5 Tips for Intuitive Eating and the Holidays

Seeing as I missed posting on Monday this week, I thought I would take a break from our series on The Eating Guidelines to offer some tips on eating intuitively during the holidays.

Christmas is just around the corner, and the holiday parties and shopping marathons have begun. Sticking with Intuitive Eating can be tricky when there is so much focus on food and pressure to eat it; but remember, Intuitive Eating isn’t like a diet, which means the holidays should not pose a threat. Intuitive Eating isn’t about restriction, guilt, or obsession – it is the opposite, and so keep this in mind as you begin to step into this season filled with celebration, joy, and Gingerbread!

Here are some tips to help you along the way – I decided to do them as a countdown, so here it goes…

#5: Keep the stress levels down and the activity up.

The holidays can be stressful for many reasons – family gatherings, christmas lists, crowded malls, maxed out credit cards – and as we all know, stress can trigger compulsive/binge eating. Try to keep the stress levels low (I know, easier said than done, right?) Take time for yourself to breathe and put things into perspective. I go crazy without my “me time” – even spending 15-30mins each night to unwind with a journal, a good book, or a warm bath can make all the difference.

Being active also helps. Now by saying “keep the activity up,” I do not mean you need to increase your activity levels – that’s your “diet voice” talking. What I really mean is remember to stay active as you normally would. Don’t skip out on your runs or walks or whatever you enjoy doing – this is a great way to relieve some of the stress and to make sure your metabolism doesn’t come to a halt*.

* for me, if my appetite is low, I actually tend to eat more because I find I am always above my fullness queue and thus find it hard to determine when enough is enough. More on that soon…

#4 Don’t show up too hungry or too full.

Just like with any meal, if you go in too hungry, the odds of overeating are much higher. This is because when you let yourself reach “starvation” on the hunger/fullness scale, your ability to measure your levels of satiety is numbed, and the tendency is to eat lots, and eat it fast.

It makes sense, right? It sort of goes back to how we evolved – if in nature we were in a situation where there was a lack of food – forcing us into starvation – then when food did arrive, our bodies would tell us to eat as much as we can as fast as we can before the next famine. So when you show up to that party and are greeted by platters of mini christmas cookies or fancy cracker/cheese combinations, of course you are going to gorge – overcompensating for your hunger, resulting in overeating and thus numbing yourself to your satiety queues.

This is also why I say not to show up too full. Sure, having a small snack before heading to a Christmas party is a good way to ensure you aren’t famished when you arrive, but you still want to make sure you show up with a bit of an appetite. Especially for parties during the holidays, the odds are as soon as you walk in the door, there will be food available and pressure to eat. If you show up already full, you will not be able to listen to your queues if you begin to eat because they’ve already told you they are full. And I personally find the more I eat over my “limit” the more I continue to eat because my sensors are already shot.

In addition, don’t fill up on appetizers just because you’re a bit hungry – if you don’t think you have enough room for appies and the main course, than limit* yourself on the finger food – because it’s one thing to pass up on the appetizers, but we all know you can’t very well pass up on the meal itself, especially if you ever want to be invited to a party again (or maybe you don’t – then by all means, turn down the food!).

*note I say “limit” and not “avoid” or “skip” – because, again, this is not a diet and is not about restricting. What a tragedy it would be if I were to miss out on those yummy cream cheese salami triangles because I needed to “save room for dinner.” This is not about restricting yourself, but it is about being in control – there is a difference between allowing yourself to enjoy, and using “no restricting” as a cop-out/excuse to binge. 

#3 Remember it’s OK to say “No Thank You.”

This one will be short because the others ran a bit long. Just remember it’s OK to say “no thank you.” Turning down the offer for seconds, or for a bigger piece of pie, or another round of appies does not make you a bad person, it doesn’t even make you a rude person – it just makes you a person who has had enough. Now the person offering may act as though your decline was an evil and offensive thing, but the truth is, that’s their problem, not yours. Be gracious, of course, but just like you should never feel guilty for eating, you also should never feel guilty for not eating under these circumstances.

One tip I read (I believe it was Geneen Roth – but I can’t say for sure) suggested asking for some of the leftovers to take home with you – graciously declining because you’re full, but saying you’d love to take some home – thus honouring your fullness, but also complimenting the host on his/her cooking.*

Also, you do not have to finish everything that’s on your plate in order to be a “good person.” 

* obviously only do this if it fits the situation/company – typically with close relatives – I am not sure it would seem so “normal” at a friend’s house or an office party!) 

#2 Allow Yourself to Have Seconds (but not thirds).

I remember my therapist saying this when I was in recovery from my eating disorder. At first I was a bit taken aback – if Intuitive Eating was about freedom to honour your appetite, why couldn’t I have thirds if I wanted? But as I began practising intuitive eating, I realized that, yes, sometimes I’d eat what was on my plate, and still be hungry for more – it is easy to under calculate how much we need, and sometimes it’s better to start off this way, anyways so you can check-in with yourself once the first portion is done to see if you’re still hungry. However, I quickly began to realize the only times I wanted thirds was when I was flirting with compulsive eating or on the verge of a binge. The odds of you under calculating twice in a row and still being hungry for more after two portions are slim. I would say it rarely if ever happens to me.

Some exceptions apply, though. For example, when eating pizza in a group – if you tend to take one piece at a time, you may go back three or four times – or when sharing sushi off platters – you can really only fit so many rolls on a plate. Just like everything else with Intuitive Eating, this is a general guideline and not a hard and fast rule. If you are still hungry after taking seconds, then by all means, go for thirds (don’t forget dessert may be on its way, though!)  – but I’d warn to just take an extra moment to really sense out where you’re at on the satiety scale before filling your plate again.

#1 Don’t Overthink It!

This goes for the holidays, but for life as an intuitive eater in general. When it comes to food and eating, don’t overthink it. The holidays are about time with family and friends. They are about traditions and fun activities. And, yes, part of that can even include those amazing tiny shortbreads your aunt makes each year or the crostinis from your Nona.

Don’t waste your holidays obsessing over the food you are going to eat – whether that’s in the form of praising it or fearing it. And don’t waste them worrying too much about how much or little you will eat of it.

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the term “mindful eating” sometimes, because to me (apart from in the beginning when I was training myself to feel my hunger/fullness), intuitive eating is about the opposite: it’s not about being overly mindful about eating, it’s about being mindful about everything else – the people around you, the activities, and life in general. Sure, check-in with your fullness queues and even take the time to stop and savour what you’re eating – be mindful in the moment – but don’t be mindful of it the rest of the time because this can become another obsession (trust me!).

Maybe that’s what I mean; yes, intuitive eating is about eating mindfully – knowing when you’re hungry, knowing what you want, and knowing when you’re full – but beyond that you shouldn’t really be giving food that much thought. I rarely think about food. When I’m hungry I find myself preparing what I want and eating it, and when I’m full, I stop. And then I don’t think about it after that – I don’t worry about what to eat next or how long until I’ll be hungry again or why I’m not hungry yet – I get on with my life and don’t think much about food or eating until my body tells me I’m hungry again.

The same should go for the holidays: so what if you eat to an 8 instead of your normal 6 on the satiety scale, and so what if you overindulge a little – shrug your shoulders and carry on. Enjoy the holiday, enjoy the people, and don’t let eating get in the way of that. Remember, Intuitive Eating is a lifestyle, not something with a beginning and end date. The only reason I am offering you these tips is not to give you more rules or to tell you to be more aware and to think about food/eating more over the holidays; it’s to offer you some tips on how to enjoy them to the fullest without letting food get in the way – because nothing can ruin the enjoyment factor at a good party like the discomfort that comes with overindulging. But you also don’t want to ruin the party by restricting yourself from enjoying your favourite holiday treats. It’s all about balance. 

So let your dieting family members restrict and miss out. And let your other family members overindulge and collapse into food comas. And as for you – well you know what you’re going to do – you’re going to enjoy the holiday treats and skip out on the indigestion.

Happy Holidays everyone – enjoy the freedom! 


Twitter: @lauren_b_sag