As the holiday season approaches and 2021 draws to a close we share research-based ways to form healthy eating habits that support overall well-being during this busy time.
One of the best things to do is to normalize your favorite holiday treats by allowing yourself to have a few of them every now and then instead of restricting them to one specific gathering.
With eating and dieting, restricting foods never goes very well. Your body will start having cravings, and then you tend to overeat those “forbidden foods or treats” when you get access to them.
To avoid overeating, one strategy is to eat normally before attending a gathering. That way, you’re not restricting and then overcompensating. It’s the same idea as not going grocery shopping while you’re hungry. If you can be comfortably full before a holiday meal or party, it will help you listen to what your body needs.
Eating slowly is also helpful, because it gives your brain time to recognize feelings of fullness. It also helps you to enjoy the whole process of eating, gathering, and socializing, because you can be more focused on what’s going on around you.
Are there any ways to “train my brain” to make better eating choices?
There’s been a lot of research around improving cognition—how we’re thinking and making decisions. The research I’ve done in my lab shows that exercise is extremely beneficial in improving your brain. It allows the organ to get the resources and nutrients it needs to perform at its highest level, so you can have improved cognition when making decisions about food.
In a study we did, people had lower levels of attention to high calorie foods and unhealthy foods after they exercised. The exercise allowed them to better control that attention and have better cognition.
The great thing is that you don’t have to go out and run a marathon. Even a 20-minute walk can benefit you.
How can I overcome feelings of guilt and anxiety around food, and be kinder to myself?
One of my favorite sayings from the Eating Disorder Center is “you can’t hate yourself into healing.” Feelings of guilt and being upset are not going to lead you into better choices or having a healthier diet. Overeating happens, especially around the holidays.
Instead of focusing on the food choices you made, focus on the fun times that you had and the joy you got by sharing the food you made or ate. While there’s always room to improve, you don’t want those feelings to overshadow the positive emotions you had.
Kaylie Carbine California State University, Dominguez Hills