Most people are far from prepared to take on the slew of food-related events that come with the holiday season. Anxious dieters often go into every meal with the same mindset — eat less, lose weight. But inevitably, to their ultimate dismay, they eat more than they’d intended. They leave the dinner or the party feeling stuffed, maybe a little drunk, and more than a little guilty. Consumed with regret over their food choices, they go home promising to “do better” next time, berating themselves for falling off the diet wagon.
If this sounds like you, I’d like to tell you that you don’t have to stay on that emotional roller coaster of trying and failing to stick to a vague, restrictive eating plan. Your constant mindset of trying to eat less and be healthier is sabotaging your success and setting you up for failure.
Here’s the only thing that’s ever worked for me: I just let myself eat whatever I want until I no longer want to keep eating. That’s it.
You might read that and think, She just has more willpower than I do. Once I start, I can’t be stopped. I’ll have eaten a tray of Christmas cookies before I’m done.
But that just isn’t true. You see, your “food addiction,” or your affinity for eating after you’re full, is coming from a place of deprivation. Even if you’re eating a lot, you’re still stuck in a mindset of depriving yourself from what you want. The natural response to deprivation is overeating — it’s the mechanism that’s kept humans alive and surviving famines for centuries. Your brain is telling you to eat what’s available while you can, before the food goes away again. It’s pretty sure you’re not going to let it eat cookies ever again, so it wants all of them right now.
You might be wondering how you can tell that you’re really done eating. We’re born with the ability to tune in to our hunger and fullness signals, but are quickly thrown off of them by our surroundings and pressures to maintain a lower weight. Mindful eating is an attempt to return to those innate signals and help people to better understand when they’re hungry and when they’re full.
Here’s the trick. When you want more of a certain food, no matter if it’s a cookie, a cocktail, or a green bean, before you reach for another helping, just remind yourself: I can have this food whenever I want.
You have to mean it. Let yourself have the food if you want it.
But if you no longer want another serving once you realize you can eat the food anytime, know that you don’t have to take one. That’s the practice that will give you the healthiest holiday this year. Instead of leaving the table shrouded with regret and shame, you can leave knowing that you gave your body what it wanted and enjoyed every minute with the people you love at your holiday dinner table.