Expert Insight: Mindset Hacks to Combat Food Guilt

It all starts with a healthy mindset.

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino

One of the biggest things we struggle with (culturally) this time of year is food guilt. You see so much intrinsic shame around holiday foods (even the word ‘detox’ implies that holiday food is a toxin!) and a drive to ‘burn off’ calories or ‘earn’ your food.

Yes — this food is indulgent. Yes, we are big fans of portion control and living a healthy lifestyle! But part of that lifestyle includes a healthy relationship to food. Because stress is more of a toxin than grandma’s pie. Seriously.

We conferred with Kama Hagar, Certified Holistic Wellness Coach, and clinical dietitian Lisa Mastela, RD, MPH, founder of Bumpin’ Blends nutrition to talk about food guilt, and how to adjust our mindset around healthy holiday eating (which — surprise! — includes indulging).

Healthy Eating Includes a Healthy Mindset 

“As a holistic wellness coach, I implore you to look at your wellbeing from all dimensions: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual,” says Hagar. And this includes what you’re eating! “If something feels nourishing to one dimension, hear the message.” Think about that — that means while a piece of gingerbread might not be what you’re physically craving, maybe there’s a spiritual connection to someone you love who first shared gingerbread with you or an emotional connection to the nostalgia of the holidays!

“If your body is craving a few cookies at the Zoom holiday party, indulge,” says Hagar. “Your mental, emotional, and even spiritual needs can be met through conscious indulgence.”

That conscious indulgence is what we’re talking about today — how can we eat mindfully, indulge consciously, and remove the guilt from our plates this season? Onward!

5 Hacks to Combat Food Guilt According to Experts 

Hack #1 Treat Every Day Like a New Day

“Every day is a new day,” says Mastela. “Remind yourself: everything is temporary and every day is a fresh new day; You have the opportunity to start fresh each day, so you can remind yourself that enjoying some indulgences one day doesn’t mean it’s an everyday thing. It’s not your norm, it’s your holiday!” Consider this: are you eating turkey stuffing and eggnog lattés every week for 52 weeks? Our guess is no. Treat the season like the temporary, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it time that it is.

Hack #2 Make Some Time for Feel-Good Movement

Hagar says, “Caught you already! Don’t think of this as exercise to burn calories or shed pounds!” So no — this isn’t a burn-it-off, earn-your-meal workout… not in the slightest. “Think of this as your tribute to your body, and a time to move energy through it,” she explains. “Let this moment be a time to cherish it and consciously release any old patterning around food. You’ll feel better and clearer.”

Hack #3 Set Food Intentions

“Intentions keep you grounded, supported, and clear,” says Hagar. “Without setting or knowing your intentions around anything, you’re like a boat without a rudder — directionless and easily swayed.” Sound familiar? Here’s how to remedy that.

“Your intention could be, ‘I nourish my body in an intuitive way,’” she says. “It could also be: ‘I choose to indulge for my spirit today.’ It could be, ‘I vow to listen to what my body needs.’ It could even be food-specific, ‘Food is energy, and I consciously and lovingly consume that energy.’”

Try one of these before eating your next holiday meal or treat.

Hack #4 Meditate

Similarly, Mastela says to meditate on the aforementioned meal or treat beforehand. “If you’re someone who knows it’s going to be stressful for you to loosen the food habits you follow, prepare yourself mentally for it,” she explains. “Meditate on the peace and joy. Meditate on how it’ll feel to be in control and still be able to indulge. Prepare your mind to give yourself a break in advance so you’re ready. Know what events, days, weeks, foods you’re going to indulge and enjoy during so that you can be really present.”

That said, she notes that “If you don’t feel like it’ll be stressful to indulge over the holidays for you, then no need to do this — it’s more for people who are typically strict with their intake and it’s more stressful to think about indulging than not.” But it can’t hurt to add in some stress-busting meditation this season. After all, stress-management is the name of the game in healthy living! 

RELATED: Bust Holiday Stress With These 7 Quick Meditations

Hack #5 Give Yourself Permission to Feel GOOD

“Let yourself feel pleasure,” says Hagar. This is a radical idea for so many of us, but it’s so necessary — human beings need this experience! “The definition of ‘indulgence’ is ‘to allow oneself to enjoy pleasure,’: she says. “Please don’t cut yourself off from pleasure. You deserve a little joy!”

Mastela agrees and says to focus on the joy of it all — positive, warm-and-fuzzy holiday feelings. “The holidays are about love, relaxation, peace, joy  — those are the pillars!” she says. “Spending time with loved ones (over Zoom!), enjoying cheesy movies, cuddling by a fire, candles, and the smell of mulled wine. That’s. What. It’s. About.”

“Food is a huge part of those vibes, and by limiting yourself food-wise or even worse  — introducing guilt into the equation — you’re robbing yourself of the peaceful joy of this time of year. You deserve better.”

Mastela’s action plan: “Remind yourself: you deserve the peace and joy. Especially this year — we all deserve some darn peace and joy. Eat the cookies! Drink the mulled wine! Enjoy the JOY!”

Healthy Eating Includes a Healthy Mindset 

On that note, we hope you’re having a safe and healthy holiday, enjoying some well-deserved treats that fuel your soul, finding time to reflect and move in a way that feels good, and celebrating life. Happy holidays!