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by Sara Colman Carlson, RDN, CDCES

Going back to childhood, December in our household was the month to be on your best behavior. Often those slip-ups of being naughty were reprimanded with the reminder that “Santa is watching you” or “You better be good to stay on Santa’s toy list”. Fast-forward to the present, parents use the similar Elf on a Shelf approach to encourage their children’s best behavior in December. But you get the point—it’s about being good or bad.

Today I want to explore the concept of “good” versus “bad” foods. We’ve created lists to follow— what to limit, what to avoid, what to eat more often, what is healthy. And not that this is unwanted. A certain amount of structure is required when making lifestyle changes like improving eating habits. Unfortunately food rules can sometimes create conflict and feelings of guilt, often leading to “dieter’s sabotage”. Feelings of failure, not being able to “stick to the rules” may cause you to want to give up!

Setting standards of perfection that are not realistic for yourself is an obstacle to be aware of. Recreating a healthy way of eating does not mean serving up a perfect plate each time you eat. Many foods can be part of a healthy diet. The holidays are a time to remember to be kind—especially to ourselves when it comes to realistic eating during times of celebration.

We eat for many reasons other than nourishing our bodies. Think about why you eat—hunger is often the number one reason. Habit is another one. How often do you eat because “it’s time to eat” rather than truly being hungry? But eating is also tied to life experiences and emotions. We eat to celebrate a special occasion like a holiday, anniversary or birthday. We eat when we are grieving or feeling sad. We eat as part of our social interactions— coffee break, happy hour, etc. We eat foods from our culture, and we eat for sentimental reasons. Remember your granny’s special dish or dessert that’s a must this time of year?

As you go forward into this holiday season, allow yourself to include a variety of healthy foods, but also to include some of the other foods that you truly enjoy. The foods that trigger childhood memories, or bring back thoughts of a special person or time. Allow celebration foods without the guilt.

Of course this doesn’t mean to throw caution to the wind. Focus on how much and how often you are eating. As always, portions matter a lot! For example, take pleasure in that favorite food using your senses—enjoy the texture, the complex flavors; slowly savor the feelings and sensory enjoyment you experience. Limit to a small serving, as its true the most enjoyable parts are the first and last bites! Embrace your healthy eating habits, while also enjoying some of your favorite foods. Create a balance that will contribute to long-term success rather than feelings of guilt or failure!

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