Written by: Lara Zibarras, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
For years, the holiday season used to fill me with dread. With mountains of food everywhere, I worried about what it would do to my waistline. I was convinced my fitness would suffer and stressed about how I couldn’t stop myself from gorging on chocolate.
I panicked about calories, worried about macros and fretted about grams of sugar. Yet I’d also find myself in frenzied attacks on food, as I shovelled snacks into my mouth at the buffet table during parties.
It wasn’t a pretty sight.
I’m sure there are people who can relate. During the holiday season you’re consciously trying to restrict delicious food; but when you let loose, you feel unhinged.
Years later as a food freedom psychologist, I understand why I felt so out of control around food, and exactly why I went wild when I gave myself the chance.
Biological speaking, when we restrict food, several things happen in our bodies to create that overwhelming desire to eat. When we try to be “good” by cutting back on carbs, the body thinks it’s being starved. You then produce more hunger hormones to encourage you to eat, whilst your fullness hormones are suppressed so that you carry on eating. This explains why your cravings seem to be insatiable.
There’s also a psychological element. If someone told you to not think about a pink elephant, what's the first thing you think about? A pink elephant right?
It’s the same with foods you restrict. When you ban cookies and chocolate during the holiday season, you’ll end up wanting them more. In essence you’re placing them on a pedestal. When you label these foods as “bad” or “naughty” they become more alluring because they are forbidden.
For these reasons as a food freedom psychologist, I tell my clients to relax and enjoy delicious food during the holidays – and here are four tips to do so, peacefully.
Tip #1 Stop restricting the delicious foods
For some, not restricting seems counterintuitive. Especially if you have health and wellness goals to stick to during the festivities. But as we saw earlier, restrictions can backfire. You may end up eating more in the long-run because of the restriction.
When you stop labelling cake “naughty”, it just becomes another item in the cupboard. Yes, initially you might feel like you want to eat more of it, but eventually the excitement wears off. It’s all about exposure ‒ the more a particular food is available, the less exciting it becomes.
Tip #2 Don’t “save” calories
It’s very tempting to “save” calories for an evening out. Perhaps you eat a light lunch (or even nothing at all). However, this will mean that you arrive at your event more hungry than usual, which can trigger overeating, especially around the snack table. The opposite of what you hoped for!
I recommend eating normally at lunch time so that you start your evening only mildly hungry, rather than ravenous.
Tip #3 Enjoy the food, mindfully
When you go ahead and eat the delicious foods, do so mindfully. Bring awareness and presence to the eating experience. Use all the sensations - sight, smell, taste and texture. Appreciate the colours and variety; smell the different aromas; enjoy the taste and texture, savouring the flavours with each bite.
There is a good reason to do this. Research shows that when you enjoy and savour “indulgent” food, you feel fuller more quickly. That’s because you stop producing the hunger hormone signalling your body to stop eating.
Tip #4 Regularly check in with yourself
Just because you started eating something, doesn’t mean you have to finish it. Equally, there’s no prizes for returning a totally clean plate (despite what you might have been told growing up).
I always recommend to my clients that they check in with themselves whilst eating to ensure they are still enjoying their food. Sometimes we only need a few bites to feel fully satisfied, but this feeling of satisfaction is lost if you wolf down your food.
A good idea is to ask yourself some questions after a few mouthfuls:
How do I feel? Am I still enjoying this food? Do I still want to eat some more? How is this food making me feel?
The idea behind this tip is to encourage a more mindful approach. You may decide to carry on eating, you may decide to stop ‒ the point is that you are making the decision based on your body’s signals, rather than because a diet plan told you to do so. Similarly, it’s helpful to check in after the eating experience to see how the food made you feel.
The bottom line? Holiday season can be stressful enough with complicated family dynamics and the busy-ness that ensues. There’s no point in adding “food” to your list of pressures. So go ahead and relax; and enjoy your food, mindfully.
Lara Zibarras, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Lara Zibarras is the food freedom psychologist. Her 20s and 30s were riddled with food anxieties and disordered eating, so finding food freedom was truly life changing. Using her background in psychology, nutrition and intuitive eating, she is now on a mission to help women eat dessert without guilt, find “healthy” without the obsession, and the freedom and joy in eating again.