November 14, 2023

Your Guide to Food Freedom this Holiday Season

Dear Melissa—Melissa Urban wearing a light blue jean top and darker blue jeans, cooking on a wooden table top, and smiling at the camera.

Dear Melissa,

We’re heading into holiday party season, and I’m going to use the holiday tips in Food Freedom Forever and your boundary scripts in The Book of Boundaries to help me feel my best this season around sweets and alcohol. But boundaries can be hard when the hostess is offering you something and waiting there for you to try it! Help me successfully hold boundaries around my Food Freedom plan in a way that doesn’t hurt my host’s feelings? -Brenda H., Facebook

Dear Brenda,

If there is one take-away here, it’s this: At a holiday party or event, no one cares what you are eating. People are mingling, talking, and enjoying themselves. The host is flitting between dozens of guests and tasks. I promise, no one is paying a lick of attention to what is (or isn’t) on your plate. Think back to the last gathering you attended, and ask yourself, “Did I notice which foods my boss/friend/Aunt Sara declined to eat?” You didn’t, and nobody else will either.

Even if the host is standing smack in front of you waiting for you to accept a mini-cheesecake, they have a dozen other guests to entertain. If you say, “Oh, no thanks” and continue your conversation, I guarantee they’ll simply move onto the next guest. (No, they will not go to bed mumbling, “Can you believe Brenda refused my cheesecake?”) That should take most of the pressure off.

But what if the host made these cheesecakes by hand, and they are really special, and the host is anxiously awaiting your reaction? I hear your desire to be gracious, Brenda, so let’s continue.

Step 1: Create a “Hard Pass” list

Before you arrive at the party, create a “hard pass” list of the foods or drinks you know are never worth it, or definitely won’t be worth it given the context. Evaluating your list before you find yourself face-to-face with your host will make setting a boundary feel more confident and natural in the moment.

Maybe your “hard pass” is alcohol (the lack of sleep and headache tomorrow morning—not worth it); anything with dairy (the stuffy nose or eczema rash—not worth it); or sugary drinks like hot cocoa or eggnog (the energy crash and cravings that follow—not worth it). Be specific with your list, especially if you know your mom will have her famously strong eggnog on hand.

Step 2: Know what you’re eating

If you have food sensitivities, make sure you know what’s in the food or beverage being offered to you, especially if consuming it would lead to unwanted consequences. You can do so politely with questions like “This looks great, what is it?” or “Looks delicious—is there dairy in it?” It’s better to ask than take a bite of a bacon-wrapped something, not knowing if it’s stuffed with goat cheese or nuts. If nobody knows whether it’s gluten-free and you have a sensitivity that would impact the rest of your evening, pass—remember, your host wants you to enjoy the party.

Step 3: If it’s on your “hard pass” list

If it’s not worth it, politely say “No thank you.” Or “Not tonight, thanks.” Literally, that’s all you have to say. But what if they press you, or insist that you try it, or it’s that special hand-made cheesecake we were talking about earlier? Try my patented compliment + generic reason strategy:

  • That looks delicious, but none for me.
  • You’re quite the baker! I’m impressed, but I must decline.
  • No thanks, but my daughter would love these—I’ll get the recipe later.
  • I’m honored you broke out the good stuff, but I’m not drinking right now.

You can also say things like “I’ve been munching all night,” or “I’m not a cheesecake person,” or “I’m too full for dessert.” You don’t need to make a big deal out of it, and you don’t need to offer up your personal medical history as justification, although if you’re open to saying, “I can’t eat gluten,” it may prevent other offers later in the event.

Step 4: Ask, “Is it worth it?”

If it’s not on your “hard pass” list and you think you might enjoy it, ask yourself, “Is it worth it? And do I even want it?” If you’re not sure just yet, buy yourself some time by saying to the host, “Not right now, but maybe in a bit,” or “I’m not sure I have room for dessert, but I’ll find you if I do.” This “not right now” works especially well with alcohol, because it’s harder to judge for yourself whether another is worth it after your first serving.

Step 5: If it is worth it

If it is worth it and you want it, enjoy! If after a bite or serving you realize you don’t want any more, simply say, “That was delicious, I’m good,” or “No more for me.” I promise it’s not as hard as you think.

If you discover mid-chew that it’s not worth it (or not what you wanted, or not what you thought), no sweat—you can either finish it if you choose, or don’t finish it, because I don’t usually force myself to continue eating things I’m not enjoying. (This is the beauty of party foods, where most are served in bite-sized portions.) 

This is also not a big deal, I promise. I’ve given the rest of my birthday cake to my husband plenty of times when I discovered the frosting was whipped instead of the deliciously stiff sugary stuff—and if anyone asked, I just said, “That was all I wanted.”

Step 6: Repeat as needed

One thing that tends to happen at parties is that the festivities of the event lead you to automatically accept whatever’s in front of you. If I do that, however, I’ll almost always find myself bloated, sugar-crashy, and lethargic by the end of the party, which no longer feels very festive. 

Instead, I repeat this process (evaluating the food, asking myself the “worth it/want it” question, pausing if needed, and making conscientious decisions about what I say “yes” to) throughout the entire night, to keep me feeling my best. Yes, it’s a bit of an effort, especially if your Food Freedom plan is new. Yes, it takes practice to weave this habit into your daily decisions. But soon enough it will all happen in a split second, and because of it, you’ll be able start the new year feeling just as energetic, confident, and motivated as you were before Thanksgiving, which is totally worth the energy.

May your Food Freedom plan and boundary practice bring you more energy, self-confidence, and an even happier holiday season.

Merry and bright,

Melissa

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