What is a festival without eating, drinking and spending time with people you love? Every culture and ethnic group associates a tasty meal with the festive.
Food is central to celebration – it is so much more than just nutrition and it has deep social and emotional meanings for us, bringing comfort, satisfaction, sharing, belonging and good cheer.
Our relationship with food is a complex and conflicting one – it is something that we naturally need, crave and enjoy, but we can also slip into unhealthy eating behaviours and habits driven by emotion and unconscious needs or deeper conflicts. How can we avoid poor food choices and yet enjoy the holiday season?
The answer lies in moderated, sensible eating behaviours.
Here are five simple guidelines that can help us make good decisions before and during festive mealtimes, and even one for after!
Think carefully beforehand what you want to eat. Sometimes planning what you will indulge in at a family meal or what you want to order at dinner can render those decisions far easier to make when you are actually in the situation. When planning ahead, you will have the opportunity to work through difficult decisions calmly without the pressure of the social situation and other factors like fatigue or hunger.
Be wary of strict rules and food taboos. Give yourself permission to enjoy what is reasonable. Strict rules can work the opposite way as the mind rebels against what feels like deprivation and restriction. Instead, consciously giving yourself permission to at a little more or eat foods that might not always be the healthiest choice because it is a special occasion can feel good. When we feel good, it is easier to follow through with healthy eating plans.
Many thoughts can be automatic or outside of your conscious awareness. Mindfulness is all about being aware of your own thoughts and mindful eating allows you to be fully present and aware of your eating – the food itself, its appearance, smell, taste and texture, what it represents for you and how you are feeling right now. When eating mindfully, it is not easy to ignore your own healthy eating plans. Moreover, with mindful eating, you will find that if you do end up eating that extra piece of cake, at least you will have fully enjoyed it and couldn’t complain about the pleasure you got from it even if eating it was not the best idea.
Focus on the Big Picture
Remind yourself that there is always another meal around the corner! Just the simple reminder that dinner is only an hour away or that even though you are choosing to not have another serving of the lasagna tonight, you are going to have a yummy breakfast tomorrow, can make it easier to follow your plan and avoid overeating.
Be Kind to Yourself
When you do slip up and make unhealthy food choices, remember to be kind to yourself and allow yourself to move on. Instead of thinking that all is lost and you’ve ‘gone and blown it again’, look at it as an error. Everyone is allowed to make mistakes and no poor eating choice is going to be so bad as to be irreparable unless it is linked to some serious health condition such as an allergy. For those of us who do not have serious medical issues and are just looking to eat healthy and enjoy the holiday season, there is always the reset button!
Shrimathi Swaminathan is a clinical psychologist who uses cognitive behaviour therapy approach and techniques to promote healthy eating behaviours. She runs her practice Psynaptica out of Body with Soul at Rochester Park and can be contacted at +65-67790660 or email [email protected]