One stressor that comes up for a lot of people around the holidays (especially if you are health conscious) is all of the wonderfully yummy food choices that bombard us from October 31st until all the leftovers are finally gone probably sometime in January.

Having anxiety around eating can range from mild disturbance to full-on eating disorder and can negatively affect your mental health as well as get in the way of those lovely moments in life that are meant for you to enjoy.

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Dr. Gabrielle Fundaro, nutrition scientist and diet coach of Renaissance Periodization encourages clients to reframe their two weekly “cheat meals” each week to “free meals” or even better “treat” meals. Understanding that you deserve the balance of having a few meals that are purely for enjoyment can help get you through those episodes of stale green Christmas tree cookies in the breakroom while you diligently get your veggies in.

Many people simply give in to an all or nothing mentality with holiday eating, skipping exercise sessions and indulging at every opportunity then shaming themselves after. Remember that you can choose to start or stop eating at any point that you realize it is not serving you, so if you are eating something that feels like it is not worth the extra calories, put it down, there is no rule that says you must finish. Also if you feel you are over-restricting to save calories for Thursday, and you feel hungry, let yourself eat more. Sometimes people even punish themselves with excess exercise after a big eating day.  

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“There are different schools of thought on this, so it’s really about your reasoning,” says Fundaro of a post “treat” exercise session. “If you’re doing it to celebrate your extra energy and hit some PR’s of some sort, totally go for it! If you’re doing it because you feel anxious or guilty, or like you need to undo/work off/compensate for your eating the day before, I’d recommend just doing your normal workout. Compensatory behaviors like that can really ingrain that cycle of restriction/purging after eating something ‘bad.’”

Whatever you are celebrating, holidays tend to have culture-based comfort foods that get trotted out only once per year and are filled with good memories and made by loved ones. Viewing these foods as beautiful opportunities for greater connection can reframe the thoughts around these dishes.

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In that same train of thought, remind yourself that not every indulgence will really be worth all of the stress around it. Generic store-bought goodies from someone you don’t know well? Thoughtful, and definitely worth a thank you, but consider sharing these with others who will not stress about it. Your grandmother’s incredible pound cake you have been thinking about since the last holiday gathering? Go for it. Then plan for most of your normal meals to be healthy and continue your regular exercise routine throughout the season.

Also, avoid talking excessively about your holiday food choices with others unless asked. Conversations about calories around a festive dinner table tend to kill the good vibes and just makes you more focused on how “bad” you are being. Having a grateful attitude toward your ability to indulge while still staying healthy through your everyday habits will allow you to get through the big meals without so much stress.

You can follow Dr. Fundaro for more evidence-based, balanced nutrition advice @vitaminphd on Instagram.