Meal tracking can be a useful tool. It may help to see where the gaps are in your diet in terms of protein, vitamins and minerals, quality carbohydrates and healthy fats. Especially if you’re feeling symptoms like low energy, nighttime hunger and low satisfaction after meals, which can all be remedied by making some fairly simple changes to your diet. However, meal tracking can also become an unhealthy habit if doing it takes away the joy from eating, or you find your relationship with food becoming a challenge. Like anything else, there is a balance to strike between tracking your meals (if you enjoy it) and permitting yourself to make food choices based on cravings, environment and taste as opposed to numbers. Holidays included! Here are a few tips to help you strike the right balance for you.
EXPLORE WHAT MIGHT BE MISSING
As I mentioned above, the most beneficial reason for tracking meals is to identify what might be missing in your diet that is affecting how you feel. Since schedules can be thrown off during the holidays, tracking meals can help you make sure you’re nourishing your body even while juggling parties, tree lightings and travel. You may find you’re feeling really hungry mid-day, and because you have the data, realize it might be because you’re skimping on carbs or protein at lunch, or were too rushed to eat breakfast all week. If this sounds familiar, then tracking meals during the holidays could be a good way to make sure you’re still taking care of yourself amidst the chaos and stress you may be experiencing.
CHECK IN ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
This is a big one! The holiday season is as good a time as any to check in on your relationship with food, and how meal tracking is affecting it (or not!). If you find yourself restricting certain foods because you don’t want to put them in your tracker for fear of not meeting your goals, or if you’re thinking about food all the time, feel you’re missing out on holiday treats, or think it’s only OK to eat certain things if you “work them off” or “save up your calories,” it’s time to step away from the tracker. A healthy habit can become unhealthy if your behaviors start to affect your quality of life and you become too controlling or obsessed with food and exercise. If this sounds like you, working on your relationship with food should be a priority, and finding a registered dietitian for support and guidance can be a game-changer. Life is too short to feel stressed around food.
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DROP THE ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING
The question of “to track or not to track” during the holidays also reminds me of the all-or-nothing thinking clients come to me with, which is heavily influenced by diet culture. Eating and food choices should not be “good” or “bad” with nothing in between, and you’re not being “good” if you track your meals and “bad” when you don’t. This is where food neutrality can be very helpful — putting all foods in a neutral playing field can take the pressure off of feeling like you have to be on one extreme or the other. Knowing you can eat a holiday cookie on a random Tuesday just as much as you can have it at a holiday party, and that it can be tracked or not, is key.
A FEW DAYS WON’T MAKE OR BREAK ANYTHING (UNLESS YOU LET IT)
If you’ve been diligently tracking your meals leading up to the holidays, it can be easy to see where a couple of holiday dinners or brunches exceed your typical numbers or goals. Instead of feeling stressed, like you did something wrong, or that you need to restrict your diet in the days to come, know it’s going to be just fine. An indulgent meal or two doesn’t make or break anyone’s nutrition unless they let it affect them and their food choices for the days and weeks to come.
THE BOTTOM LINE
You have full permission to track or not track your meals during the holidays (and any time!). It can be super helpful to see where nutritional gaps in your diet might be in a busy time of year, and to fill them in so you feel your best. If you’re struggling with your relationship with food, which can be extra challenging during the holidays, stepping away from meal tracking might be what you need to do for your mental and physical health. Always ask yourself why you’re partaking in certain behaviors, and whether or not they are serving you at any given time — holidays included!
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