Scenario 1: You’re on a diet. You walk into Thanksgiving dinner or a Superbowl party swearing you’re going to stick to your rules. (Does this sound familiar?) But the food — it all looks so good! And everyone else is eating everything, and you don’t want to feel left out, or be rude, so just one piece of this, and that, and….
Outcome: Boundaries blown, and the next day you feel bad about it. And you probably don’t feel good physically, either.
Scenario 2: You’re on a diet, and you walk into a special event ready to blow off all the rules. I mean, it’s just one day, right? And you gotta live life! So eat all the things, all day long!
Outcome: You’re guilt-free (kind of), but still… you don’t feel so great physically. Maybe you have a headache, foggy brain, run-down feeling, or achy joints. But maybe you’ve never seen that as connected that with what you ate. (It is.)
What I want to suggest is a third option….
Scenario 3: Same setting, but this time, you follow some of your usual boundaries, but you relax some others. And the ones that you relax, you enjoy fully, savoring each bite with gratitude — no guilt!
Outcome: The next day, you feel good about the choices you made. And your body feels pretty good, too.
How did this happen?
- You determined what your healthy food boundaries are, both for everyday life and for special occasions.
- You thought about which foods make you feel bad and to what extent, and which foods are just about keeping an overall healthy diet.
- You decided to value your own well-being above eating just because it’s there, or because everyone else is, or because you just want to “spoil yourself.” (Question: is it really spoiling yourself if you feel like crap the next day?)
The secret: Have more than one set of boundaries
I’m all in favor of enjoying special occasions, and indulging from time to time! You have to, in order to make any boundaries work long term, while also feeling like you have a life.
But when we just blow off all boundaries we’re not doing ourselves any favors. And we may, in fact, be making it harder to get back to the eating plan we’d decided on.
So I’ve found it really helpful to have different rules for everyday and for special occasions.
Here are some questions that can help you sort through which boundaries to keep and which to relax on holidays and celebrations.
1. Am I trying to avoid food allergens? Are there foods I know will trigger binge eating for me?
If there are any foods that you know cause an allergic reaction, of course you need to always stay away from those, for your well-being.
The last time I drank red wine, I had hives within the hour, so that’s now on my permanent “never” list.
Also, if certain foods cause you to binge, you’ll be most kind to yourself if you avoid those completely, too.
There was a time in my life where I couldn’t even start on the sweet things. Now, I’m good about choosing carefully and eating enough to enjoy without having any physical repercussions. However, a certain junk food category is still kryptonite to my resolve, so I skip those.
What foods are great big problems for you? You should probably keep those boundaries every day.
2. Do I have blood sugar issues? Are there any foods I’m sensitive to? Which foods trigger hours or days of cravings for me?
If low blood sugar or high blood sugar is something you know you need to watch, then you should be mindful of this. It may not mean you need to avoid every sweet and carb, but you probably should only choose those that are a 9 or 10 on your “do I love it” scale.
Are there foods that cause delayed symptoms for you — like those mentioned under Scenario 2? (To learn more, please read: Understanding food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities.) If so, you may be able to enjoy one reasonable portion, or whatever amount you’ve found you can tolerate.
When I was first cutting out sugar, I decided I was just going to cut loose over Christmas! But I felt SOOO sluggish and headache-y afterwards, I wrote this note on my Google calendar for Dec. 20 of the next year: “Remember how horrible you felt after all that sugar?!” I had to do that for a couple of years before I didn’t need the reminder any more. Now, I will still enjoy the occasional extra-special sweet, but I know my limit, and I stick to it.
What about foods that don’t cause any physical symptoms, but kick off hours or days of intense cravings? These are ones you need to be extra cautious with. I find this one hardest to remember! But when I do, I think of it as the “invisible price tag.” The cost of 5 minutes of enjoying this food isn’t worth it for me when I think about the time I’ll have to spend toughing it out to exterminate those cravings again.
Foods in this category are ones for which you can relax your boundaries a little from what you do everyday, but still need to watch your quantities. If, that is, you want to feel good later!
3. Am I restricting this food to lose weight? To reduce processed foods in my diet? To minimize sugar and carbs (for weight loss, not blood sugar issues)?
Any foods that fall into this category and not either of the others you can enjoy fully! If you’re eating a healthy diet most of the time, one or two days of relaxing your boundaries isn’t going to cause any harm.
After this assessment, you can decide:
- Which foods are on your permanent “no” list, even for special occasions.
- Which foods you can enjoy in moderation.
- Which foods you can indulge in on worthy occasions without later regrets.
Define those for yourself. You might even want to write them down. Then decide that you are going to do this. Not so you can say that you “were good” (this isn’t about morality, you know), but so you can feel good physically and emotionally, and keep your momentum going, toward a healthier you!
What it all boils down to is this:
Be kind to your future self.
Sometimes, this takes a little rewiring of our brain. We’re not used to thinking about the after-effects of our food choices; we’re only used to thinking about how it will make us feel RIGHT NOW. But with a little thought and planning, you can enjoy the right now and feel great tomorrow!
Also, about that guilt…
Do you ever say “I was bad” after you’ve blown your boundaries? Making poor food choices doesn’t mean you’re bad. It just means you made some less-than-healthy choices, full stop. That choice doesn’t affect your goodness, and it’s not something you need to atone for. The best you can do is learn from it, and use that knowledge to shape your strategy going forward. #giveyourselfsomegrace #moveon
Hey, need a trail guide?
Figuring out your own personal boundaries can be confusing or daunting. I offer one-on-one online support sessions, and one of them is designed specifically to help you find your boundaries. Learn more here.