How to avoid food guilt this Christmas
Ahead of the busy Christmas season, nutritionist Sarah Hawkins shares her three top tips to ensure you can enjoy Christmas without the guilt
It’s that time of the year again. The lights are up, the Toy Show has already pulled our heart strings and Christmas trees are popping up everywhere as the days go by. With this time of year comes more food, drinks and outings which for some people can bring some anxiety or guilt. As a nutritionist, I would love to see lots of nutrient-dense foods being consumed at any time of the year. However, I am a firm believer that a healthy, balanced diet includes all foods, without restriction.
While food is our fuel, it is also so much more. Food is celebration, when we think of any event or celebration, especially in Ireland, food or drinks are usually involved in some way. Birthdays, weddings, job offers and, of course, Christmas often revolve around food. Most of these events involve being surrounded by the people we care about, which leads me to the next topic.
Food is connection. It brings us together with friends and loved ones – we might catch up over a coffee and cake, head out for dinner with the gang or enjoy a cosy night in with the family over a take-away. It is a time to connect and this social connection is so important for our mental health and overall wellbeing.
Finally, food is comfort. We often have an emotional attachment to certain foods, whether it is our mother’s famous dinner,Granny’s secret cookie recipe or something we love to make for friends or family when they need support. These foods have an emotional attachment to periods of our lives, to memories and to people who made us feel comforted and safe.
There is no doubt that Christmas can be a tricky time for lots of people with the abundance of food, soere are my top three tips for enjoying the festive season without the guilt.
1 Don’t starve yourself all day
Skipping meals to save calories for the evening meal? This is why this practise could be setting you up badly for the night ahead. Skipping meals means you will be going into that evening meal feeling hungry and when we are this hungry, we are more likely to eat past the point of comfortable fullness. This can result in leaving us feeling sick, bloated and a little guilty for eating so much. If we go into this meal having had regular meals earlier in the day, not only will the meal and eating experience bemore enjoyable, but we will be better able to identify how much food is enough for us, meaning less bloating and overfullness.
Tip #1 – Maintain a regular eating routine to prevent overeating.
2 Let go of restrictions
While it might feel like a good idea to limit access to festive sweets, putting rules or restrictions around these foods will only increase your desire for them. Think about it: how often do you make a list of foods you want to avoid and throughout the week they are all you can think about? Food rules place these foods on a pedestal, increasing our desire and cravings. Once the rule is (inevitably) broken, we can then tend to overeat these foods. If this sounds familiar, why not try something different this year. Give yourself full permission to enjoy those festive foods and notice how they have less of a hold over you.
Tip #2 – Give yourself full permission to enjoy your festive favourites
3 Recognise that bloating is normal after a big meal
Bloating can be a sign that something’s not right but social media can often pathologize bloating. It is normal to feel full or to experience bloating after a large meal or a few days of eating, which a lot of us do around Christmas. When we think about the volume of food that is consumed at Christmas dinner itself, this has to go somewhere! Our stomach is a dynamic organ which stretches in response to food and drinks, which can present as bloating or fullness. Similarly, the full digestive process takes anywhere from 21-24 hours,so you might still feel full the next day. Include lots of water and take a gentle walk outdoors to help ease the discomfort.
Tip #3 – Bloating after a big meal or a few days of eating is normal
If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable or guilty for all the food and drinks you’ve had, try this technique to help. Bring to mind the person who cooked your dinner (this could be you!) or who got you those chocolates. What a kind gesture! Think back to the situation, the laughter and fun, the people around you, the memories made. We are so lucky to be able to do this so take a moment to recognise and be grateful for that.
Finally, I want to remind you that this is the first Christmas in two years where we can fully embrace and enjoy the celebrations. There was a time when we were all stuck at home, wishing we could get out and meet our friends and family over a few drinks or a Christmas dinner. This is a time for making memories to last a lifetime. Soak it up, enjoy it and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for enjoying your Christmas, including yourself.
Happy Christmas, I hope it’s a good one!
Sarah Hawkins is the founder of F.I.G (Food Is Good) Nutrition and is a nutritionist and yoga teacher specialising in gut health and disordered eating. Combining nutrition and yoga, Sarah helps people to beat the bloat without the food restrictions, helping you to develop a healthy and happy relationship to food.
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