December 21, 2022

Eating around the holidays

Eating around the festive period can cause a lot of anxiety, especially for those with a weight or performance goal.

Shaping your mindset can be a game-changer for eating around the holidays.

Team EF Coaching nutritionist Spencer Miller goes in depth on how you can shape your mindset, based on your goals, mindful eating, paying attention to hunger cues, and getting rid of the “all-or-nothing" mentality.

Shaping your mindset

In order to shape your mindset for eating, you first need to know what your goals are. This is going to be different for everyone. Do you have a big race coming up that you need to keep on track for? Or are you in the lower volume off-season part of your training where you can relax a bit more? There is no wrong answer.

Figuring out your goals, and then shaping your eating mindset around them will help to guide you through the next few weeks of parties, dinners, and being surrounded by delicious food. If you have your goal in mind, whether that is being relaxed and indulging a bit more, or staying on track, you can be sure to take the steps to stick with it and enjoy yourself no matter what.

Let's start by diving into mindful eating.

Mindful eating

No matter what your goal, going into the holidays with the skill for mindful eating is super helpful. Heck, it is something that is also beneficial for the other 11 months of the year.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating, really, is just what it sounds like. It is tuning into your body and your thoughts while eating. It is focusing on your hunger cues, why you are eating what you are eating, and encouraging you to appreciate the sensory experience associated with eating.

Mindful eating is also being in tune with your fullness, and if you are eating because food is there, or if you truly have hunger and need to satisfy it through eating. When you are more aware of what you are eating, you are more likely to enjoy every bite.

Being mindful has been shown to be surprisingly effective at curbing harmful eating habits and fostering overall healthier behavior. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the September-October 2017 issue of Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that practicing mindfulness decreased binge and impulsive eating, and increased physical activity among study participants.

How do you go about mindful eating?

There are many tips to help you be more of a mindful eater in a time where you are surrounded by delicious food and it can be easy to want to start eating mindlessly.

1. Recognize your signs of hunger

As we mentioned above, you want to recognize what your hunger feels like and if it is true hunger you are experiencing, or if you are eating out of boredom or habit. If you are truly hungry, don’t deprive yourself. You NEED to eat. Recognizing this and being attentive to what that feels like is key.

2. Sitting to eat

This is an important one. When you stand to eat, you are much less likely to think about what you are eating and why. Your body can almost go into autopilot mode and keep eating just because the food is there.

3. Indulging outside of the holidays

If you are having the foods you enjoy, in moderation of course, year round, then you will be less likely to want to overeat on those foods during the holidays.

4. Slow down your eating

It takes time to realize that you are full and satisfied. You won’t instantly feel full when you eat a meal, even if the meal was enough to satisfy you. It takes some time for the stomach to talk to the brain and let you know that you have had enough. Eating slowly puts you in control and allows you to enjoy every bite without mindlessly scarfing down excess calories.

5. Chew!

Chew your food thoroughly. This is a big one for cyclists, because we are taught to eat so quickly on the bike [jam it in your mouth!] and off the bike we are frequently starving, so we “commence shoveling” like in the Simpsons. The more we chew our food, the more we pre-digest the food with enzymes in our mouths, which aids digestion and also takes more time, which helps us eat more slowly and therefore allows satiation to occur before we have eaten all the food on the plate.

Get rid of 'all-or-nothing' mentality

This one is important year round. No matter what your goals are with fitness and nutrition, getting ride of the “all-or-nothing" mentality is something to truly think about. Just because you couldn’t prepare a healthy salad for lunch doesn’t mean you should get a greasy burger and fries. You can make a compromise and try and get the healthiest option you can find at whatever restaurant you are at. Just because you can’t get your 3 hour endurance ride in doesn’t mean you should just skip riding altogether. You can opt to just ride for an hour or however much time you do have. Something is always better than nothing.

This all-or-nothing mindset can be so easy to fall into, especially during the holidays. You might have two cookies and just thin, “Well I messed up and ruined my diet with those two cookies so I might as well eat six more.”

The thing you need to know is that YOU DIDN’T SCREW UP. Yes, you read that right. You didn’t mess up by having those two cookies, or that piece of pie, or that bowl of ice cream, or your favorite mashed potatoes and gravy. There is no such thing as messing up. Enjoy yourself, eat the delicious food for the right reasons, and know that you didn’t mess up.

Don't feel guilty for enjoying yourself

This goes along with getting rid of that “all-or-nothing" mentality. Don’t feel guilty about indulging a little bit. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed with friends, family, good food, and good times. This is all part of it. You shouldn’t feel like you messed up because you gave yourself some slack from the diet or relaxed about training a bit more.

Punishing yourself and making yourself feel guilty for enjoying yourself will only lead to more problems. No one is perfect and we all enjoy ourselves around this time of year, and so should you.

At the same time, speaking of guilt, don't feel you need to be a member of the “clean plate club”. A lot of people grew up in houses where if you didn’t eat all your food, you were chastised for wasting food. So during the holidays you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Eat the food: feel guilty. Don’t eat the food: feel guilty. Ridiculous right?

To use one of coach Colby's favorite expressions: 'Guilt is like a suitcase. You just put it down, and walk away.'

In summary

Putting this together, what steps should you take for eating this holiday season?

Shape your mindset to meet your goals

Is it offseason and time to relax a bit more? or do you have an upcoming goal to stay on track for? Different people will have different goals and there is no wrong answer.

Practice mindful eating

Slow down so you can focus on what is true hunger and giving your body what it needs.

Get rid “all-or-nothing" mentality

One cookie or one missed workout doesn’t mean the rest of the day or week is a wash. Enjoy the cookie, take advantage of the time not working out, and get right back to it at the next meal or workout.

Don’t feel guilty

YOU DID NOT MESS UP. That is right. You can’t mess this up, and as long as you stick with that mindset, you can enjoy yourself, indulge a little, and feel good about doing it.

Focus on friends and family, not calories.


Alexis Ruffault, Sébastien Czernichow, Martin S. Hagger, Margot Ferrand, Nelly Erichot, Claire Carette, Emilie Boujut, Cécile Flahault, The effects of mindfulness training on weight-loss and health-related behaviours in adults with overweight and obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, Volume 11, Issue 5, Supplement 1, 2017, Pages 90-111, ISSN 1871-403X,