Savoring the Season with Intuitive Eating
From Thanksgiving feasts to Christmas treats – food is a way to celebrate and bring us together. As a registered dietitian, I have lost count of how many patients and clients tell me they “get off track” over the holidays. This is largely because we live in a dieting culture which views certain foods as “good” and others as “bad.” When we believe certain foods to be off limits and restrict or deprive, it typically leads to these foods becoming even more desirable. Eventually, we find ourselves eating these “forbidden foods,” and we may think things like “I’ve blown my diet” or “I have no willpower.” We may make promises to ourselves that we will “be good” after the holidays are over.
Here’s the truth: food has no moral value and you are not a good person or a bad person based on what you eat. Food is meant to provide our bodies with nourishment and keep us alive. We have taste buds because food is also designed to bring pleasure. Our bodies are born with the inner wisdom to know how to eat which is part of the basis for intuitive eating – an approach to health that allows you to make peace with food and your body, throughout all seasons. The intuitive eating philosophy encourages choices that honor your health, but also your taste buds. It is rooted in self-compassion and becoming attuned with your body so that you can make intentional food choices that are not wrapped around a set of rules.
How can you enjoy the holidays and not feel like you are on some kind of train, going on and off the tracks? Here are a few intuitive eating tips to help you make more space for balance and savoring the holiday season:
The holidays are a time to appreciate good food, family, and friendships. When you sit down to a meal, think about how the food got to the table. Be grateful for the abundance nature provides, for the farmers who grew the foods, for the labor that went into harvest, for the love and time that was spent to put the food on your plate. Take a deep breath before your meal and say “thanks” to what your body can do for you and for the nutrients you are about to consume to keep your body alive.
Enjoy a wide variety of foods year-round, instead of just during the holidays. Tasty, rich, savory foods and sweets are foods that you can eat at any time and they can be deeply satisfying and bring a lot of joy. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat what sounds satisfying to you in the moment without any judgement or shame. Make space for nutritious foods that honor your health and for those that honor your soul. Know that you don’t have to go to extremes to be healthy and that healthful eating is about patterns, not perfection.
Trust your body.
Our bodies are pretty good at self-moderating if we let them. Throughout the day, check in with yourself and assess your hunger and fullness. Are you showing up to meals ravenous and on an empty tank? This will often lead to the primal drive to overeat. Fuel your body throughout the day with a balance of complex carbohydrates, vegetables, protein, and fats. Are you slowing down during your meal to chew well and relish in the tastes and textures? Check in with yourself during a meal to assess your fullness and whether the food is satisfying to you.
The holidays can be a stressful time of the year. Sometimes we may turn to food as way to cope and comfort ourselves. Try to find alternative coping tactics to deal with holiday stress such as yoga, meditation, journaling, painting, going for a walk, getting outside in nature, or scheduling a massage. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and rest throughout the busy times of the year so that you can show up and be your best self. If you catch yourself eating due to uncomfortable feelings, stop and ask yourself what you are really needing, as food does not always fulfill that need. Come from a place of self-compassion and curiosity, versus judgement.
Most importantly, focus on the non-food related aspects of what the seasons and celebrations in life are all about. It’s about togetherness and traditions. If you do overindulge from time to time, don’t beat yourself up. We are not meant to live by rigid rules – eating and nourishing our bodies is about being flexible and rolling with the ebbs and flows!
Adapted from my original article featured in the Fall 2017 edition of Urban Goodness Magazine.