Excuse my language, but it’s been a hell of a year. We all hoped COVID wouldn’t last until the holidays. And, now it has. 2020 has somehow managed to snuff out so many of our normal traditions and ways of life.
Without a doubt, we’ve all made sacrifices this year. We’ve rearranged plans, isolated ourselves, and endured the lag of video calls to wish loved ones yuletide greetings.
These holes in tradition have caused heartache indeed. But I do believe we will be closer in the longer run. I sincerely do. I for one will be squeezing friends and family a little tighter when they again return safely within my reach.
But amidst all of these traditions upheaved, I have some good news to share.
You Can Feel Free to Eat the Christmas Cookie
That’s right. The Dietitian said it. He even put it in bold, so as to make the message clear.
“Wait, wait, wait… aren’t you supposed to be obsessed with kale and veggie smoothies or something?”
Look – I didn’t become a dietitian to become the food police. I love food. And, I love empowering people to live healthier lives through nutrition and exercise.
I went through the kale smoothie stage in grad school. It was fine and good, but sometimes you just have to enjoy the Christmas cookie.
A couple week’s ago, a friend gifted me these delicious and beautiful cookies. Even though they were beautiful pieces of art, my wife and I ate them, and I enjoyed every single bite. You should do the same.
But… Shouldn’t I Avoid Sweets if I Want to Eat Healthy?
Obviously, a sugar cookie is not the most nutrient dense option you could choose. But our health is also not the result of one decision.
Too often when it comes to nutrition we lump certain foods into binary choices of “good” or “bad”. Then when we crave or choose those foods on the “naughty” list we label ourselves as “weak” or “lacking self-discipline”. Unfortunately, this doesn’t typically help most people. Often times it even backfires.
Think about it this way – what happens when you tell a kid they can’t have something?
They want it more, right?
Well, you may not be a child, but our adult brains often act the same way. We double down. Now it’s not just one cookie – we want the whole box.
So, if you’re trying to make healthy decisions, and eat better, what are you supposed to do? The holidays can feel like a gauntlet. There’s Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Then comes New Years with ad nauseum resolutions to “eat better”, “exercise”, and “get fit”.
So, what do you do?
Savor that Cookie Like Never Before
Think about this for a minute. How do you savor something? What might you do to savor a food?
If you look at the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it defines Savor as:
- to have experience of
- to taste or smell with pleasure
- to delight in
Or, as the Cambridge Dictionary succinctly puts it, savor is defined as “to enjoy food or an experience slowly, in order to enjoy it as much as possible”.
That’s what I want you to do. Savor the cookie, savor your meal, savor the Christmas holiday, and every moment you have. You deserve to take the time to savor your life, not just on Christmas Day. But, if not on Christmas, when?
So, here I come back to my earlier question. What does it look like to savor your food?
As I wrote in my previous blog post, I firmly believe that the road to wellness begins with awareness. That means practicing mindfulness when we eat. That means recognizing that we have a choice about what we eat, and it also means savoring the foods we do choose to eat.
With that said, I’ll leave you with a few tips to savor your food, without giving up your goals of health and fitness.
Choose Your Food with Purpose and Intent
Eating isn’t just about nutrition. We make food/eating choices for various reasons.
- We’re hungry and our belly is complaining.
- The food just tastes so amazing!
- Boredom… I guess I’m just not sure what else to do…
- It’s family tradition!
- We’re stressed out!
- Sharing in good cheer with companionship.
None of these reasons are particularly bad. But, how often do you stop to ask yourself why you’re eating a particular food or meal? Try it.
By recognizing “why” we’re making particular food choices, we can allow ourselves to make more intentional choices. For example, if you recognize that you’re hungry, you might be able to hijack your hands from endlessly grazing the cookie platter. Then you can pause to ask yourself, “what kind of food would be most satisfying to me in this moment?”
Maybe it’s a cookie. Or maybe it’s a handful of nuts. Maybe it’s both. And by combining that carb heavy cookie with a protein (nuts), you might feel more satisfied, causing you to graze a little bit less.
Whatever you do, choose that food with intention. Choose with purpose. Then savor that choice.
Slow Down & Pay Attention
In our culture, we don’t often slow down enough. Our meals are often eaten on the run, in the car, or at a computer. We treat our meals like an inconvenience – and we therefore treat our needs as an inconvenience.
So, stop. Eat that cookie, but slow down.
Take a deep breath before that first bite. Deep diaphragmatic breathing increases the oxygen exchange in your lungs, and helps to relieve stress and anxiety. It also helps prepare us to focus and eat our meal with intention.
Notice how that cookie feels as you bite into it. Remember, your taste buds are in your mouth, not your stomach. So, take your time to enjoy the flavor and texture of the food in your mouth.
Check-in with yourself. How is that first bite? Does that second bite taste as good as the first bite? Studies have shown that food is the most satisfying on the first bite, and it then tends to decline with each additional bite, in terms of our satisfaction. You can even try your own test.
As you bite into that cookie, rate your pleasure on a scale of 1-10. Then rate the last bite. Has that pleasure decreased? If so, ask yourself if you really want another cookie.
Beyond Christmas Cookies
For today, we’re talking about Christmas Cookies. But, this advice applies beyond just the context of Christmas Cookies. We can apply this same approach to any meal, and hopefully it can actually bring more joy and satisfaction into your meals.
Eating well doesn’t have to be about eliminating foods. Instead, try a different approach. Eat something that feels off limits. But do it slowly, with intention, and savor it. Do it free of judgement. It’s okay.
What’s the point in eating a cookie if you’re not going to enjoy it?
So, eat the damn Christmas Cookie… and treat your dog to a biscuit. Then take him for a Christmas walk. You both deserve it.
Wishing you joy and happiness on Christmas Day!