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5 top tips for avoiding Christmas guilt

Christmas is often a very social time of year, where we get together with friends and family for large meals and boxes of Celebrations are passed around. When you have certain health goals, it can be frustrating to be surrounded by constant temptation and frequently lead to feelings of guilt when we ‘give in’.

Most of the time, guilt around food is related to ‘shoulds’ and strict rules, which we think we ought to be following. For example, that we should be eating certain foods, that we shouldn’t be eating chocolate, that we should only have 1-2 potatoes, and so on. And every time we break a rule, we feel guilty about it. So, what can we do to stop this?

1) Ditch the ‘shoulds’

Should’ sentences about food or drink come from a place of harsh restriction and striving for perfection.

Every time you catch yourself saying any sentence that has a ‘should’ in it, reformulate it to change it from a harsh rule to an attainable goal.

For example:

Red cross symbol.
‘I should drink more water and less fizzy drinks’

This kind of thought results in us feeling restricted. It’s human nature to want to do something more when we feel like it’s off limits!

Stop and reformulate this thought to:

Green tick illustration.
‘Today, I am going to start drinking more water and less fizzy drinks’


Green tick illustration.
‘I want to drink more water and less fizzy drinks’

Setting this as a positive intention means that we are less likely to feel guilty if we experience a slip-up and more likely to feel a sense of achievement if we stick to it.

2) Manage your expectations

There is much more temptation and opportunity to stray from your health goals over the festive period. It’s not necessary to be completely restrictive and say no to every indulgence. Try thinking ahead and managing your expectations of yourself in advance.

For example, if you have a work Christmas dinner on Friday, and you know it’s a 3-course meal, there is a high chance you will want a dessert that day. Consider this beforehand, and maybe in the few days leading up to the event, you could swap any sugary snacks (dried fruit, biscuits, chocolate) for healthy alternatives (veggie sticks and hummus, natural plain yoghurt, a handful of unsalted mixed nuts).

By thinking ahead and managing your own expectations, you can prepare for occasional indulgences and then not give in to spontaneous temptation, which often leaves us feeling guilty.

3) Practise mindful eating

When we’re cosying up on the sofa to watch The Holiday or Love Actually it’s easy to reach for a snack and finish it without much conscious thought.

Mindful eating is an important tool to help us become more aware of what we’re eating, how much we’re eating, and why we’re eating it. In the long run, this can help us control our portion sizes and stay in tune with what our body actually needs.

Eating our meals and snacks distraction-free is the first step to practising mindful eating. Try to avoid having a snack in front of the TV, on the phone, or while reading. If you have no distractions in front of you, then you can focus on the look, smell, flavour, and texture of your food and really enjoy it.

Then, try to slow down your eating. If we eat too quickly, it can be difficult to listen to our internal hunger cues, which tell us when we are full.

4) Avoid the all-or-nothing mindset

If you do spontaneously indulge with food or alcohol, try not to let it ruin the rest of your day or week. It’s completely fine to relax and enjoy festive celebrations. The important thing is trying to make sure it doesn’t affect the rest of your week.

This kind of thinking is one of the main drivers causing a small set-back to result in people feeling guilty and quitting altogether. ‘All-or-nothing’ thinking is when we see things purely in ‘black or white’.

Avoiding this kind of thinking will prevent something psychologists call the ‘what-the-hell effect’. This effect describes the cycle many people fall into once they have indulged slightly, regretted indulging, and then gone back for more because ‘what-the-hell, you’ve already blown it’.

Try thinking in shades of grey, which means thinking somewhere in between, for example, ‘I ate too much last night, but the whole week doesn’t have to be perfect. I can eat a healthy breakfast and lunch today and make the rest of the day OK’.

5) Detach moral value from food

Try to stop categorising foods as ‘good’, ‘bad’, or ‘treat’, as this encourages the idea that certain foods are off-limits. This kind of restriction not only makes these foods more appealing but can also harbour an unhealthy relationship with food, and make us obsess over our food choices.

Instead, foods that you know are less healthy are simply foods to eat in moderate portions, mindfully, and less often. Then, foods we know provide lots of nutritional value for us can be foods we try to eat every day.

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Write a response

Lindsay Vale
29 December, 2019

All good advice, I’ll try to recall it when I’m tempted to eat off plan .. I think I need to restart reset on Jan 1 st !

Anne Harper
29 December, 2019

Christmas day was hard for me. I had a close friend, who knew I was struggling with my weight bring me 3 large bags of sweet treats/bars/ boxes full. I have kept some, ie the protein bars and redistributed the others to family and friends.

Angela Goodman
26 December, 2019

This is nothing new but it’s a good and very helpful reminder. Thank you!
(By the way, grammatically speaking, it’s ‘fewer’ fizzy drinks, not ‘less’.)

24 December, 2019

Love this article. Takes the pressure off, which can only help. Thank you – spot on as usual 🥰

Dee Greig-Dunn
24 December, 2019

Always good to be reminded of these approaches, especially mindful eating. Thank you.

Mary Foley
24 December, 2019

Thank you very much for this. I found it very useful reading.

Shona Riley
24 December, 2019

Thanks for the reminders. Very helpful article,thanks.

Ellen Campbell
23 December, 2019

Wise and supportive words. Being too critical of one self tends to result in very negative behaviours. We all need to be more aware and take a responsible approach and attitude towards our eating habits without demonising ourselves if we slip up from time to time… We are but human….

Jo Havery-Harding
17 December, 2019

Brilliant advice. The mindful eating is what I take away from this along with being kinder to myself if I get something ‘wrong’ (as I used to see it) in the world of food! I can’t wait for Christmas because I feel so much happier with what and how I eat these days. Bring it on!

Mary Garbutt
16 December, 2019

I tend to be an all or nothing sort of person when it comes to eating and found this article very helpful/encouraging.

Kath Jackson
13 December, 2019

I agree, there are so many things we say are ‘bad’, or ‘naughty’ when in fact we can’t attribute these descriptions to food or ourselves.

Bridget Ramage
11 December, 2019

Thank you for this reminder. Its is too easy just to throw the towel in when things don’t quite go according to plan.

Emma Golby-Kirk
11 December, 2019

This is great advice. Sometimes in these situations we eat food out of politeness to the host. It is helpful to get a sense of perspective and not worry too much but move on.

Karen Partridge
11 December, 2019

This is so so helpful! Thank you. I think that one of the most important things I have learned from Second Nature is that a wandering away from the plan is just that, and to return again as soon as you notice it or you can, will sort it out fast. I have been thinking about it in the same way as managing thoughts whilst meditating, that the learning and the practice is in returning over and over again.

11 December, 2019

An excellent reminder

Winifred Harwood
10 December, 2019

With Christmas fast approaching I found this a very sensible and realistic approach about how to cope with the festive season in terms of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Maxine Fay
10 December, 2019

Excellent article. My mantra over the next few weeks is going to be engage brain (and mind) before eating.

Jan Andrews
10 December, 2019

Thank you very, very interesting and timely article

Marina Cusack
10 December, 2019

Well timed reminder, thank you 😊. I was beginning to feel panicky with all the availability of chocolate, sweets and other goodies…. It has never struck me how much such things are pushed upon us at this time of year….

7 December, 2019

Interesting article and a good reminder pre Christmas.
We actually did the mindful chocolate eating at a Practice Nurse forum I attended last week as part of a mental health update. 😊

Moira Collett
7 December, 2019

One of the best ideas I’ve picked up so far in my Second Nature journey has been the concept of mindful eating, and it is certainly coming into its own at this time of year.

3 December, 2019

This is an interesting and useful article.
I definitely have a tendency to be a “what the hell” girl. Quite a hard thought pattern to break.
Picking myself up the next day is not too bad, but acting with moderation in the moment is much more difficult. It’s sometimes better not to start but that can be a pretty boring place to be!

2 December, 2019

Great article. Thank you for the reminder.

Patricia McConnell
2 December, 2019

Great advice and support as ever from Second Nature team helping support all through the festive season and beyond

2 December, 2019

This can’t be over emphasized really. We all know it but seeing and hearing it being re-enforced is always good. Thank you. Catrin

Helen Faichen
2 December, 2019

This is all very good advice, I know it’s been covered in the articles, but a timely reminder to boost your mindset over the xmas period is great. Thank you.