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Intuitive Eating During the Holidays

The holidays can bring out many emotions. Many people are excited to see family or celebrate religious traditions, but others feel overwhelming anxiety about the food that they know will accompany these celebrations.

Maybe you can relate?

You’ve probably heard the jokes about holiday food only causing weight gain, which then needs to be lost come the new year.

It comes at a “must earn your food” mentality which goes against every part of Intuitive Eating and having a good relationship with food

Guilt free holiday intuitive eating is not intuitive eating. Intuitive eating during the holidays CAN be just like any other time of year, especially if you’re enjoying these Christmas recipes.

I’ve seen people at holiday parties avoid the snack spread at all costs, while others mindlessly stuff food in their mouths until they feel sick (before intuitive eating, I fell into this camp, by the way).

So, how do you break free from this pressure? 

By embracing food freedom around the holidays, you can embrace the season for the memories it brings, not the fear of food. Because food is not just fuel. 

Here are some tips to help you enjoy the holiday season this year. 

Know Your Regular “Diet Culture Pitfalls”

Understanding these are key. While intuitive eating around the holidays exists by the same principles, there is certainly an amplified pressure along with it. 

Year-round, intuitive eating involves rejecting diet culture and fueling the body appropriately—diet culture voices simply get louder around the holidays because restriction gets harder around all of the fun treats.

The media also exaggerates the effects that holiday eating has on your health and weight.

Remind yourself this is unnecessary noise.

young boy with headphones on and eyes closed

Whatever “diet culture pitfalls” you are normally susceptible to, you will probably be even more susceptible around the holidays.

By this, I mean that if you tend to eat past fullness, you will likely eat past fullness more often or to a greater extent around the holidays because the “better eat this now because I won’t have it again until next Christmas” mentality is prevalent.

If you struggle with restricting and binge eating, you might restrict yourself to one small plate at Thanksgiving dinner then binge on the leftovers later because you didn’t satisfy your hunger in the first place (my Ebook helps you learn to do this!)

Thanksgiving plate filled with turkey, gravy, carrots, mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts

Self-awareness goes a long way in situations with increased stress and pressure, like the holidays. Know where you stumble, and create a game plan so that you don’t. Have some back up self care options, too!

Give Yourself Permission to Enjoy Holiday Treats

Giving ourselves permission…this is the hard part. The part that takes time. And ALOT of practice.

Regardless of the food or why you enjoy it, holiday treats don’t normally last year-round (although you could certainly give yourself permission to enjoy them at another time of year if you’d like).

Whether your favorite holiday food is a Starbucks peppermint mocha or your great aunt’s pumpkin pie that she only makes at Thanksgiving, it carries enjoyment, memories, and significance.

oatmeal raisin cookies with peppermint on baking sheet

When you keep yourself from enjoying that treat, you miss out on a holiday experience that is so much more than calories.

Instead of viewing that Christmas cookie as pure macros or sugar, see the joy on your kids’ faces when you teach them how to bake them.

Think of the coziness you feel when you snack on one by the fireplace with a mug of hot cocoa.

toddler using mixing bowl in the kitchen

Those moments are a lot less common and a lot more difficult to create at other times of the year.

Eat Consistently Throughout the Day

Remember how I said that intuitive eating revolves around the same principles during the holidays as it does the rest of the year? This tip really falls into that category.

It’s always important to fuel regularly, but skipping meals and restricting calories becomes almost commonplace during the holidays to “save up” calories for later. But this almost always backfires. 

Do NOT skip breakfast! I would recommend starting with a holiday themed breakfast, like these chocolate chip gingerbread pancakes or gingerbread oatmeal

For a snack, these chocolate pomegranate energy balls have a great mix of carbs, protein and fat to hold you over. 

gingerbread protein pancakes with slab of butter and pomegranate aerils

Even in less extreme examples, don’t ignore your hunger to hold off for later plans. Your body still needs breakfast, even if you’re going to a holiday gathering later that night.

If you ignore your hunger cues in anticipation of eating more later, you are more likely to binge or feel guilty about what you do eat.

Check in With Yourself

This is a key part of intuitive eating because you always want to be in touch with your body. That’s how you can respect its needs!

Holiday foods get all of the hype because they’re delicious—don’t ignore that! While you’re eating, though, pay attention to what you’re tasting.

cinnamon buns in plastic carrier

If you take a bite out of your great aunt’s quiche recipe and don’t like it, don’t feel the pressure to finish it. Cherishing the flavors you do enjoy in your mouth will help you enjoy your holiday food even more.

Forcing yourself to finish food you don’t enjoy will take that pleasure away, and instead, lead to feeling of guilt and shame. “Why did I just eat that? I would have much rather eaten xyz.”

Remember to check in with your hunger levels. Some meals, you may stop eating right when you reach a 6 or 7 on the hunger scale. Others, you might feel full already but still choose to go for dessert.

Both decisions are intuitive, because you are present in the situation and listening to both your physical and mental needs.

cinnamon bun with scrambled eggs

Eat a Variety of Foods

So often, the holidays are filled with decadent desserts and gourmet sides that we forget the basics of eating to feel good.

No, I’m not saying you have to include vegetables and 25 grams of protein at every meal. But, your body won’t feel great if you neglect these food groups for long periods of time, either.

Why? Fiber helps us stay full and keeps us regular. And protein helps contribute to fullness and satiety, and pretty much makes up every fiber of our being. 

Cranberry Pomegranate Baked Oatmeal, perfect for the holidays!

When you’re making your plate, color (and I mean natural color) is always a great indicator of variety. For example, a colorful Thanksgiving plate could include cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, and turkey.

Amongst all of this variety, you have protein, carbohydrates, fats, and micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and more, but you also have flavor, enjoyment and pleasure, I would hope. 

Play Defense, Too

Just because you’re shutting diet culture down doesn’t mean other people at your holiday celebrations will. I always prep my clients to think about this beforehand so we can help figure out how you can respond. 

white plates with napkins for christmas

Especially with heightened diet culture stigmas around the holidays, there’s a high chance that someone around you might make a joke about avoiding holiday food or gaining weight because of it. You can’t always choose if you hear those jokes, but you can choose how you respond.

Prepare yourself mentally to shoot down diet culture comments.

  • Before a family gathering, remind yourself that your body needs energy, and it will send you hunger and fullness signals.
  • Remind yourself that scientifically, you won’t gain five pounds overnight from eating beyond fullness at one meal.
  • Remind yourself of the freedom that you’ve found by eating intuitively.
  • You can politely tell friends and family that you choose not to engage in diet culture discussion.
  • If someone makes a comment about what’s on your plate or getting seconds you can say, “I’m choosing to nourish my body how I’d like today. You are welcome to do the same.”
gingerbread cookies and holiday treats

Remember, the core principles of intuitive eating do not differ around the holidays. Instead, see the holidays as a heightened chance to practice your intuitive eating skills, and choose to honor your body.

That might mean seconds at Thanksgiving dinner or only eating half of your Christmas morning cinnamon roll because you’re already full.

Listen to your body as you go, and trust what it tells you.

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  1. “I’m choosing to nourish my body how I’d like today. You are welcome to do the same” is such a good and self-empowering way to handle anyone else’s comments or even sincere concerns about what is on my plate or what I am eating…Excellent Sarah, thank you!