12/17/2015 06:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Guilt-Free Holiday Eating: Eat Mindfully!


"Guilt-free" holiday eating tips are everywhere this time of year, but the best way to feel guilt-free is to stop feeling guilty! Sound impossible? Here are five steps.

1. Recognize that guilt is counterproductive.

The diet and media frenzy around food have caused the natural act of eating to become guilt-inducing instead. However, guilt does not encourage sustainable behavior change. It simply steals your enjoyment when you're eating what you were going to eat anyway, then it fuels the eat-repent-repeat cycle.

That's not to say that you won't sometimes regret the choices you make. Although you are not bad based on what or how much you eat, you may sometimes feel bad. Unlike guilt, regret leaves the door open for learning from your mistakes.

2. Question the definition of "good" and "bad" foods.

Food is not inherently good or bad; those are extrinsic, and sometimes misguided, arbitrary definitions. The irony is that foods move in and out of "good" and "bad" categories all the time. It's frustrating to think about all of the trans fats I consumed by switching from "bad" butter to "good" margarine! And think about how nuts, avocado, margarine, eggs, pasta, even carrots, have moved from one category to the other (and sometimes back again!).

3. Eat what you love fearlessly.

No single food or single meal determines whether your diet is "healthy" (whatever that means at the moment). A balanced diet is the simply the average of all the choices you make. When guilt is no longer a factor, common sense prevails. By using the simple principles of balance, variety, and moderation to guide your choices, a little bit of nutrition knowledge goes a long way.

4. Don't pay penance for eating.

Don't skip meals, beat yourself up with exercise, or deprive yourself afterward. Planning to compensate with deprivation or exercise paradoxically encourages more eating. Instead, set your intention to feel better when you're done eating than you did when you started.

5. Love what you eat mindfully.

For optimal enjoyment and satisfaction, make eating a multisensory experience. Savor the aromas, appearance, flavors, and textures of the food. Focus on your body's signals of hunger and satiety. Consciously focus on the connections, conversations, and celebrations for a guilt-free holiday -- and a guilt-free life!