Last Friday, we talked about the slew of guilt-inspiring, restrictive advice we typically get from health-related magazines and websites. Registered dietitian Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD, from A Weight Lifted laid out some great tips on how to tell if you’re getting good, genuinely healthy eating advice.

Today, let’s talk about that genuinely healthy advice. Let’s talk about how we can approach eating with enjoyment and keep our body image (and mind) in tact and guilty feelings out the door.

What would happen if you actually enjoyed what you ate and didn’t feel guilty? If you went for a piece of cake or the higher-cal food purely because you wanted to? What if you ate slowly and savored every morsel? And no pangs of guilt ever came up?

Sadly, these are novel thoughts. Usually, we’re told we can enjoy what we eat – with some culinary conditions: be sure you eat low-cal, low-fat, low-sugar; you avoid bad foods; you work it off right away; and you dare not get up for a second helping.

The problem with all the “healthy” holiday eating advice and how we view food is that we usually don’t give ourselves permission to eat. And many of us don’t have a healthy relationship with food in the first place. We’re typically afraid that if we eat what we want, it’ll morph into a free-for-all. We’ve also lost our instincts. We’ve forgotten how to listen to our bodies and taken the power away from ourselves and given it to others.

You may have to relearn how to eat instinctively, but I think it’s a healthy way of approaching eating during the holidays and all the time. Here’s a wonderful list of tips by physician Michelle May, M.D., author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat, posted on her website.

Dr. May writes:

  1. Care for yourself physically by getting adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
  2. Create a self-care buffer zone by regularly nurturing your body, mind, heart, and spirit.
  3. When you’re hungry, consider what you want, what you need, and what you have to eat before choosing food.
  4. Decide how you want to feel when you’re finished eating; serve yourself accordingly (or adjust the portion if someone else served you).
  5. When the food you crave isn’t particularly healthful, omit all guilt and shame. Remind yourself that all foods fit when you practice balance, variety, and moderation.
  6. Sit down to eat and minimize distractions.
  7. Savor the appearance, aromas, textures, and flavors as you eat.
  8. Eat slowly and mindfully for maximal enjoyment from every bite.
  9. Stop when you feel content and energetic.
  10. Repeat steps 1-9 for the remainder of your life.

Registered dietitian and author Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, also talks about giving yourself permission to eat and enjoy your food in this fantastic article. Below, I’ve included a few excerpts that are especially relevant to holiday eating (I hope you’ll also be nodding in agreement like I was; in fact, my head kinda hurt at the end of the article 🙂 ):

“Paradoxically, it’s only when you truly know that you can eat any food, whenever you want, that the food becomes less compelling.

Once you have unconditional permission to eat (regardless of the food’s perceived health value), you can honestly ask yourself:

1. Do I really want to eat this?

2. Will I enjoy it now or later?

3. Will I really taste the food now?

And if it turns out that yes, you really want whatever you’re craving, then allow yourself to eat with no strings attached. This will allow the food to be savored and nonthreatening (as opposed to that worry of “I’d better eat this now before I come to my senses,” or “Tomorrow I’ll go on a diet, or start clean”).

Do you think you or others are “good” if you diet and restrict, especially during the holidays, when there’s more temptation and eating richer foods is harder to avoid?

Remove all judgment about your eating choices.

You are not good or bad based on what you eat. Your values and personhood don’t take a dive just because you ate onion rings.

Have you learned to eliminate foods that seem extraneous, like dessert, from your diet?

Question your assumptions about eating a particular food.

For example, if you have a thought such as, “I don’t need that donut,” consider the possibility that by eating the doughnut, you will be satisfied and finished with eating and not haunted by a craving. If instead you eat the perceived “right food” or “sensible choice,” you will not be satisfied and will probably still eat the doughnut.

Are you afraid that you won’t be able to stop eating what you want once you start? Well, restricting yourself actually isn’t helpful.

Put eating fears and thoughts into context.

“If I start eating chocolate I won’t be able to stop.” That’s a common fear with someone who has a history of chronic dieting and/or food deprivation. Dieters or people with strict eating rules typically have not experienced food habituation. Food habituation research shows that the more a person is exposed and allowed to eat a food, the less desirable it becomes over time. Since chronic dieters have not experienced food habituation for themselves, they worry that they will never stop eating a particular food once they start. Food habituation has been demonstrated in many species (including humans) and with many foods, including pizza, chocolate and potato chips.

How do you plan on enjoying the holidays? Is the above advice a helpful way of approaching eating? What would you like to add?