Food plays a role in our lives far beyond the simplicity of providing nutrients. Christmas celebrations should be a time we fully experience the joy of food and pleasure of eating with our family and friends. Having food ‘rules’ to obey, being ‘careful’, overthinking or worrying about what foods will be available or whether you will be able to resist Aunty Pam’s pavlova can add a lot of mental load and even effect your mood and interactions with others. At the end of the day, it can prevent you from truly relaxing and will take away from the festive, social and what should be a joyous occasion.
Tip 1. Allow yourself to experience the joy and pleasure of eating
Let me clarify, I’m not saying you should take this opportunity to literally dive into the chocolate fountain with your mouth wide open and completely drown out the idea of eating sensibly. I’m giving you an invitation to arrive at the Christmas celebration with a relaxed mindset, free of food ‘rules’ and worry about what food you should or should not be eating and allow yourself to take pleasure from the delicious celebration food and simply relax with your loved ones. A little variety wouldn’t go astray at Christmas though; including foods from a variety of food groups (fruit/veggies/protein/grains/dairy) in your meal and a variety of tastes and textures can increase the pleasure experienced from the meal. As a dietitian my jam is to support people to achieve their most nutritious diet, but I also know that one day of eating, or one meal which is not your most nutritious does not mean the end of the world.
Tip 2. Do a hunger-fullness check-in
While it is absolutely okay to enjoy the pleasure and joy of eating at Christmas, it is a good idea to stuff ourselves because it tastes good or eat as much as we can just because it is there or because it’s Christmas. It is a good idea however, to check-in with your feeling of hunger and fullness before, during and after the meal and to eat the amount (of whatever food you have chosen) that is right for you. I absolutely do not mean the amount that gives you the ‘right’ calories or fits in with diet rules… I mean the amount that leaves you feeling comfortably full and satisfied without feeling overfull or uncomfortable.
I encourage everyone to regularly ‘check-in’ with their feelings of hunger and fullness and note where they are on a scale of 1-10 (below). This builds valuable awareness of these feelings and can help to more accurately eat the right amount for your body at that point in time. With all of the delicious food (that I hope you will be enjoying), the social distractions (which I also hope you will be enjoying) and food being pushed on you from all angles, it is common to overeat at Christmas. This means your work break-up dinner or Christmas Day could be the time to start tuning into your feelings of hunger and fullness.
I recommend using the Speed-Bump Strategy where you divide the food on your plate in half then when you’ve eaten half you slow down, place down your knife and fork for a moment while you check-in with your hunger and the satisfaction you’re getting from the meal on the 1-10 scale. Then you either stop eating (if you are a 5-6 on the scale) or proceed slowly until no longer hungry (not too full). Afterall, the chef who dished up the amount on your plate, or your own hungry eyes loading up at the buffet, do not know exactly how much food your body needs at that particular time. But, your body does know and is worth checking-in with during the meal before you mindlessly finish everything on your plate! By the way, this isn’t a strategy with the intention of preventing weight-gain, but comes from a place of practicing body respect, self-care and eating sensibly.
Tip 3. Be strategic with foods you choose
Survey the Christmas party buffet or menu and have a plan of the foods you would like to eat. If you would love to fit in a favourite dessert, then be sure to leave ‘tummy space’ for that. It’s Christmas, you’re not on a diet, you don’t have to meet the criteria of anyone’s rules or restricted food list. You also don’t have to eat everything there. It is a time to enjoy food you like, but not to be the stuffed turkey. There is nothing worse than filling up on all the nibbles, loading up with the salads because you think you ‘should’, then being too full to truly enjoy the desert. Similarly, if there is seafood or other foods you would like to have, then don’t pile all the other things on your plate. Choose your number 1, 2 and 3 foods you would like to fit in, enjoy those, with just smaller amounts of other foods to be sure you honour your feelings of fullness.
Christmas should be a time where we see that food is more valuable than it’s nutrient profile, that it brings us together and provides a shared food and social experience at the table. It is important to know that you can enjoy your favourite Christmas foods without anxiety, guilt, or the mentally draining strict portion control or calorie counting. Giving yourself permission to enjoy the foods you like, checking-in with hunger and fullness and eating according to these signals not diet rules, and then not feeling guilty afterward but simply moving on to a new day of eating and nourishing your body are some intuitive eating skills which could help you find some joy in the Christmas eating this year!
Merry Christmas and have a Nourishing New Year!
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