From late October to the end of December is a wonderful, sometimes stressful, but usually enjoyable time for a lot of people. With more and more people getting vaccinated and feeling comfortable getting out around others, you’re bound to have more opportunities to be invited to various holiday parties and celebrations involving plenty of food, drinks and festivities.

But for many people, this can add yet another layer of stress as they worry about overindulging, gaining more weight than they already have during the pandemic, or falling off their diets. Let me encourage you to relax this year and use the following four holiday eating tips as your survival guide:

Embrace the season

I truly don’t think it is normal to try and exercise restraint when a holiday feast has been spread out all around you for you to enjoy. Obsessing about every calorie at a holiday party is not healthy, to say the least. It is important to be able to give yourself permission to eat enough of your favorite holiday foods.

Nevertheless, understand that this does not mean a license to overeat. I’m not suggesting you throw caution to the wind and eat anything and everything in sight. I still believe in nourishing our bodies with good, healthy food. What I am suggesting is that we realize that this is a season of feasting and embracing that without fear or guilt attached to it.

Realize it’s OK to feel full

Along the same lines, recognize that we sometimes eat for an experience and not just physical sustenance. We just want the pleasure that comes from eating certain wonderful foods, and the holidays are a perfect example of when we do this.

And while we do our best to listen to our bodies so we don’t end up physically sick, sometimes we overshoot the mark of our hunger and end up overstuffed anyway. Just know that this is not the end of the world, it doesn’t mean you have wrecked your health, your diet, or have gained a ton of weight. It is just a temporary sensation of fullness, and as you honor your body and your health in subsequent meals your weight and feelings will come back to normal.

Set 'loving limits'

Since some of the goodies we enjoy at this time of year are seasonal, we can sometimes struggle with self-control because we think “I won’t be able to eat this for another year so I may as well have another slice!” We want to be able to have the freedom to enjoy good food and yummy desserts, but we don’t want to be boundary-less and eat so much we hurt ourselves.

This means we must set “loving limits.” One mother, for example, set a loving limit of five "fun-size" pieces of Halloween candy a day for herself after that holiday. The hope is to feel good, but at the same time exercise some discipline, not out of a feeling of deprivation or avoidance but because it is what you really want in your heart of hearts, to honor your body and be healthy.

Avoidance can just inflame desire, but loving limits gives you permission while setting healthy boundaries to support your body in feeling healthy and energetic, as opposed to stuffed and lethargic. It’s a skill, but you can learn it.

Focus your time and energy on people

There is nothing better to overcome overindulgence or seemingly addictive eating habits than focusing your time and energy on people. The holidays are a wonderful time to reconnect with family and loved ones, especially after this long season of social distancing, and it is equally good to reach out with love and charity to those less fortunate than ourselves.

Engaging in conversation, meeting new people and catching up with family and friends at holiday parties will help you remember that the parties are not all about food. There are much more important and meaningful things to focus your energies on.

As you do, your health and eating patterns will experience a new wholeness, and you’ll have a tasty and healthy holiday season.

Thomas Morrison is a fitness coordinator at the Bradley Wellness Center.

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