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How Restricted Eating During the Holidays Can Backfire

So much of holiday celebrations revolve around family, friends and sharing time together, but they also revolve around food. From big family dinners and drinks with friends to office potlucks and neighborhood parties, food is the gathering point. 

Holidays are often seen as the season of overindulgence. For people with health goals, managing health conditions or trying to maintain their weight, it can be challenging to navigate all the food-related activities. Some people turn to restricted eating methods to try to stay in control, but these can backfire. 

What is restricted eating? 

Restricted eating has many forms. At its most basic meaning, it’s a way to place limits on the amount of food we consume. Here are some of the ways people restrict their eating: 

  • By time: Similar to intermittent fasting, some set up a window of time each day when they allow themselves to eat. If they pick an eight-hour window (8 a.m. to 4 p.m., for example), eating at an evening holiday gathering is off-limits. 
  • By meal: Some people skip certain meals throughout the day, saving up all daily calorie consumption for a large holiday dinner.  
  • By food type: Some define their restrictive eating by food type and declare some types of food or ingredients off-limits. They might decide not to drink alcohol, or forgo desserts, passing up all the holiday cookies, pies and chocolates. Others may lean toward a vegetarian diet during the holidays, saying “no thank you” to all the turkey, ham and bacon-wrapped appetizers offered on the spread.  

Why restricted eating is problematic

Restricted eating plans might make people feel in control, but research shows this kind of mindset is typically not sustainable and can have negative mental and physical side effects. 

Some problems with restricted eating include: 

  • A mindset of restriction can make people feel stressed.
  • Banning certain foods can make a person want them even more.
  • Feelings of guilt and shame may arise when eating a restricted food, depriving the person of enjoyment.
  • Feelings of being food-deprived can lead to binge eating or overeating.
  • Ongoing restriction could impact metabolism, and may make it more difficult to achieve weight loss.

How to enjoy holiday favorites in moderation

The good news is restricted eating methods can easily be traded for eating in moderation. Here are some tips that can help people keep their food and beverage intake on an even keel while they celebrate: 

  • Aim to fill half the dinner plate with vegetables, a quarter with protein and the remaining quarter with the rest. 
  • If a large meal is being served, go light on the appetizers. Drink a hydrating beverage before the main event. 
  • If asked to bring a meal to a potluck or party, bring something balanced with plenty of fiber, nutrients, protein and healthy fats.
  • If invited to a late dinner or evening party with food, have a snack at the regular mealtime and then stick to small portions during the event.
  • Take a small serving of all holiday favorites and concentrate on savoring them.    
  • Don’t skimp on sleep, water or regular exercise during the holidays. All these things can keep a person feeling their best.

Preparing with a positive mindset towards food instead of a restricted one can help remove stress and allow individuals to focus on making memories this holiday season. 

Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family. For more information, visit

A Healthier Michigan
Author: A Healthier Michigan

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