child that until the first course for dinner has emerged, famine mode is in full swing either. 

Rather than shaming their choices, during a family dinner, you might suggest the green bean casserole to get some nutrients or the turkey for strong bones. Your approach would be to help them balance their eating rather than restricting it.

You probably wouldn’t say, “Eat as much of this heavy food as you can because we will NOT be eating anything like it until next year!”

When it comes to dessert, you might remind a child to slow down to avoid a stomach ache. You might also suggest reasonable portions, so as to not disrupt their sleep schedule (okay, that one may be more for you!).

In the event your child does overdo it, you would likely suggest some feel-good remedies such as going for a walk to aid in digestion or drinking some peppermint tea to soothe the stomach. You probably will not shame the child for having too many cookies and then subject them to the silent treatment during the car ride home.

You most definitely wouldn’t issue a decree for a menu of salads with grilled chicken and a memorandum on any food that tastes remotely delicious for the foreseeable future.

The latter response may and should sound silly for kids but this is often how we treat ourselves around eating! There’s a reason why you don’t speak this way to young children or your loved ones in general. It isn’t productive; it is hurtful and damaging.

By removing the all-or-nothing mentality, restriction, shame, and guilt surrounding eating, you make room for your mind and body to take the reins!

Small children naturally carry out this principle of intuitive eating. That means they eat almost entirely based on feel rather than arbitrary food rules from various diets. Diets that attach morals to food and prompt self-hate for making the “so-called” wrong decision. 

Our bodies are constantly providing us with feedback. To let it do its thing, we have to first trust our bodies to lead us to what we need to eat, as opposed to depending on our minds to control our eating. And secondly, slow down to create room for the feedback to register.

Change your perspective 

The key takeaway here is adults need self-encouragement to make decisions motivated by feel-good choices led by compassion for themselves. Plus, kindness for when those choices don’t end ideally. 

While we can't control how our decisions play out, we do have control over our reactions. The choice to respond positively and lovingly in all scenarios will only result in peace of mind, healing, and joy.

At the heart of the matter, how we eat a few days out of the month will not have a dramatic influence on our overall health. However, self-imposed stress in the form of mentally attacking ourselves is the antidote to health and well-being.

The holidays and eating are harmonious pairings. A season of joy accompanied by an experience evolutionarily-designed to be pleasurable. 

We realize this shift in perspective might be challenging and in fact, this season can be triggering for disordered eating and self-hate. If you want to keep digging into this, check out some of our nutrition classes for some additional support. We also have a custom program for holiday eating guidance too. 

Remember, you aren’t alone and you deserve the grace you would extend to a loved one. We hope you can enjoy the holidays and take a fresh approach to healthy eating as we prepare for a new year.