The end of the year is a time for holiday parties, family gatherings, and plenty of celebratory feasting. But it’s also a time fraught with unhealthy messages surrounding diet and health. From joking with coworkers about “earning” that office banquet to commercials about New Year’s resolutions and an aunt commenting on your weight at Christmas dinner, it can have a serious impact on your physical and mental wellbeing.
“The holiday season really starts with Halloween, if we’re talking about food,” says Gabbie Ricky, a dietician at Children’s Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance. “There’s a lot of positive marketing toward all the holiday foods and flavors, but then there’s always this underlying fear of falling off the wagon over the holiday season or falling off track.”
All that end-of-year eating can lead people to “push off” healthy habits and goals until the new year, Ricky says, which only feeds the guilt you feel during the holiday season itself. It’s cyclical, she says, and it’s a toxic approach to health.
“I think a lot of people struggle with the ‘all or nothing’ mindset. With their health, healthy eating, fitness, it’s either they’re all in or they’re not in at all,” she says. “So, a healthy way to reframe that that I like to encourage is instead of ‘all or nothing,’ ‘all or something.’”
We talked to Ricky about navigating food and diet culture during the holidays, its dangers, and how to combat it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s one thing about holiday diet culture that people might not expect?
The marketing has gotten sneakier. I feel like diet culture is just more deeply embedded into things that we might not think about. And it’s talked about under the guise of “wellness.”
Can you talk about how that marketing has gotten sneakier?
Food systems or food programs that label themselves as a lifestyle program. Not a diet, but then they do have a “good” and “bad” list of foods—that’s a red flag, in my opinion. Or a tiered system of ranking foods, like a red food, a yellow food, and a green food. Anything that sorts foods into buckets of good and bad is, in my opinion as a dietitian, is not healthy.
Courtesy of at Children’s Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance
And why is that?
I’ve seen it create a lot of food fear, a lot of anxiety around food. People develop very disordered eating habits that just affect their overall quality of life and their mental health and mental …….