• Tiana Sexton

Intuitive Eating During the Holidays: 10 Tips from a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

There’s a big party coming up tonight and you know there will be lots of tempting food there. You don’t want to “lose control” so you compensate by skipping meals, overexercising before the party, or eating a full meal and telling yourself you aren’t allowed to eat at the party. You’re ravenous (or stuffed) when you get there, and quickly find yourself overwhelmed and eating well beyond your cues of fullness. You’re so focused on food that you can hardly pay attention to what is going on around you, and you feel miserable. You start obsessively planning what to do before the next upcoming party or what diet you need to embark on to avoid your “failure”.

Does this sound familiar?

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a focus on intuitive eating, I want to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way. If you struggle with feeling panicked or out of control around this time of year, you are not alone. For many of my clients, the holidays are emotionally loaded. If you struggle with food, this time of year can feel a bit nightmarish. The weather gets colder and darker, and hectic holiday schedules go against your natural instincts to burrow in. Or, you might feel a sense of loneliness during the holidays because of the perceived pressure to be social.

When this added stress is paired with extra food, alcohol, diet talk, and weight talk, it can feel like a recipe for disaster. Your careful eating routines and rituals are upended, and you’re suddenly around food — a lot of food— and you need to decide how to navigate a calendar that throws a lot of variables into your life. You may go back and forth between wanting to stick to your rules and wanting to throw them out the window and starting a new diet tomorrow, or the day after the big holiday, or the first day of the new year.

Let’s look at that same party, but with an approach that focuses on intuitive eating:

There’s a big party coming up tonight and you’ll know there will be lots of tempting food there. You want to enjoy some of your favorite holiday foods at the party, and you know that you will enjoy them the most if you go to the party with a neutral baseline — not overly hungry, not full. You spend the day eating meals that you enjoy that keep your hunger regulated, and you choose if you want to exercise that day or not on what movement your body feels like doing that day. When you get to the party, you grab a plate of all of the foods that appeal to you. While you mingle, you frequently check in with your hunger, fullness, and satiety levels. You use these cues to regulate whether you would like another helping or another beverage. You have a blast at the party and can’t wait for the next one!

How to Eat Intuitively Around The Holidays

A more sustainable way of approaching the holidays is by making manageable goals that are focused on honoring your hunger and satiety instead of trying to reach a certain number on the scale or avoiding certain foods. This year, I encourage you to experiment with intuitive eating around the holidays. It isn’t a diet, or cleanse, or rigid plan. It’s accessing something that you have within yourself already: hunger, fullness, and satiety cues.

Intuitive eating is an approach to food that looks at internal cues to monitor hunger, satisfaction, and fullness. An intuitive eating approach involves eating when you are hungry, stopping when you are full, and avoiding the labels of “good” and “bad” food. Here are some common stressors that my clients experience around the holidays, and how to approach them from an intuitive eating perspective.

The holidays are a great time to start incorporating intuitive eating simply because of all of the unique situations that you may encounter. The circumstances will change, but one thing will stay the same: your body will tell you what it needs, and you can learn to become more in tune with what your body is telling you!

10 Intuitive Eating Strategies To Incorporate This Holiday Season

  1. Adopt A Growth Mindset

  2. Set Yourself Up for Success Before Events

  3. Refrain From Diet and Weight Talk

  4. Resist the New Years Diet Trap

  5. Enjoy Your Favorite Foods

  6. Avoid “Guilt-Free” Swaps

  7. Practice Eating Mindfully

  8. Don’t Go On “Damage Control” After an Event

  9. Find Time for Stress Relief

  10. Practice Intuitive Exercising

Adopt A Growth Mindset

Instead of dreading events, consider adopting a mindset that parties are a great way to experiment and learn more about yourself when it comes to intuitive eating. If you happen to “overindulge”, don’t beat yourself up! One meal won’t determine your health. Consider it progress because of the lesson learned, and try to determine what factors went into the situation. View parties and events as learning experiences, and keep track of what you’ve learned during your consultations with an intuitive eating practitioner or in a food and mood diary.

Set Yourself Up for Success Before Events

Avoid over-exercising or skipping meals and snacks to “save up” for a big meal. One of the foundational tenets of intuitive eating is learning to listen to your hunger cues, so don’t purposely ignore hunger for the sake of “compensation” if you want to make peace with food. Instead, listen to your hunger cues and satiety cues leading up to the event, and make sure to honor your hunger. You’ll have an easier time continuing to listen to your hunger at the event if you’ve been practicing all day.

Refrain From Diet and Weight Talk

You are allowed to enjoy your favorite holiday without compensation. A sneaky type of compensation? Diet and weight talk. Verbalizing plans to diet more, exercise more, or never eat fill-in-the-blank food again takes the focus off of internal hunger and fullness cues and gives you “permission” to stop intuitive eating and pick it up later.

Additionally, diet and weight talk can distract you from trying to eat intuitively and giving up dieting! Diet and weight talk are so alluring because of the promise that the next diet will be the one. In reality, dieting doesn’t work! Trying to stay true to the course of intuitive eating while hearing others talk about diet and weight can cause stress, doubt, and anxiety. Remind yourself that you have made a commitment to yourself to stay attuned to yourself and your needs, and that’s more important than any false promise that dieting offers.

You want intuitive eating to become a lifetime, instinctive habit and this type of talk can derail your hard work. If the conversation goes in that direction, try to steer it elsewhere or leave the conversation. Tell people you’re on a diet from diets!

Resist the New Years Diet Trap

Resist the urge to go on a diet on January 1st. Dieting only sets you up for failure. There’s a $78 billion dollar market that relies on the yo-yo cycle of dieting! Instead, make a promise to yourself to try to focus on your internal and external hunger cues all the time, not just on certain dates. If you have goals that you want to accomplish around your health, working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to come up with sustainable, actionable steps to connect with your hunger and fullness levels, while incorporating gentle nutrition is the way to go— not a diet!

Enjoy Your Favorite Foods

Have you ever restrained yourself from eating a certain food, only to find yourself overeating that same food or different foods later? When you restrict yourself from eating the foods you love, you’re denying yourself the satiety factor that leads to real satisfaction in what you eat, and you may find yourself searching for this satiety later. Food isn’t just fuel: it provides us with pleasure and is a big part of our society and culture. Intuitive eating looks at satiety, not just hunger and fullness. It’s important to factor in satiety when you consider what you want to eat, so be sure to enjoy your favorite holiday foods this season.

Avoid “Guilt-Free” Swaps

Eat your favorite holiday foods — and while you’re at it, don’t try to do “guilt-free” swaps! If you’re craving a chocolate and mint candy, sugar-free hot chocolate with a drop of peppermint essence won’t cut it. Guilt-free swaps only perpetuate the label of “good” and “bad” around food. Give yourself permission to enjoy the foods that you want to eat, with the knowledge that you will use your internal cues and mindful eating strategies as your anchor.

Practice Eating Mindfully

When you’re at an event, it’s easy to switch on autopilot while you eat! Instead, see if you can practice your mindful eating skills. Enjoy your favorite holiday foods mindfully and intentionally while continuing to check in on your sensations of hunger and fullness. Don’t feel bad saying no to a second round if you aren’t hungry, or being the first to help yourself to more food if you didn’t get enough. Only you can monitor your hunger and fullness.

Don’t Go On “Damage Control” After an Event

When we make “all-or-nothing” rules around food and events, we are relying on external cues instead of our hunger levels. Deciding what to eat for your next meal based on the labels of “good” or “bad” only sets you up to ignore the true compass of your hunger. If you overindulge after an event, the best possible thing to do is continue eating as normal the next time you feel feelings of hunger.

Find Time for Stress Relief

One aspect of intuitive eating is being curious about why you eat beyond fullness or don’t let yourself approach fullness. You may find that you are using food as a stress-relieving tool. Stress eating on occasion is incredibly normal. Don’t beat yourself up over it! Learn from the experience and think of ways you can manage your stress next time. While there are things you can do in the moment of eating to manage stress, working to make sure stress levels don’t get out of control before you sit down at the table can make your practice of eating intuitively a little easier.

Schedule in stress-relievers that are not related to eating into your schedule, and treat them as you would any obligation. This can help you put yourself and your mental health first during a season where there are so many other things to focus on. Going on a drive, reading a book, taking a hot bath or shower, decluttering the house, or calling a friend are great ways to manage stress and anxiety.

Practice Joyful Movement

Exercise and joyful movement can be great tools to help manage the added stress and anxiety that comes with the holidays. Shift your focus away from exercise as a form of compensation or punishment, and view it as a tool to move your body for enjoyment, energy, and empowerment. Do a deep inventory of what type of exercise you do and why, and try to choose exercise methods that you genuinely enjoy, not ones you think you “have” to do.

Want Support Incorporating Intuitive Eating into Your Life? Schedule Your Free Call Today

When it comes to intuitive eating, it can feel daunting to do it alone! As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I use a personalized, collaborative and supportive approach with clients in person in Fort Collins and Loveland. Together, we can come up with manageable goals to incorporate intuitive eating plans into your lifestyle. Give me a call today, and let’s talk about what intuitive eating can look like for you.

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