The holiday season is quickly approaching, and among with it comes more opportunity for gatherings centered around food and sweets. Regardless of what’s being celebrated, eating during the holidays typically consists of family recipes and delicious desserts. Because of this, food can become a major source of anxiety for anyone trying to diet or even just maintain their current health goals. 

Concern and stress regarding holiday food can lead some to completely concede their health goals -- swearing to themselves that when the first of the year rolls around they’ll change their ways for good. But contrary to popular belief, you can still participate in all your favorite holiday traditions and foods without compromising your progress or goals. 

Concern and stress regarding holiday food can lead to destructive comments like, “I’ll just not eat today so I can save up for an extra plate/dessert tonight,“ or “I’ll need to run this off later or I’ll gain weight” or “I can’t be trusted around this food, I’ll eat the whole dish.” 

Most of us have heard or even said a variation of one of these phrases before. They sound innocent enough, but upon further inspection they all promote a restrictive mindset toward food. 

Restricting yourself with food can be unintentional, hiding in the name of “discipline.” You might think that by holding back and not eating your favorite things you’re being strong and controlled, not letting the holidays be a reason to break your diet. By holding yourself back from enjoying your favorites, you could be feeding into diet culture and end up doing more harm than good in the long run.

What is diet culture? It's a belief system that focuses on and values weight, shape and size over well-being. More often than not, toxic diet culture promotes an unhealthy pattern of eating with a sole focus on being skinny.

Diet culture can be a weapon, rendering those who fall victim to it to believe they’re not supposed to eat foods that aren't labeled “good.” It promotes an unhealthy idea of discipline and dieting that’s unsustainable to follow for long periods of time, and leaves the person feeling guilty and unworthy of eating certain foods. 

Labeling certain foods such as cookies, cake, pie, etc., “bad” is a move that traditional diet culture profits off immensely. Doing so can unintentionally lead you to subconsciously glorify these foods. If you hold yourself back from enjoying them, it’s more likely you’ll trick your mind into wanting the food more. At the worst level, this could lead into a permanent unhealthy relationship with food and diet culture. 

So what does this mean you should do for the holiday if you have a goal of weight loss, but your most treasured part of the holiday season is enjoying the familiar flavors of a home-cooked meal? In short, enjoy your meal. Being a healthy person requires a delicate balance, and it is certainly attainable to eat a meal you might’ve once considered “bad” and still lose weight. 

Remember that while holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are centered around eating a huge meal, lots of options are still bound to be healthy. Corn, turkey, green beans, potatoes, etc., are all traditional Thanksgiving foods that might even be healthier than a typical dinner. 

Ultimately, whatever your holiday food is going to consist of depends solely on your personal goals and your relationship with food. The most imperative thing is to be in touch with your personal goals and what you want out of the holiday.

If you have a goal to lose weight, that’s totally achievable even while enjoying yourself and treating yourself. Instead of punishing yourself the next day and attempting to burn off all the food you ate, simply treat the next day as you would any other day. 

If you’re not comfortable setting aside your usual dietary patterns for a celebration, or you know it’s impossible for you to eat certain foods without feeling guilty, that’s okay too. If this is the case, it would be beneficial to talk to whoever you’re celebrating with to make sure they know how much you value sticking to a certain diet. Portion control is key.

It’s important to remember that just as one healthy meal won’t make you skinny, one holiday dinner or dessert won’t blow your diet or slow your progress. It’s normal to fall off routine during the holidays, so don’t beat yourself up for it. 

Avoiding that all-or-nothing mindset is what’s going to help keep you on track and get right back to your healthy habits when the holidays are over.