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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Staying Healthy for the Holidays

Disclaimer right up front: I apologize in advance that this post is probably NOT what you thought it was going to be. Most "Healthy for the Holidays" type posts will give you tips on how not to let this season of parties and general merriment derail your diet, add a couple of inches to your waistline or otherwise destroy your life. I'm going to tell you kind of the opposite. I am not a nutritionist, nor do I have any official qualifications aside from working in healthcare...these are just my thoughts.

I am actually pretty irritated by the constant barrage of "Don't let the holidays kill your diet!" articles that flood health magazines and ads around this time of year. I just don't see what is healthy about spending the holiday season worrying about avoiding "bad" foods , planning your life around what to eat at parties, and feeling guilty when you let your diet slip.

In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan recalls a word-association survey in which the number one response to "Chocolate Cake" for Americans was "guilt." In contrast, the number one response from the French was "celebration."

Honestly, what is so bad about putting on a couple of extra pounds during the holidays? I think the main reason we are so afraid of gaining weight over the holidays is that the diet and fitness industry keeps telling us it is the worst thing ever...and they probably sell a lot of magazines by doing so.

I'm not saying we shouldn't eat mindfully - I actually think we should eat mindfully all the time. I am not on a diet and will never go on one. "Diet" implies that a temporary state, and I aim to eat healthfully all the time, not out of fear or restriction but because I love my body and want to feed it well. Restriction is not healthy. Anxiety and guilt around food is not healthy. One or two days of stuffing your face with Turkey and pie is not going to kill you. You probably won't gain weight after a few family celebrations - and even if you do, why is that such a big deal?

Thinner does not automatically equal healthier - and don't even get me started on BMI, which is a total crock and was never intended to be used as a tool for assessing individual health. I'm not saying you should give yourself carte blanche to eat everything in sight for two straight months - and I also recognize that there are people for whom these diet tips are probably helpful - but I think for the vast majority the mere mention of "diet" creates more fear than anything else. Being grossly overweight is not healthy - but neither is constantly worrying and beating yourself up about gaining weight. I firmly believe that anxiety and guilt is more unhealthy than adding a couple of (probably temporary) inches to your waistline over the holidays.

On Thanksgiving, I spent exactly zero hours worrying about what I would eat. I had a full plate of food, made sure I got plenty of veggies, and sampled all three butter-filled desserts. And then after dinner, my sister, my aunt-in-law (is that even a thing? is now. I declare "aunt-in-law" a thing) and I giggled together, as we took our forks to the pear-cranberry-crumble and cleaned out the baking dish. We had fun. I did not feel guilty, and I don't think that anyone should. That's what Thanksgiving is about: family, fun and a little too much pie.

Being healthy is a holistic concept. It is about your your inner dialog and your relationship with yourself, just as much as it is about the physical aspect. Don't beat yourself up over a piece of pie - it's just not worth it. Indulging (every once in a while) is not "bad." Gaining a few pounds is not "bad." Enjoy the holidays, be thankful for what you have, and don't let holiday food-guilt derail your health. The end.


  1. I love your perspective on this! happy holidays!

  2. Thanks! Happy holidays to you, too :)

  3. Thinking of this always makes me flash on Sarah Silverman's "Make it a Treat" philosophy. What better time to have a treat than the holidays with your friends and family and SO MUCH good food.


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