Avoiding Food Pressure This Holiday Season

No matter what holidays you celebrate, this season is a time for family, fun and food. Whether you’re on a specific diet or just trying to eat better, abstaining from eating certain foods or resisting overeating can be tough—especially when Mom keeps adding another helping to your plate.

UNC Health Rex registered dietitian Margaret Mangan offers three tips for how you can politely avoid falling to food pressure.

1. Politely decline.

A simple “no thank you” is completely acceptable.

“No is a fine answer,” Mangan says. “You may feel like you have to say yes so you don’t hurt somebody’s feelings, but the reality is ‘no thank you’ really works wonderfully.”

Practice beforehand if you are nervous about it. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat.

2. Be proactive.

Let the host know you have a food sensitivity or are trying a new way of eating and offer to bring something.

You can say something like, “‘I’m not sure who else is coming and if they have any food sensitivities, but I have some.’ Or, ‘I’m working on some changes to my diet, so I’m going to make a lighter version of this traditional dish,’ such as green bean casserole,” Mangan says. You can browse online for lighter versions of your holiday favorites.

If you want to enjoy holiday parties without succumbing to food pressure or feeling irritated by it, you need to prepare in advance. For example, when at the table, keep in mind the “plate method,” where you fill half your plate with nonstarchy vegetables and a quarter each with protein and starch.

“Alternatively, if at a buffet, shop it first and identify your favorites,” Mangan says. “Sample dishes to create a plate and avoid overflow, which will allow you to taste a few varieties.”

And like when you’re at a restaurant, just because you are served a large portion does not mean you have to eat it all.

“Listen to your stomach, put your fork down between bites and enjoy your company and the day,” Mangan says. “Focus on the positive of the holidays—spending time with your loved ones. Take a mindful pause as the day starts and honor that. Reflect on all the good things that are in your life.”

3. Distract and redirect.

Mangan says one way to avoid food pressure is to distract and redirect.

You can say “no thank you,” and then change the subject to the beautiful decorations or how long it’s been since you’ve all been together. You could also use a scientific perspective such as, “I recently learned that the actual size of a stomach is a fist, so I’m not sure I can fit much more.”

Another distraction option is to ask for the recipe and say you would like to try it another day because you’re too full right now.

Whatever method you try, remember that what you eat and your health is up to you—no matter who is trying to weigh in.

Want to schedule an appointment with a dietitian? Contact UNC Rex Nutrition Services or Nutrition Services at UNC Hospitals. Interested in learning how to cook healthier versions of your favorite dishes? UNC Health Rex offers heart-healthy cooking demos.