A diverse group of young adult friends seated and sharing a meal together. They are cheersing their glasses and smiling towards one another

Savor the Season: The Anti-Dieter’s Guilt-Free Guide to Surviving the Holidays

As the holiday season approaches, we find ourselves teetering on the cusp of celebration and apprehension. The air is filled with the promise of heartwarming gatherings and festive flavors. Still, it's also laced with guilt-inducing whispers of diet culture which can lead to heightened anxiety, stress, and other mental health challenges. What if we could rewrite this holiday narrative, allowing ourselves to savor without fear?

For decades, folks have been bombarded with messages promoting diets and weight loss as the key to happiness, self-worth, and health. The diet industry generates mass revenue by preying on insecurities and conveying unrealistic standards through these messages. However, an increasing number of individuals are rejecting these notions, subscribing to a different approach to well-being. The anti-diet movement offers a liberating and refreshing perspective on health that is based on self-acceptance, autonomy, and the rejection of diet culture.

Anecdotally, many find that adopting this approach is a significant step towards a more inclusive, compassionate, and holistic approach to well-being. Likewise, there is sufficient evidence that suggests a need for a shift from the conventional, weight-focused approach to an intuitive eating and body-awareness approach like HAES or the anti-diet movement (Bacon & Aphramor, 2011).

In the same spirit of autonomy, I encourage you to approach this guide as a menu of potentially helpful strategies to support you in celebrating the holiday season guilt-free.

1. Practice Self Compassion

Be kind to yourself and recognize that it's okay to enjoy your favorite holiday treats without guilt. Remind yourself to have patience with the process of unlearning and allow yourself to acknowledge the plethora of mixed feelings that can arise this time of year.

Contrary to the common belief that self-compassion equates to self-indulgence, research indicates that self-compassion is associated with greater personal initiative to make needed changes in one’s life and prioritize health and well-being because one actually cares about oneself (Neff, 2011). Self-compassion is not just an afterthought in the anti-diet movement; it's at its very core. When you treat yourself with kindness and respect, you're taking a powerful step toward ditching diet culture for good.

  • Try this: Spare 20 minutes of your day to practice extending loving-kindness to your body with a guided body scan like this one by self-compassion researcher, Kristin Neff.

2. Mindfulness is Key

Embrace the joy of savoring every bite, allowing yourself to fully experience the flavors and textures of holiday foods. Give yourself permission to eat all types of food and get curious about what will satisfy you. Understand that denying your body the energy it needs may trigger a survival response, leading to intense feelings of hunger and a primal drive to overeat.

Try to create distance from obsessive thoughts to count or “save” calories. Instead, focus on mindful eating. Savor the varying textures, rich flavors, and nostalgic aromas of holiday dishes.

  • Try this: Grab a food (preferably something easy to hold) to practice engaging with the senses. Start by noticing what it looks like in front of you. What color is it? How big or small is it? Now, place it in your hand and take note of its texture, weight, or anything else that stands out as it sits on your skin. Next, notice what it smells like when you place it by your nose. When you place the food in your mouth, how does it taste? What about texture? Pay attention to as many flavors and sensations as you can while you chew.

3. Show Up for Yourself by Managing Stress

On top of increased anxiety and guilt from diet culture, stressors like gift-giving, decorating, hosting, and family dynamics are plentiful during this season. Implement stress management techniques like paced breathing, mindfulness, and grounding to stay centered and reduce anxiety.

Be mindful with your movement and use it to manage stress rather than punish yourself. Mindful movement is all about being fully present in the moment as you move your body. It encourages you to pay attention to your body's sensations, your breath, and your surroundings.

  • Try this: Whether you opted out of a family gathering altogether or volunteered to run to the store for an extra ingredient, take a moment to check in with yourself. Are you in fight or flight mode? If so, try a relaxation technique like deep breathing which reverses this symptom, and triggers a relaxation response. Box breathing and 478 breathing techniques are useful places to start.

4. Set and Honor Social Limits

Family and social gatherings can be breeding grounds for detrimental diet-talk. Prioritize your mental health by setting healthy limits, expectations, and boundaries and honoring that of others. Prepare strategies to navigate conversations about dieting, weight, and food policing. Tactfully redirect the conversation or have a rehearsed response to intrusive questions.

 Remember, not everyone will be enthusiastic or positive about your requests for limits—this does not necessarily mean they won’t honor them. Aim not to let the fear of their responses keep you from focusing on the outcome.

  • Try this: Directly and concisely express your needs and wants, politely change the subject, or remove yourself from the environment in a way that’s accessible and safe. For example, you could say something like: 
“I’m working on healing my relationship with food, dieting has come with a lot of pain for me. I’m really not vibing with diet-talk right now.”

5. Recruit Supportive Allies

Engage with people who understand and support your anti-dieting approach. Whether it's your favorite cousin or a close friend, sharing your feelings and experiences with like-minded folks can promote a powerful sense of solidarity. Having a support system can aid you in navigating awkward social situations and staying committed to your wellness intentions.

 Simple gestures like sharing a knowing glance or a subtle nudge with someone you trust can go a long way. You can even develop a shared plan of action or code phrase like, “Let’s take a walk around the block.”

  • Try this: Identify your needs first. Do you need someone to vent to or someone to support you in looking for solutions? Be as specific as you can when you reach out.

6. Seek Professional Support and Resources

If you find that the holiday season is particularly challenging for your mental health, consider consulting a mental health professional if you have the means to do so. Therapy can provide valuable coping strategies tailored to your unique needs.

  • Try this: Check out these lower-cost and/or free resources to learn more.

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating Reject the Diet Mentality
by Anna Butler, LCSW  
Go Ahead. Eat Your Holiday Feelings.
By Christy Harrison

"The Love, Food Podcast"
- Hosted by Julie Duffy Dillon
"The Food Psych Podcast"
#304 and #264 - Hosted by Christy Harrison

The Body Is Not an Apology
by Sonya Renee Taylor
Health at Every Size
by Lindo Bacon
Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating
by Christy Harrison, MPH, RD 
Intuitive Eating
by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

7. Reconnect With Your Values

Remind yourself of the reasons you embraced this approach in the first place. Stay true to your values and the commitment to taking care of your mental health, even in the face of societal pressures.

For example, prioritize the value of connection with loved ones over counting calories or scrutinizing food choices. Engage in conversations and shared experiences that enrich your holiday gatherings.

  • Try this: Journal or simply reflect on your values related to both fueling your body and the holiday season. Do you value freedom from guilt, connection, mindful savoring, or something else? How can you maintain your connection to these values during the holidays? What would it look like? What barriers could arise and how might you cope with them?


Closing Thoughts

As you embark on this holiday journey, remember this season is a time for unapologetic joy and celebration of abundance in every aspect of life. Create new traditions this year by prioritizing self-compassion, showing up for yourself, setting limits, and practicing mindfulness. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and nurturing both is a meaningful way to celebrate the season with authenticity.