healthy eating for healthy aging

Holiday Food Judgement

Holiday Food Judgement

When it comes to food and weight: ‘Tis the season for judgment, guilt and shaming.

  • Don’t eat fat
  • Don’t eat sugar
  • Don’t eat once-a-year holiday treats
  • Don’t drink. Especially don’t drink eggnog unless it’s non-fat and artificially sweetened with fake whipped topping (Ugh, why bother?)
  • Restrict your calories

Recently I was chatting with a woman who had lost over 50 lbs in the past year. She did this on her own terms, and described the diet advice she’d gotten in the past as “judgey”: weight shaming, calorie restrictions, health fear-mongering. Judgey comments were no longer welcome because they were not helpful. She wasn’t interested in judgey information about her supposedly ideal calorie intake or weight.

I think plenty of health care professionals don’t get that. The conventional wisdom is that people will be motivated by calorie restrictions and scary warnings about excess weight. At this point in time, we have to admit that this conventional wisdom isn’t so wise. If that stuff worked to motivate people to lose weight, there would be no worsening obesity epidemic.

There’s a patronizing aspect to that conventional “wisdom”. Like a person carrying extra weight doesn’t know? Needs reminding and nagging, followed by a list of diet restrictions? People can’t be coerced into losing weight or (better yet) simply eating a more healthful diet.

Why am I talking about this now? It’s conceivable that judgey food and diet advice will intrude on your holidays. You might be the unwilling target from friends or family, whether it’s outright criticism (“you’re eating CARBS??”) or someone’s raised eyebrows when you put mashed potatoes on your plate, or implied criticism (“I haven’t eaten carbs in 3 months!”). Or you might be tempted to offer unsolicited advice or have a judgey reaction to someone else’s choices. I know, I’ve done it, but never again.

Strategies for not being judgey

  • If you’re hosting, don’t overdo it on food choices. How many desserts do you really need? How many heavy side dishes? How many cheesy/creamy appetizer dips?
  • Be sure there are plenty of fresh vegetable and fruit options at meals and for snacks.
  • Don’t leave tempting treats like cookies or candy sitting out. Close the cookie tins and candy boxes and put them in a cabinet.
  • Serve speciality drinks in small glasses. Serve eggnog or hot chocolate in little 4-ounce cups (or even in espresso cups). Have plenty of water available (seltzer, carbonated or tap), as well as iced or hot tea or coffee.
  • Set a good example. Whether you’re concerned for yourself or a guest, decline second helpings, take modest portions, eat slowly and savor the flavors.
  • DO NOT talk about diets or calories, or how much fat is in this or that, or carbs or gluten or fad diets at any holiday meal or party. If someone else starts doing that, change the subject.
  • When offered a food you’d rather avoid, NEVER EVER say “I can’t eat that, I’m on a diet”. Here’s what you say: “No thanks.” Period.
  • Organize events that include physical activity when possible. Try to stick with your own exercise routines through the busy times.

The result is that better food choices are the default option for everyone. Sure, a person can still choose to overeat big portions or second and third helpings, but you did your bit to encourage moderation.

Judgey about being Judgey?

You bet. And I’m not backing down from that. Clearly the nagging, judging, restricting, Food Police strategy hasn’t worked, and perhaps made the collective weight problem worse. Time to rethink that. My approach is to ditch the diet score-keeping, eat real wholesome food in modest or even small portions, and model good food attitudes.

So, enjoy special holiday foods. January is right around the corner and we can all get back to normal.