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Why You Sabotage Your Health During the Holidays & how to Stop

photo by mad faith photography

We’re approaching that time of year when everything starts to go downhill or put on the backburner in terms of your health.

Right now, as we’re approaching the end of October, you’re probably part of the 65% of Americans participating in Halloween and stocking up on candy.

If you’re anything like Maria, this is how it goes:

You buy all this candy in preparation for trick or treating. You plan to give it all out, but you find yourself grabbing a piece or two between every batch of trick or treaters. You pause the candy hand out so that you can bring your own kids around the neighborhood. Not only do you have the candy you bought to give out, but all the candy that they brought back with them. The trick or treaters dwindle off, and now you’re left with a boatload of candy.

skeleton with candy - Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

You cap your kids off; they can’t have sugar this late! But as soon as they go to bed, you find yourself taking a few more pieces and stuffing the wrappers deep into the trash.


The week goes on and you just can’t waste that candy. So what do you do? You eat it. Your parents always told you not to waste!


And you start to feel lethargic, like you put on a couple pounds, but hey – it’s oversized sweater season, so who really cares?


If this is you, you’re probably the overindulger. You self-sabotage because you see things as black and white. You either have self-control or you don’t. You have discipline or you don’t. Once that first piece of candy hits your mouth, that’s in.

A few weeks later, you’re getting ready for Thanksgiving – a holiday celebrated by 95% of families in the US! You have to go all out. Whether you’re hosting or traveling, there’s a lot of pressure. This isn’t the time to change up family recipes or to make healthier ingredient swaps, you say. No one cares what diet you’re following. They just want delicious food. So you hyper-focus on it needing to be delicious – you self-sabotage your health by feeling like you have to be the epitome of perfection and get everything “just right” for the holiday meal.


You’ve got turkey, stuffing, rolls, sweet potatoes, green peas, fresh cranberries, carrots and celery and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. And you don’t have enough for just one serving per person. If you’re anything like my nonna (and now me!), you make a heaping amount of food that could feed an army.


So you indulge because, well, it’s Thanksgiving and it only happens once a year! Instead of focusing on the positive (hey, you had green beans and corn on your plate!), you might begin to criticize yourself for the food choices you make. You’re flawed. Damaged. What’s the point of pushing yourself now to have healthier habits? You already failed (according to this mentality). So you continue stuffing your face, just like you stuffed the turkey.

holiday meal at table

At this point, it’s December. Wearing winter clothes is in full gear. You’ve got lots of layers to avoid facing the fact that you feel uncomfortable, bloated, and sluggish. (Or maybe you know, and you just avoid doing anything about it).  This avoider personality prevents you from going out of your comfort zone and ambitiously pursuing your health goals during the holidays.


Now come the weeks leading up to Hannukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. The lack of routine has you all out of whack, especially if you have a control freak mentality. You can’t control everything, so you throw your hands up in the air thinking you can’t control literally anything.


During the height of the holidays, routine may be tossed out the window. You’re focused on shopping, gift wrapping, attending numerous holiday parties, and baking delicious goodies on top of your day-to-day responsibilities.


You keep putting off your health goals. “I’ll just start in January,” you say. You sabotage yourself through procrastination. You’ll get to it after the New Year, let’s just “enjoy the holidays first” (as if you can’t enjoy them while having healthy habits – that’s a huge myth, by the way!). You make up your mind that you’re just gonna feel bloated and overstuffed pretty much every day until January hits. You assume that this is imminent, that you have no choice.

But here’s the thing:

You do have a choice. You do have control.
You can get past the all or nothing mentality.

How? By starting with a routine. Routines are beneficial. In fact, routines help induce calm and manage stress – both of which can help keep that stress eating at bay. We think, “there’s no way to have a routine during the holidays,” but that’s wrong.

Healthy habits start by gradually incorporating them into your current routine, as we’ll do together in the Defy Food Guilt Program.

dirt trail splits into two

The Benefits of Routine

  • Reduces stress, which means less stress eating
  • Improves sleep, which means fewer craving for high fat, high sugar foods
  • Allows room for both new and existing habits, like joyful movement! 
planner with cup of coffee

You already have so many routines you might not even think about! You have a routine to wake up every morning, right? Your morning routine requires brushing your teeth and getting dressed, right? You have a routine to eat consistently throughout the day.

Routines are ALWAYS possible, even if they’re disguised by busy schedules. What we have to think about is having a framework and then building upon it. That’s what Defy Food Guilt (DFG) helps you do.

So you know how you wake up to your alarm every morning and brush your teeth? What can we add on to that? Perhaps drinking a glass of water. You know that you drive to work or drop your kids off at school 5 days a week. What can we stack onto that? Perhaps eating breakfast before or after that action.

What’s getting in your way isn’t the holidays: It’s you.

exasperated woman with blue background

If you truly value your health and want to build a better foundation for you and your family, it’s important to start developing these better habits now.


This doesn’t mean missing out on Halloween candy, Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, holiday breads, or Christmas cookies.


This means setting yourself up for success NOW instead of waiting for January.

This means learning how to treat yourself with love and grace. Learning how to ditch those feelings of guilt and shame when you go back for seconds. Learning how to stop hiding in the pantry when you want to have candy without your kids seeing.

In summary: There are numerous reasons that we self-sabotage our health every holiday season – whether that’s by avoiding the facts, putting off better habits until the New Year, striving for a level of perfection that’s not humanly possible, or losing the sense of control that keeps everything so neat and tidy.

As a registered dietitian, my biggest advice if you want to improve your health in January is to start now. Focus on building healthy, sustainable habits. Surround yourself with a network of positive people who will support you in this journey. Avoid the fad diets and trendy supplements. Get back to the basics when it comes to food and focus on balance.

Whatever you do, you have to start now.

And I want to help you with that by personally inviting you to the Defy Food Guilt Program.

It’s time for you to quit sabotaging your health during the holidays, to stop putting yourself on the back burner and waiting for January, and to develop healthier holiday habits so that you can dare to love yourself again – no matter what month it is.

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