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10 Tips from a Non-Dieting Dietitian for Practicing Intuitive Eating at Your Holiday Meal

This time of year, the media is all about how to maintain your weight this holiday season or minimize the holiday eating “damage”. These articles or news pieces essentially give you all the diet tips you’ve heard many times before. They teach you how to spend the whole holiday meal planning to eat enough to satisfy your cravings, but not too much that you might end up gaining weight. The tips are well-meaning. After all, most people are worried about holiday weight gain and then try to go on a diet come January 1st.
But what if you didn’t need to worry about your weight? What if you could just enjoy the holiday season with family and friends? What if holiday gatherings were about all the things you’re grateful for?
If you’re already an intuitive eater, or working on it, these tips will be much easier for you. The goal is to practice these principles all year long, not just when you’re worried about watching your weight. That’s a diet mentality. Instead, know that this is a way of eating that you can achieve to help you maintain a weight that’s right for your body, and live your best life free from thoughts about dieting or weight loss.

1. Banish Diet Talk

Thanksgiving is a holiday of over-indulgence. It’s when people stuff themselves full of food and then lay on the couch talking about how much they just ate and judging themselves for it. It’s common to hear people talk about how they need to make up for this meal or how they’ll suddenly gain 2 pants sizes.
If you can’t get the people around you to end the diet talk, choose your words carefully. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into making comments about how bad or good you’re being, how you need to go to the gym the next morning, or guessing how many calories you just consumed.

2. Eat Beforehand

Restricting before a holiday meal is a sure way to lead to overeating at the meal. If you go into your meal feeling famished, everything you see is going to look amazing and you’re going to want to eat all of it. Eat a balanced breakfast and lunch (depending on the time of your holiday meal) beforehand. A “pretox” is now a thing where you preemptively detox your body to get it ready for the “bad” things you’re about to eat.
No pretox or detox necessary- just think: would you eat donuts for breakfast if you knew you were eating your favorite desserts later in the day? Not likely. You won’t be able to truly enjoy either dessert and the spike in your blood sugar can leave you feeling irritable.

3. Enlist a Buddy

If your whole family or friend group can’t be on board with your intuitive eating, confide in at least one other person who will be present at the holiday meal with whom you can share anything that’s coming up for you. Maybe that one uncle keeps going on and on about his diet or your cousin keeps making comments about your weight. Having a person who understands what you’re going through can make the meal so much easier.

4. Make Every Day a Holiday

Part of what is so enticing about holiday foods is that we often eat these specific foods only at the holidays. It’s a lot of work to prepare a whole Thanksgiving feast any day of the week. But we don’t have to wait for this one day to get our fill of these foods. Try incorporating your favorite holiday dishes into your menu throughout the year or the season and then that one day won’t seem quite so overwhelming. You won’t necessarily feel obligated to try everything on the table, because you know you can have it any time you want.

5. Check in With Your Hunger and Fullness

Before arriving for your holiday meal, take an estimate of how hungry you are on a scale from 1-10. Then, as you’re eating, check in with how full you are on that same scale. Try not to judge yourself if you keep eating past the point of being full. Just acknowledge that you are choosing to continue eating because the food tastes good. This is a part of normal eating and perfectly okay. If someone is pressuring you to keep eating, know that you can stop at any time. It is not up to you to make someone else feel good by pushing yourself past your fullness.

6. Eat What Looks Good

Scope out the different foods available. If you have specific food concerns like allergies or intolerances, find out what is going to be available ahead of time. Determine that you will eat whatever looks and sounds good to you in that moment. Your plate may look different from everyone else’s plate. You may have mostly vegetables, mostly starch, or mostly protein. It’s okay if your meal is not completely balanced. Normal eating allows for some meals that are not balanced. Don’t worry too much about a fear of missing out on certain foods that look good but that you’re not hungry for in the moment. You can always take leftovers home with you to eat at another time.

7. Eat Mindfully

Eating mindfully may mean you limit or avoid alcohol at your holiday gatherings. It’s hard to stay mindful when your head is buzzed. While eating everything that looks and sounds good, check in with the sensations of each food. Really notice what the food looks like, smells like, feels like, and tastes like. If something doesn’t taste good, allow yourself to not finish eating it.

8. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food

Holidays can bring up a lot of feelings, both good and bad. Sometimes we’re in a different environment if we’re staying with family. We might struggle to always get along with the people we’re sharing tight quarters with. We might have a family member that rubs us the wrong way. We may be grieving a loss and the holidays can be a difficult time for us. We may be struggling with mental illness.
You don’t need to use food to cope. Use your enlisted support person, a therapist, or your dietitian. Walk the dog, do a yoga video, play a game, read a book, journal, or watch a funny movie.

9. Focus on What You’re Grateful For

The holiday season can be stressful, but it is also a time of recognizing all that you’re grateful for and being in the company of your family or your family of choice. Food is a major part of the holiday season, but it is not the only part.

10. Move On

If you ended up binging at your holiday meal, that’s okay. If you restricted all of your favorite foods because you were afraid of overindulging, that’s okay. Neither situation is ideal, but what happened happened and you can’t change the past. It just means you weren’t ready to eat intuitively just yet, and you can still work on it. Try not to dwell on your mistakes, but if your behavior bothered you, use that as fuel to keep working on becoming an intuitive eater.

10 Tips from a Non-Dieting Dietitian for Practicing Intuitive Eating at Your Holiday Meal

This holiday season also check out:

How to Manage A Holiday Gathering With Food Allergies/Intolerances
How to Reduce Grocery Shopping Anxiety
Self Care Tips
What to Do When Your Pants Get too Tight
What is Hunger
Preventing a Binge
Moving on After a Binge
Moving on After a Lapse in Recovery

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