10 Tips from an Anti-Diet 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. Many people devour this information because they’ve been conditioned to be 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 during the holiday season when you’re worried you’ll over-do it with food. 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

The winter holidays, including Thanksgiving in particular, have become known as a time of over-indulgence. It’s when people eat beyond their body’s cues and then often publicly judge themselves for this. It’s common to hear people talk about how they need to make up for the food they’re eating or how their body is changing.
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. This will ensure you do not go into the holiday meal overly hungry and wanting to eat everything and anything the moment you sit down to the dinner table. Also depending on the timing of the holiday meal, you may need to eat again after the holiday meal and this is completely normal!

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. Having a person who understands what you’re going through can make the meal so much easier and they may be able to speak up on your behalf if it’s too difficult for you to confront a trigger.

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 and instead focus on the foods you enjoy.

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 an eating disorder or other mental illnesses.

You don’t need to use food to cope. Use your enlisted support person, a therapist, or your dietitian. When a strong emotion comes up and you find yourself turning to food, you may want to physically remove yourself from the situation for a short period of time, distract yourself with a task or conversation, or give yourself a moment for some deep grounding breaths. It is also okay if you do emotionally eat, but to also know that you do have other coping mechanisms along with eating.

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. Just because you had a hard day or a difficult meal, it does not mean that you have lapsed or relapsed and it doesn’t mean that the next day you can’t get back to more balanced eating. One meal or one day of eating does not make or break us.

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

Seeking additional support in your relationship with food and your body? In search of an experienced eating disorder registered dietitian nutritionist in the Long Island, New York area or virtually in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut? Send Christina an email to learn more about 1:1 nutrition therapy sessions!

Published by Christina Frangione, MS, RD, CDN, RYT

Christina Frangione, MS, RD, CDN, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist serving the Long Island, New York City, and New York State areas helping clients with eating disorders and disordered eating recover their relationship with food and their body. She utilizes a Health at Every Size® approach and supports Intuitive Eating and knows that while she is the food and nutrition expert, you are the expert of your body and life.

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