It seems to me like there is always a reason to celebrate. We've barely come up for air from "the Holidays" (i.e. November and December), when the Superbowl hits us. Then it's Valentine's Day, St Patrick's Day, Passover and Easter, the list goes on. In my work with clients, we focus a lot on how to handle these “special occasion” eating situations.
It seems to me that we need to switch our mindset. Instead of a holiday being a reason to throw caution to the wind, I wonder if we need to treat holidays more like Tuesdays. And honestly, I’m less interested in living most of life under crazy restrictions that make me feel like I need to treat myself to something, and more interested in living out enjoyable health each day.
After all, understanding these special occasions is actually just figuring out how to do life NOT on a diet. Living a real life, with real friends and family, with real opportunities to celebrate and enjoy good food and good people.
In the past, I wrote a post on “surviving” these seasons that was pretty focused on behavior / weight management. I also guest wrote a blog on how to make Easter healthier. Nothing inherently wrong with those posts - the ideas that I share there are still true from a nutrition perspective. But as my understanding of intuitive eating, taking a non-diet approach, and truly making peace with food has evolved, so has my ultimate advice and response to a special occasion.
My best advice on how to handle a special occasion isn’t just to restrict yourself or try to exhibit more self-control. It’s much more about giving yourself the freedom to enjoy the foods that are at your table and to take in the full experience of the holiday. Here are some of my top ways to thrive at a food-oriented social occasion.
Remember: It’s Not ALL About the Food
It’s going to feel like it is, but it’s not. Food should be enjoyed, food is a wonderful and fantastic part of life, but there is so much more to life than thinking about food, eating food, or avoiding foods. Enjoy the traditions of the day, especially those with spiritual or religious meaning to you. Step away from the food and get lost in a good conversation. Get on the floor and play with your kids. Or, let someone else play with them and enjoy using two hands or sitting in silence for more than 2 seconds.
Choose Abundance over Scarcity
When foods are associated with a specific day or season, they tend to be overdone (pumpkin spice, anyone?!). But when we realize that foods may be associated with a particular day, but we could enjoy them ANY TIME WE WANT, it helps take away the desire to go nuts. Sure, there is something amazing about cinnamon rolls or a challah bread French toast at Easter or Passover. But real talk? You could make those in August. This mentality switch helps you from feeling like you’re depriving yourself, to knowing that you’re only enjoying what you really need/want.
Only Eat What You Like / Choose the Best
This isn’t an excuse to consume nothing but Cadbury creme eggs, but rather a reminder that there are some “special” foods that you don’t really love. Don’t settle for a cheap imitation of what you really want. I always crave foods with strong flavors. Give me dark chocolate over milk chocolate any day. I’d rather have one glass of a big, bold, dry red wine than a whole bottle of a lighter, thin or fruity one. When it comes to cheese, I want the sharpest, boldest option out there. So I won’t choose most of the Easter candy that will be everywhere, I won’t drink wine just because it’s there, and I pass on cheese that doesn’t hold it’s own.
DYK that there is a TRUE connection between what you see yourself eating and your hunger hormones? When you don’t take time to let you eyes register what you’ve eaten, you truly don’t feel as full. No need to graze all morning without enjoying the food you’re eating. Choose a smaller plate (even if you fill it up more than once!), so that you can practice visual abundance. When you’re fully present with your food, you will enjoy it more, be more satisfied by it, and feel better the next day for not eating to the point of discomfort.
Let Your Kids Try Things
One of the hardest things about embracing an intuitive eating approach is to apply it to parenting (or is that just me?). At occasions like this, give your child choices that include the special foods. Normalize them, instead of making them a big deal. You may find that they choose fruit as often as they choose a cookie or piece of candy when they are both given at the same time. Of course, you are still the parent, and you get to say no. The age of your children plays a big role in this, as well. For my toddler, she’ll have a plate that is mostly foods I know will help nourish her, but it won’t be devoid of foods that are for her pure enjoyment.
But It’s OK to Prioritize Nutrition
Depending on your friends and family, you might feel the pressure to “be good” or you might feel the pressure to throw caution to the wind at a special occasion. Either way, it’s ok to push back and embrace what’s best for you. If you want to make half your plate fruits and veggies, choose high-quality protein options and avoid overindulging - that’s ok, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed for making the choice your body wants.
Eyes on Your Own Plate
Don’t worry about what other people are eating. Don’t worry about what other people think about what you’re eating. Don’t let that comparison game steal your joy - or theirs. You are the expert of your body. Only you know if you’ve overdone it lately and are craving veggies again. Only you know if all you want is a big ol’ piece of quiche and the heck to anyone who gets in your way. Only you know potential GI distress from a specific food or ingredient. And remember to extend that same courtesy to everyone else around you (even if, and especially if, it’s only in your head)!
How do you make your health thrive during special occasions?