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Avoiding food guilt over the holidays

We are getting ready for the holidays, which for many people are a fun-filled, family and food-focused time.

For some, it is ‘throw-caution-to-the-wind, no-holds-barred, enjoy-it-while-we-can mentality. For others, there is guilt, resentment, and loss, often related to your relationship with food.  And for those who are instinctive eaters, the holidays and food may be fairly carefree.

There’s delicious food everywhere—recipe segments, commercials, meal planning, and holiday platters in the break room. Don’t forget, we also tend to use food to NUTURE, or in other words, it can be how we show others that we care about them.

What to cut out during the holidays? Does this really work?

The new trend? Cauliflower stuffing, cauliflower mashed potatoes etc. Is it worth a try, sure, if you love cauliflower! However, if it leaves you feeling deprived, maybe you are better having a little bit of what you actually love! Just make sure to savor it. Try not to be distracted so that you can really enjoy whatever it is that you are consuming. This can be hard to do when distracted by family and friends but is worth the effort. If whatever you decide to eat is not as good as you expected, remember, you don’t have to finish it (hard if you were taught to ‘clean your plate’).

What might be better to “cut out”.

Guilt? Guilt truly is a poor motivation for change.  For those of us who struggle with using food for something other than fuel, guilt is simply another trigger to eat something for reasons other than providing our bodies with the nourishment and energy it needs to function well.  So instead of feeling guilty, try being intentional. If there are many treats available to choose from, start with the one you think you might enjoy the most and savor it! Pick the best time of day, best environment and go for it, without judgement.

No wonder we turn to food!

This constant and confusing exposure to delicious foods, which is tied to our traditions, memories, and the specialness of the holidays, contrasted with the shaming messages about our “overindulgence” and lack of control, leads to feelings of deprivation and guilt, and more cravings, not less.

Add to that the extra busyness we try to squeeze into the narrow margins of our already busy lives, the pressure to spend more money, challenging family dynamics, and the stress of unrealistic expectations (often our own), and food suddenly becomes a welcome reprieve. For many people, it eventually becomes overwhelming. Since New Year’s resolutions are right around the corner, it seems easier to give up now and worry about making up for it beginning January 1st. If that happens, be intentional about it don’t let it take you by surprise.

How sleep plays a role.

Let’s get MORE sleep not less. Sleep deprivation leads to vulnerability, whether that is food or something else, everyone is different.  Set yourself up for increased chance of success (depending on what your goals are) by practicing some basic self-care, hydration and sleep. Taking it one day, one meal, one snack or get together at a time might just be the way to go. Figure out what works for you…. and enjoy!

After the holidays have settled, keep an eye out for our new program at the Billings Clinic Metabolism Center Mindful Eating Program-Am I Hungry. You can sign up for an information session about the program at

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Mary Pike, LCSW

Mary Pike, LCSW is care manager for the Billings Clinic Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism Center.

One comment on “Avoiding food guilt over the holidays

  1. I missed placed your phone # and I think that we are scheduled to have a virtual meeting next week. I want to cancel that appointment, I believe that meeting with Hunter covers most of what we talk about. So I believe that meeting with you once a month is to often. Maybe we could check in with each other every 3 months. Thanks Anthony Cernac

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