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How to Eat Lechon at Noche Buena Without Punishing Yourself After

Celebrate Christmas minus the toxic diet culture.
by Pia Regalado
Dec 21, 2021
FILE PHOTO: Roasted pigs are in display at a store in the Manila suburbs on Dec. 20, 2009 ahead of Christmas Day. Lechon or roasted pig has always been a regular fare at Philippine festivities, especially during Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Photo/s: Noel Celis, Agence France-Presse

Former flight attendant Zai Rabino looks forward to gorging on medium-well steak and all the accompanying carbs this Christmas and dreads the liquid diet of coffee and tea that comes as punishment for being her own worst body-shamer.

It doesn't help that toxic relatives greet her with "tumaba ka" (you got fat) comments at the dinner table. To avoid having some truth to that typical Filipino ice-breaker she sometimes eat just one full meal a day -- dinner.

That's the Christmas table in the Philippines, where aunts and uncles invite you to indulge on lechon, ham, macaroni salad and leche flan -- only to point out how your cheeks seemed to have gotten puffier.

"I actually enjoy the feeling of having lots of food around. So I tend to overindulge and usually want to try everything that’s served. The guilt usually comes after," she told reportr.

"I’ve always been scared my whole life on gaining weight. Stuffing food during the holidays is such a dread for me. And it’s also sad because I love food and eating but hate gaining or getting fat in general."

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That's the toll of toxic diet culture, nutritionist and dietician Jo Sebastian told reportr. When a person focuses more on what to eat instead of enjoying the holidays, that could be a sign of a year-round unhealthy relationship with food, she said.


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Noche Buena won't make you fat

No, you won't gain another 10 kilos just by what you ate on Noche Buena, Sebastian said. One day of eating also won't hurt that much, she said.

"If once in a while, let's say may birthday or may Christmas party, let's say a whole week puro Christmas party. That's not going to have the biggest impact on your health rather than the other 360 days of the year."

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When your scale shows you gained weight the morning after, that could be caused by food volume, or water weight due to lack of sleep, which is understandable, she said.

There's an "all or nothing" mentality on food during the holidays. It's when people on a diet look forward to Noche Buena as one of the few times in a year where they can indulge, she said.

"We tend to eat very rushed, very excitedly kasi bukas bawal na 'to especially on December 31 kasi Jan. 1 na bukas, my New Year's resolution is to eat healthy, ubusin ko na lahat ngayon," she said.


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Stop the overeat-starve vicious cycle

lechon diet noche buena philippines christmas
FILE PHOTO: Workers arrange roasted pigs at a store in Manila on Dec. 23, 2010 for the busy holiday season. Noel Celis, Agence France-Presse
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Sebastian likened the vicious cycle of starvation and overeating to a pendulum that swings back and forth when food intake isn't regulated.

Do you "punish" yourself with two-hour cardio exercise instead of the usual 30 minutes because you feel guilty for consuming that extra cup of rice? It won't benefit you in the long run, she said.

"It's not long-term health kahit iniisip natin binabawi ko lang naman. Mental health mo, physical health mo, ino-overexert mo sarili mo past the point that you need to. That's not real health," she said.

To stop this cycle, Sebastian suggests looking at food as fuel, instead of a reward. When you see food as a necessity and not as a prize for that 5-kilometer run, you won't long for it too much to the point of feeling guilty, she said.

"Gaining weight in general is not necessarily unhealthy. What matters most is how you come back from that in a sense na, io-overdo mo ba sa exercise? Io-overdo mo ba sa pagkain to go back on track? Because that's not going to help long term."

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Forget that toxic mindset on food

Sebastian listed down some tips on how to have a more harmonious relationship with food all year round:

Don't skip meals to save calories for later

Eat regular meals throughout the day and space out your proteins, carbs, and fiber. It will less likely to make you binge on food and overstuff yourself until you feel uncomfortable, she said.

Don't double up on exercise

It's a cycle of overcompensation that never ends: hunger pangs, eating a lot, exercising more, hunger pangs again. Stick instead to your routine.

Don't avoid holiday food until the holiday itself

The more you build it up, the more you'll binge on that day. "You're more likely to overdo the holiday celebration when you restrict yourself," Sebastian said.

Why not allow yourself to eat those digestive cookies your workmate gave you for Christmas before Dec. 25? It's okay in amounts that will keep yourself satisfied, she said.

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Don't overstuff yourself

Instead of filling your plate with food, take small portions then come back for seconds if you're still hungry. Stuffing yourself will make you uncomfortable, which will trigger that guilt feeling. "Listen to your body," she said.

Don't step on the scale right after

It's a given -- you'll gain weight. Don't guilt-trip yourself further by facing the scale. Give yourself time first and be kind to yourself, Sebastian said.

"The most important part of the holidays is not food, it's not even gifts, it's just connecting and we have to come back to that, that we are here to celebrate 2021 na sobrang stressful, so let's let ourselves do that and not riddle it with fear around your body," she said.

Gen Z influencer Jo Sebastian is a registered nutritionist and dietitian who helps others fix their relationship with food and body. Check out her Instagram account and YouTube page for more content.

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