- The winter months offer many food-related holidays that can evoke fear and guilt about overeating.
- But a feast day doesn’t have to be a cheat day — it’s possible to indulge without derailing your diet or health goals, according to a nutritionist.
- Being flexible with your diet can make it easier to sustain and improve your success. Enjoy your indulgence, then get back to balanced eating habits like including plenty of veggies and fruits.
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While many people eagerly await winter and the food-centric holidays it brings, celebrating with a big meal can also be a source of stress, anxiety, and guilt.
But holiday festivities don’t have to derail your diet or healthy habits, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Read It Before You Eat It — Taking You from Label to Table.
A few days of enjoying rich food and hearty portions is unlikely to offset any long-term progress on weight loss or fitness goals.
It can be anxiety-provoking, though, particularly if you have a complicated relationship with food. Allowing yourself to be flexible with your diet, and having strong healthy habits to return to post-holiday, can help keep you on track so you can enjoy feast days with less shame or stress.
“You should appreciate what you’re eating without guilt as a side dish,” Taub-Dix told Insider.
Don’t feel guilty or try to punish yourself for indulging
It’s important to give yourself permission to appreciate food, especially if you’re trying to lose weight or otherwise make changes to your diet.
For this reason, Taub-Dix said she doesn’t like the concept of a “cheat” day or meal, since it implies something negative when it should be an experience you enjoy.
“Why would that be associated with such a negative word? Shouldn’t it be a decadent day or exciting day?” she said. “You should be able to eat things you like, because you’re entitled to enjoy what you’re eating.”
Even if you do experience negative side effects of overeating (such as feeling too full, bloated, hungover, or anxious), trying to punish yourself can only make things worse.
Feelings of guilt and shame related to food can have negative affects on your mental health. Counter-intuitively, this stress can make it more likely you’ll repeat the unwanted behavior.
The same is true with detoxes (which don’t work) and excessive exercise the day after, which only reinforce that the behavior was “bad” and can cause additional stress.
Instead, remember that one meal or even a full day of eating differently isn’t going to cancel out weeks or months of hard work.
“An indulgent day really shouldn’t mess with your goals unless it messes with your head,” Taub-Dix said. “You shouldn’t punish yourself if you overate.”
Work on building good habits
To set yourself up for success around holiday meals, Taub-Dix recommends establishing good habits you can use for different…