Why is holiday food so complicated? 

When you live your life on and off diets, every day becomes defined by what you are, or aren’t, eating. Are you being “good” or “bad”? Are you “on track” or “off track”? When you view certain foods as off limits, you create a mindset of scarcity that makes food seem absolutely, impossibly irresistible. Making food rules may seem like you’re taking control over food, but in effect, you’re giving it much more power.

For example: Let’s say you’ve decided to avoid carbs because you feel you can’t control yourself around them. As soon as you tell yourself you can’t have them, you start to want them desperately. Even more than before, and you didn’t think that was possible.

One night, your roommate/spouse/parent/child comes home with a whole pizza: “This was leftover from a party today, help yourself if you want some!” Ohhhh boy. The carbs are within reach. Just one slice…….okay just two. Okay just three slices but that’s all. Even after a fourth slice you’re still obsessing over the damn pizza. Since you never allow yourself anywhere near pizza, it could be weeks, even months, until your next slice!!!

That’s the power of perceived scarcity. You don’t know when you’ll get to eat pizza again, so you feel compelled to eat all of the pizza, right now, as if you could create an internal pizza reservoir to draw from during your next diet. Coupled with actual, physiological hunger, it’s a perfect storm for binge eating (followed by restriction, followed by binge eating, followed by restriction, and on and on and on).

Now imagine your favorite carb also happens to be seasonal: Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Your grandma’s stuffing. Holiday cookies. Special Christmas pudding. You tell yourself not to eat these “bad” foods, but when’s the next time you’ll get the chance to taste them again? A WHOLE YEAR FROM NOW.

That’s the power of perceived scarcity plus actual scarcity. You feel compelled to eat all of these delicious foods in large quantities as if you could create a holiday goodie reservoir to take you through the other months of the year.

If pizza weren’t blacklisted as a “bad” food, you’d know you could actually have it whenever you wanted. If pumpkin pie weren’t a “bad” food AND a seasonal food, you’d know you could have it whenever you wanted. That double scarcity makes holiday foods very, very complicated for anyone struggling with any degree of disordered eating.

This year, I hope you’ll give non-restrictive eating a try. You can eat what you want. You can enjoy without guilt, shame, or reservation. You can always, always go back for more. (But you can’t, unfortunately, create a food reservoir to last the rest of the year. I’ve tried and tried and it never works. Our silly stomachs have not yet developed reservoir technology, so we gotta aim for satisfaction in the moment, and keep it moving.)

Food isn’t really “good” or “bad” — assigning moral judgments to food is a trait of disordered eating, a hallmark of our guilt-laden diet culture, and a surefire way to fuel a binge. I’m done thinking of my favorite foods as my “weakness.” Nah, they’re just my favorite.

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