The holidays are around the corner, and that usually means an onslaught of articles about healthy eating. So much of this advice encourages dieting and fearing weight gain, but as non-diet dietitians, we'd like to give a more weight inclusive side of the story and challenge the weight loss rhetoric that too often co-ops the holiday spirit.
What's wrong with advice on preventing holiday weight gain?
You may not be able to prevent weight gain over the holidays, and that's OK! Weight fluctuations are a reality for anyone who is living in a human body. They aren't a sign of "doing something wrong."
Weight changes during the holidays happen for a variety of reasons, including medications, change in activity levels, chaotic routine, lack of self-care, sleep, stress and yes, what we eat. We can only control some of these influences.
Holiday eating is neither naughty nor nice
Holiday eating looks different for everyone. For some, holiday eating is meals with family and friends. For others, it's eating while driving to meet family across town. It ranges from making gourmet meals from scratch to ordering take out to catch a break. There's no right or wrong way to eat during the holidays.
Holiday eating articles will often remind us to avoid eating too little prior to the event, and thus arriving too hungry. We couldn't agree more! However, there are many otherreasons why people may go to a party hungry that extend beyond dieting, such as lacking self-care during busy periods.
Our health is very complex and is influenced by a huge number of factors.
Although we encourage our clients to nourish their bodies the best way they can, it's not uncommon for people to skip a meal in order to complete chores. Sure, these people may be more likely to overeat during dinner and compensate for the nourishment they missed out during the day, but attending an event hungry and eating more than usual or beyond fullness will not affect your overall health.
Eating at holiday gatherings
We encourage our clients to listen to hunger and fullness cues to guide eating, and we're happy to see some holiday articles advocating for the same! However, some articles go so far to as to recommend finding a quiet place to eat, or sitting with people who will let you eat in peace.
This is fine advice if you can or want to follow it, but for many, eating during the holidays is a social activity and a time to catch up with loved ones. Often sitting quietly alone or refusing to participate in holiday conversations while eating detracts from the spirit and joy of the holidays. Not to mention how children factor into this equation!
As parents, we both know how hard it can be to eat our food warm, pay attention to its flavours and textures, while also talking with other adults and tending to our children's needs. We aren't "bad eaters" or incompetent because our meals cannot be eaten in peace or every bite savoured.
Weight and health
With the popularity of intuitive eating rising, we often come across the erroneous idea that competent or intuitive eaters don't gain weight over the holidays. Sorry, but this isn't based on science.
Does eating intuitively or competently reduce the chance of weight fluctuations due to dieting? Yes. But our weight fluctuates for many other reasons too, including ageing, certain disease and medications, gut dysbiosis, socioeconomic status, stress, and discrimination and oppression, just to name a few.
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There's nothing in life that can guarantee a stable weight. Our bodies evolved to be able to fluctuate in size in order to keep us healthy.
New Year's resolutions
If you are a New Year's resolution type of person, here is our suggestion to you: try spending your energy and time on self-compassion, gratitude and awareness. Rather than put your energy into dieting or changing your weight, try something that is truly beneficial for your physical and mental health.
Holidays and celebrations have become about weight: losing weight beforehand, avoiding weight gain during and atoning afterwards. Diet culture steals our energy and time that we could otherwise be spending with loved ones during the holidays connecting and celebrating.
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