This post contains affiliate links from which I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. In no way does this affect my opinion or the information I provide on the product. Please read my disclaimer for more info.
2020 has certainly been one crazy year, and I guarantee Christmas will be here before you know it. It’s never too early to start preparing yourself by buying gifts, decorating your house, and even learning intuitive eating for the holidays!
Indeed, while this period of the year calls for joy and celebration, it may also make those who watch their food intake a little anxious.
Sure enough, these holidays almost always rhyme with gargantuan meals, endless buffets, and mountains of desserts and sweets. You’re bound to feel overwhelmed if you’re generally one to count calories or to practice mindful eating.
In fact, you’re probably already thinking of ways to limit the impact of those holiday marathon-meals on your waist-line.
Should you eat very little food leading up to the big events so you can eat without feeling guilty then?
So should you fast during the whole month of January to make up for all the extra calories consumed instead?
The actual solution is much healthier and only requires a little bit of work— it’s called intuitive eating.
This means adopting an eating style with a healthy approach to food and eating behavior. It requires listening to your body’s hunger and satiety cues and being in tune with your emotions around food.
Here are 8 keys for successful intuitive eating during the holidays.
1. Learn about intuitive eating in general.
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach that frees you from food rules and restrictions and promotes a healthy relationship with food. It involves many principles, such as honoring your hunger and fullness cues, making peace with food, respecting your body, and putting your health first.
It was created by two dieticians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Intuitive eating is not a diet or food plan, but rather a way of life that aims to free you from diet culture.
I highly suggest you give intuitive eating a try, as it can help with your food intake not only during the holidays, but also for the rest of your life.
Here are two articles I wrote on the subject:
2. Eat mindfully by listening to your body.
Intuitive eating involves eating mindfully, meaning being fully aware of your eating experience and your hunger/fullness cues.
Mindful eating can certainly be more difficult during the holiday period. People are talking, music is blasting, wine is flowing, and an array of different foods are put under your nose every five seconds.
Tuning out of the chaos and into your hunger needs is quite the challenge.
Don’t force yourself to eat anything just because it’s in front of you. And no, you do not have to try absolutely everything on the table. Before you eat something, ask yourself if it’s something you really enjoy, or if you’re just popping it into your mouth for the sake of it.
Don’t help yourself to more if you’re full. Similarly, if you’re having a series of holiday meals, you don’t have to eat like an ogre for each one. It’s okay to turn down some of the courses or to substitute the chocolate cake for some fruit.
Conversely, if you aren’t full yet, it’s completely okay to indulge in these foods until you reach satiety. Put your needs first, and trust your body.
You can find some more in-depth information about mindful eating here.
3. Do not restrict yourself beforehand.
It can be tempting to eat only light meals a few days prior to the holiday feast in order to feel less guilty for the excess calories. Don’t do that.
If you restrict your calorie intake for a few days, it will inevitably lead to binging. This action sends the signal that you are allowed to binge and that it’s even expected of you, because you’ve been purposely restricting for it. Add that to your food-deprived body, desperate for nutrients, and boom.
A recipe for disaster.
You’ll eat way past fullness, feel sick and ashamed, and this will start another unhealthy cycle of restricting and binging. Just eat regular, healthy meals as always and your hunger cues will be a lot more tuned in.
Don’t hesitate to check out my article on how to stop binge-eating if you’re interested.
4. Stop the all-or-nothing mentality.
The all-or-nothing mentality is when you see things as either all good or all bad. When things aren’t perfect, they’re considered a failure.
For instance, if you have a few extra pieces of chocolate after dinner, this mentality will cause you to binge on the entire box because “my diet is already ruined, anyway”.
It’s easier to fall into this way of thinking during the holidays, as you’re likely to be eating a bit more than usual. You might be tempted to just pause your healthy eating habits and start over in 2021.
You’re just delaying everything, wasting time, and setting yourself up for an endless cycle of yo-yo dieting! Instead, build healthy and sustainable eating habits and a great relationship with food. Check out my article on the all-or-nothing mentality for more tips on how to stop.
5 . Don’t mind those around you.
While you should be listening to your body, one thing that shouldn’t be preoccupying you is what others have to say. Some family members may be quick to judge you when you grab an extra portion of dessert.
Just smile and say that you’re still hungry and that the cake is delicious. Don’t play along, just move on and eat whatever feels right for your body without guilt.
The opposite reaction may also happen. People may pressure you for another glass of wine “it’s the holidays, enjoy yourself!”, a second serving of mashed potatoes “no’s not an answer, you’ve barely eaten a thing!”, and the last slice of pie “come on, you have to finish it, we’re not throwing it out!”.
Stay calm, smile, and politely repeat your answer. If they don’t drop it and hand you the food anyway, don’t eat it. You can have a conversation later on about how it’s important that they respect your food choices.
Keep in mind that a lot of people are struggling with their own eating habits, and their remarks might only be an indication of their own issues. It most likely has nothing to do with you.
6. Pay attention to your food and your hunger cues.
During the holidays, chances are you’re going to be around a lot of delicious foods. Make sure to fully enjoy them! Don’t absent-mindedly reach for the cookies while opening up a present, or gulp down the main dish while your cousin asks you for advice.
Enjoy the way your food looks, smells, and finally, tastes. Try to chew slowly, and appreciate the flavors. Pause to drink water and chat with your family.
It’s also important to listen to your hunger and fullness cues, even if it’s often more difficult in this setting. I suggest using the intuitive eating hunger and fullness scale. Mentally rate your fullness before, during, and after your meal, 1 meaning you’re starving and 10 meaning you’re full to the point of sickness.
Try to stop when you are around a 7, meaning comfortably full and satisfied. If you go over that, don’t stress, it isn’t a big deal. You can regulate it during the next meal or the next day.
7. Be gentle with yourself.
This brings us on to the next point, which is that you should be gentle with yourself! The main goal of the holidays it to actually enjoy them. You shouldn’t be stressing out over food every 3 seconds, or hating yourself for having that extra slice of cake.
As I often say, it’s all about balance. Try to make conscious and intuitive food decisions most of the time, but don’t get worked up if you overeat or fail to listen to your hunger cues.
The sooner you start practicing intuitive eating, the better you’ll be at it when Christmas comes around ! After a while of checking in with yourself throughout the day and learning how to listen to your body, it will become second nature: you won’t even have to think about it.
8. Find pleasure in other things than food.
The holiday season isn’t only about good food. There are so many other meaningful and memorable experiences to have.
Spending time with loved ones, cozying up next to the fireplace with a good book, baking some holiday treats, watching Christmas movies, making some holiday crafts, buying, giving and receiving presents, reflecting on things to be thankful for, partaking in winter activities, relaxing and taking care of yourself…
Indulge in these pleasures without moderation, and food will only be one among many!
Holiday intuitive eating in conclusion
The holidays are a wonderful, magical time of the year and shouldn’t be spoiled by obsessing over food. Don’t restrict yourself, but listen to your hunger cues, and acknowledge the food you are eating, all while tuning out to what others have to say.
This will help your intuitive eating without wasting time on macro tracking or calorie counting.
Use the extra time to enjoy other holiday-related activities and stock up on precious moments with your loved ones.