To indulge, or not to indulge, that is the question for many people during the holiday season.
Unfortunately, that internal tug of war may cause unnecessary stress.
We spoke with Yasi Ansari, a registered dietician nutritionist and certified specialist in sports dietetics at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, about strategies to get the most out of this holiday season.
While the holidays are a time to share moments of warmth and love with friends and family and enjoy foods we love, many people who are concerned about their body image struggle during this season over what foods among the delicious offerings they can eat.
“The first step is to practice self-compassion,” Ansari said. “That means being patient with yourself and understanding and accepting that the holidays can be a challenging time for many people, especially, for those struggling with unhealthy relationships with food.”
Don’t punish yourself by restricting foods
Sticking to a diet regimen can be tough in the best of times, but even more so during the holidays.
“We are bombarded with a variety of diet-focused messages this time of year, most of which are not the most supportive for health and eating behaviors that cannot be sustained for long periods of time,” Ansari said.
Ansari said that the best tactic is to allow yourself some grace. Heavily restricting what you eat can, in fact, have a negative impact, she said, and Ansari advises people to avoid doing it.
“Holidays are especially challenging for someone who is working to manage an eating disorder, and it is common that one might want to restrict their intake throughout the day in preparation for a big holiday meal. But I recommend sticking to your normal eating regimen during the day, and coming up with a strategy with people you trust that can help support you through your holiday meal.”
Embrace doing activities with your family
Engaging in some form of movement that is enjoyable is also a healthy prelude during the holidays.
“Taking time to connect with family and doing physical activities can support body-image appreciation and body- image resilience,” said Ansari.
Such physical activities can mean taking a hike, gardening, visiting the beach, or doing fun games inside the house.
Cook your favorite foods and enjoy every bite
Preparing your favorite seasonal dishes with your family is a healthy activity. Not only is it nutritionally positive, but it also promotes bonding. And it encourages people to think more about what foods they enjoy and can add to their holiday festivities rather than focusing primarily on which ones to eliminate.
“Some of my favorite holiday foods include dark leafy greens, roasted carrots, whole and mashed potatoes, pomegranates, berries, persimmons, sugar cookies and fruit pies,” Ansari said. “Your holiday table may look completely different. The important thing is to make choices that will enhance your holiday experience.”
Learn more about diet and nutrition at UCLA Health.