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Intuitive Eating Practices and Strategies for the Holiday Season

Group of family and friends sharing a holiday meal.

Written by Sarah Maikon under the direction and review of Megan Jacobson and Megan Erickson.

The holidays are a fun and exciting time filled with family gatherings and celebrations, but it can also be a time when people experience stress and anxiety, especially surrounding food and food choices. Food can be a large part of holiday gatherings, which may include a variety of foods considered “bad” or “unhealthy.” This mentality can lead to feelings of dread and anxiety when faced with these foods and not knowing how to cope with these emotions.

Navigating through the holiday season without stressing over food choices and not letting stress and anxiety dictate those choices can be very difficult. Practicing intuitive eating during this time is a great way to help you cope with these feelings about food and gives you food freedom.

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Background

Intuitive eating is a focus on reconnecting with our body’s hunger and fullness cues and understanding some of the emotional and behavioral reasons for why we eat.

Intuitive eating is comprised of 10 principles, all centered around freeing yourself from the restrictions we put on ourselves surrounding food and trusting our bodies.

By practicing intuitive eating, you allow yourself to enjoy all of the holiday foods you desire without going overboard or feeling out of control when it comes to food.

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  6. Feel Your Fullness
  7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Movement- Feel the Difference
  10. Honor Your Health- Gentle Nutrition

It is possible to enjoy all of the holiday foods that you desire without feeling like you binged or ruined your day/week/month because of the foods you ate. It is important to prepare yourself for the inevitable feelings of being out of control and eating all of the food that is available then “getting back on the wagon” come January 1st. The issue is not with the holiday food itself; it is with our reaction to the food and how we respond to the delicious holiday food around us. The following are tips for coping with these feelings and ways to intuitively eat during the holiday season.

Intuitive Eating Tips

Eat the foods you want

It is important to allow yourself to enjoy the holiday foods that you want and to not restrict yourself. Restricting and not allowing yourself to eat the foods you are craving can lead to fixating on those foods and potentially over consuming and bingeing those foods. This can then cause feelings of being out of control with food. It is important to keep in mind that one meal or one “bad” day will not make you unhealthy. Be conscious of the foods that you consider “off limits” because they are not “healthy” or are “bad” foods and try to rethink your feelings towards these foods. All foods can fit into a balanced diet, the key is to eat those foods you consider “bad” or “off limits” in moderation and to not eliminate them from your diet. Allow yourself to eat the holiday treats that you desire while keeping in mind your body’s hunger and fullness cues and your feelings about those foods.

Reject the Diet Mentality

Having the mentality that “the diet starts on January 1st” or that you will start dieting after the holidays can cause you to feel out of control when you are around holiday foods. Having this mentality may make you feel like you have to eat all of the foods that you won’t be able to have once you start your diet. This can lead to feelings of deprivation and bingeing behaviors. Even the thought of starting a diet in the new year and future restricting can cause you to crave those foods that you will be restricting and make you feel out of control when you are around those foods. The word diet simply means the foods that you eat. Reject the diet mentality and focus on creating balance in your diet and try to shift your focus from “I will start my diet on the 1st, so I can eat “bad” until then”, to “I will eat foods that fuel my body, make me feel good and energized, but I can also enjoy all foods in moderation.”

Asian family sharing a holiday meal together.

Listen to Your Hunger and Fullness Cues

Listening to your hunger and fullness cues can be especially difficult during the holidays when eating large meals, grazing on snacks all day, and having to try the dessert after dinner is the norm. Listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues will help guide your food choices and helps you think mindfully about the foods you are eating. Before you eat, be mindful of how your body feels. Think to yourself, “How hungry am I”, “What food do I want”, and “Am I going to eat because it’s the typical time to eat a meal or because I am actually hungry.” It is important to trust your body and listen to these cues to know when to eat and when to stop eating. This can be difficult as many people eat according to a schedule or the “normal” time to eat a meal instead of how their body is feeling at the time. Use the hunger and fullness scale as a reference to determine how you are feeling before meals and when to stop eating. You never want to be too hungry or too full so it is best to stay between a 3 and 7 on the scale (Table 1).

Table 1. Hunger and fullness scale.

Rating Hunger/Fullness Scale
10 Uncomfortably full or “sick”
9 Stuffed and uncomfortable
8 Too full, somewhat uncomfortable
7 Full, but not yet uncomfortable – hunger is gone
6 Filling up, but still comfortable – could definitely eat more
5 Neutral – neither hungry nor full
4 Slightly hungry, milk signals that your body needs food – you can wait to eat
3 Hungry, not yet uncomfortable – clear signals that your body needs food
2 Very hungry, irritable, or anxious – you want to eat everything in sight
1 Starving, feeling weak, lightheaded, dizzy, or other extremely uncomfortable symptoms of hunger

You Don’t Need to “Earn” Your Food

Restricting or skipping meals or over exercising so you “deserve” to eat the holiday foods you want can lead to overeating and the feeling of being out of control with food. You do not need to “earn” the foods that you are planning on enjoying for the holidays. You also do not need to make your usual meals smaller or skip meals all together to reduce the amount of calories you are eating so you “deserve” to eat the holiday foods you want. And, you do not need to over exercise to burn excess calories so you can “earn” the extra treats or holiday foods that you are wanting. Aim to keep some normal eating patterns during the holidays, listen to your hunger and satiety cues, and allow yourself the treats and holiday foods that you are craving.

Joyful Movement

Staying active during the holiday season is a great way to manage stress and keep your mind and body feeling good.

It is important to not think of exercise or moving your body as a punishment for the foods that you ate or for permission to eat certain foods.

Exercising and moving your body in a way that makes you feel good can make you feel more positive about your health and reduce stress.

Related Topics

Nutrition, Health