Ah, the holidays. It’s everyone’s favourite time of year. The festivities, the food, the family time. Pretty lights. Gift giving. Skating. Hot chocolate and warm fires and all the fresh baked goods you can eat.

Then comes January 1, and the guilt begins to set in. We ate our way through the holidays… and now we don’t feel so good about it. Sometimes we don’t feel so good in our bodies, about the choices that led us to feel that way about our bodies, and we wish we could take it all back. We forget about the joy we experienced sharing those meals with loved ones, the memories we made in the kitchen and around the dining room table. We forget that our bodies are meant to be lived in, not held to some impossible standard of perfection, that it’s perfectly normal for our weight to fluctuate from time to time and, with a few weeks of conscious decisions, we can change the way we feel in our bodies once again.

We are human – it is in our nature to forget. But that does not mean we have to fall into the same habits time and time again. We can remember and choose differently.

A simple rule

Diet culture thrives every January. We become obsessed with our bodies and everything we put in them. It’s a new year, we say. New year, new me. So, we try to change everything at once. We resolve to go to the gym three times per week, reduce our caloric intake and stop eating chocolate, or some combination of things equally ambitious. We start the month off great, doing all of the things we said we were going to do… and then life sets in. We miss a workout because we were sick. We have a rough week and succumb to the allure of the “forbidden” candy aisle. We feel like a failure for our lack of ability to follow through, and so more often than not, we decide to give up altogether. Oh well, we say to ourselves. I’ll try again next year.

SO often in life, we try to make things black and white that just aren’t so. When it comes to healthy eating, it isn’t so much an either-or as a yes-and. Healthy eating is a balance.

Eat those freshly baked, still-warm chocolate chip cookies, but have your vegetables too. A simple rule I love when it comes to healthy eating is this: 80% of your plate should be plants (read: vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds) and the other 20% is your business. The plate is simply a micro example of what you are putting in your body overall. If you are eating good, wholesome food 80% of the time, it’s okay to have those small treats sprinkled into your life. In fact, it can actually be healthy.

Why diets don’t work

The simple truth is that diets don’t work. Restricting yourself when it comes to food only causes you more pain in the long run. Often times, dieting causes this yo-yo effect in the body. When we restrict ourselves and feel hungry for long periods of time, our body thinks we are starving.

When we stop restricting, our bodies are built to store up to ensure we don’t starve when the next period of scarcity hits. Our weight goes up and we feel unhappy. We go back to a restrictive relationship with food in order to lose those extra pounds and get back to the way we looked before, only to that this time find it’s not so easy this time. This is because when you’ve been restrictive once, your set point weight goes up, effectively creating a new “normal” – it’s your body’s insurance policy at work, whether you like it or not.

For me, the most effective strategy has been to take the focus off how my body looks and instead, pay more attention to how my body feels.

Intuitive eating

Learning to listen to what your body needs is a valuable skill that will serve you well all your life. It’s a method called intuitive eating, a term first coined by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. The gist of it is this: listen to when you’re hungry and be mindful as you eat so you can stop when you are full. There is no food off limits – your body can tell you what you need at any given point in time.

People often fear that if no foods are off limits, they’ll just eat cake and pizza all day, err day. As nutritionist Pandora Paloma explains in this podcast, this is not the case. If you are truly listening to your body, you may eat junk for few weeks, but after a while, you’ll start to crave something a little more wholesome. Intuitive eating can be a path to repair our relationship to food and our bodies. The experience can become something nourishing rather than stressful, and positively impact our overall health.

So, as we head into this holiday season and the new decade that awaits on the other side, I challenge you to rethink your relationship with the plate. How can you be a little more loving towards yourself? How can you be a little more intentional with the way you eat?

Remember: your body is meant to be lived in. Now go enjoy.