Picture this scenario. You’ve been invited to a holiday party…you’re excited but also a bit apprehensive because you’ve been trying to make health a priority this year and you’re weary about your willpower to resist all the goodies and treats. So, you create a plan by making sure to eat a balanced breakfast and lunch and spend a bit of extra time at the gym. You’re armed and ready…or so you hope. You go to the party and put veggies on your plate first and eat small portions of the more indulgent fare. You feel perfectly content and satisfied until your beloved family member offers you seconds.
“You are eating so little! You must have more. Here...take some!” (and then attempts to grab your plate and load another heaping portion of her famous creamy and rich potato salad).
Your head spins trying to figure out what to do! You have had enough but if you say “No”, you know what that will lead to… “What do you mean no!? Is my potato salad not good?”.
You start to break a sweat and feel at least some relief for remembering to put on deodorant this morning… What to do, what to do….
Does this situation sound familiar to you? It's pretty common for many of my clients, especially at this time of year when families and friends get together. This scenario leads to the question I frequently get asked this time of the year: “What advice do you have for people who struggle with peer pressure when it comes to food around the holidays?”
To answer this question, I thought I’d do something a little different. I did a call out to some of my dietitian colleagues to put together tried and true nutrition expert tips to help you through holiday gatherings. But keep in mind that these tips can help you at any time of the year when you might be faced with the anxiety causing “food pressure”.
What exactly is “food pressure”? We define it as when your family, friends or colleagues try to influence what you eat, how you eat, or how much you eat.
Food pressure: When your family, friends or colleagues try to influence what you eat, how you eat, or how much you eat. 5 tips to stop it!
Tip #1 – Simply put, it’s okay to say “no”
More often than not, food is the centerpiece of social gatherings, and the holidays are no exception. While our loved ones mean well, unfortunately, it’s often their own feelings of wanting to change (but not knowing how to) that lead to wanting others to join them in eating foods that everyone knows is not the best idea.
While it may feel that you are offending them, by saying “thanks, but no thanks”, you are actually doing them a favour by sending the message that it’s okay to say “no” and that unhealthy foods don’t solve any problems. Granted, of course, if you really do want to have some, then go for it - that’s what the moderation message is all about. But remind yourself that the first few bites are always what taste best.
Over time, I suspect, that once your family/colleagues see that you do indeed have a flexible approach to eating, they will come around and you’ll be hearing soon enough how you are inspiring them and how they appreciate the healthy lifestyle changes you’re making.
Tip #2 – Respect your boundaries, respect their feelings
Other times, it’s not a reflection of one’s feelings about themselves but genuinely family and friends do want to share their food with you. In these cases, it can be seen as faux pas to say, “no thanks”.
When you sense this is the case, you can try saying something like,
“Thank you so much for offering. These looks great, however, I just ate not too long ago and I’m not feeling hungry at the moment so I would like to take some and save it for later when I can truly savour it”
(Then actually take some and either save it for later or not, up to you, but then at least the other person is feeling like their efforts were acknowledged). It’s hard to be offended when you are accepting the food and respecting your own healthy boundaries at the same time!
Kacie Barnes, MCN, RD is a dietitian for mamaknowsnutrition.com agrees with the “savour for later” idea. She adds a friendly reminder that it makes people happy when they can share food with you. So, sometimes it really is easier (and more polite) to accept the food even if you aren’t going to eat it. Kacie suggests saying something like:
“Thank you so much! Would you mind if I saved this for later?” Or, “would you mind if I saved this for my son? He loves these cookies!”
Stop holiday food pressure: To avoid hurt feelings, accept the food, but save for later to savour.
Tip #3 – BYOT (bring your own treats!)
Another idea is to bring some healthy goodies yourself to show that nutritious and delicious are not mutually exclusive. Look no further because we have some great recipe ideas on our website, like our Cheesy Reindeer Snacks, Banana Santas and a delicious Maple Apple Cake.
Tip #4 – Express your gratitude, and practice it, too!
Expressing gratitude and putting a positive spin on your reply usually helps. To do this, Kacie suggests to explain that you are working on some health or digestive issues (whatever the case may be for you) and you very much appreciate their offer but you just can’t eat that right now, even though you wish you could!
Megrette Fletcher, dietitian for mindfuleatingforkids.wordpress.com, explains how the healing power of gratitude, slowing down and being present during the holidays can help you with holiday cravings (more details of this concept are found on her blog post here.)
Here’s how Megrette suggests to practice gratitude for your food to help with cravings:
1. Place a gratitude pause:
Instead of trying to resist something – for example, a food or purchase – place a gratitude pause before the choice. Here is how it might look.
You see some dessert. The feeling of desire arises. You think, “I won’t be able to resist this dessert.” Pause, and simply say (out loud if needed) “I am grateful for this dessert.” Do not try to resist the dessert. Instead, simply be grateful for having it.
2. Notice the mind shift:
Now, with this positive emotion with you, notice if something shifted inside. Would this feeling of gratitude remain if you ate the dessert? If it would, how much can you eat and still feel grateful? Somehow gratitude and feeling grateful creates the desire for self-care.
To sums things up, we all know the holiday season tends to bring on a mixed-bag of emotions – stress, happiness, anxiety, joy…! As a result, we often find ourselves craving certain foods. You might be surprised to learn that by placing a sprinkle of gratitude on your cravings, it changes your relationship with those cravings.
Placing gratitude on cravings changes your relationship with those foods. Practice gratitude this season!
Tip #5 – Keep your goals in mind
Have a clear understanding of your goals and why eating certain foods (or too much of them) will prevent you from reaching your goals. It’s easier to say no when you are committed to achieving your goals and can remind yourself daily why it is important to you.
~ Kacie Barnes, MCN, RD, mamaknowsnutrition.com
WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE?
Pause and reflect on the purpose of holidays
Remember, your holiday get-togethers are about socializing and connecting with loved ones so focus on that. While food might be the physical centre-piece, remind yourself of the emotional centre-piece – spending time with loved ones!
Lastly, keep it mind it works both ways - if you want others to be okay with you saying “no thanks”, it’s important you don’t comment on or judge their food choices either.
With the end of the year soon wrapping up, don’t delay taking advantage of your benefits by using up your dietitian coverage.
At Craving Health, our expert dietitians offer nutrition counselling sessions to residents of the Niagara region to answer your burning food and nutrition questions and offer trustworthy advice that is customized to your needs.
We offer flexible appointment times including evenings and weekends as well as convenient online booking. We also offer phone and virtual nutrition counseling for those who live outside the Niagara region.