I recently offered a free Zoom live chat The Intuitive Eaters’ Holiday Survival Guide where I presented and talked with a few clients about how to approach not only food, but the way we think about food and the ways in which we care for ourselves during this season. If you would rather listen and see that presentation rather than read, you can access that recording below and/or just keep reading to get a sample of what was discussed.
The holiday season is officially upon us! Although it can be a joyful time in many ways and an opportunity to spend time with friends and family it also comes with its challenges, especially around food and our bodies. With the holidays comes all the special holiday foods, family members we haven't seen in a while, the friends, parties, big meals, and all the emotions that go along with that.
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You’ve heard it all before and might just see it as helpful information to keep you “in line.” In reality these are the messages of diet culture that leave us feeling bad about not only our food choices, but also our bodies and make us primed and ready to dive into “International Diet Season” that starts every January.
How many times have you been down that road? My conversations with clients and the statistics show that a large majority of us fall into this cycle year after year.
When we are stuck in diet mentality, overly focused on our weight, and struggling with not feeling good in our bodies, the holiday season can feel like a time full of forbidden foods and a constant battle with willpower. Between the abundance of delicious foods and the stress and busyness of this time of year many of us feel out of control. As a result we just throw our hands up and declare to be better in the New Year.
There is another way! We don’t have to repeat our same patterns year after year and we don’t have to be in a battle with food and our bodies this time of year or ever. With some shifting in perspective and some planning and mindfulness it is possible to approach the holidays differently.
In today’s blog I hope to offer you a different and more helpful way of approaching this season from a non-diet, intuitive eating perspective. To help you not just survive, but thrive. In my latest Zoom chat I talked about eight specific strategies…
1. Avoid the holiday binge/New Year's repent cycle
2. Give yourself the gift of permission
3. Remember to nourish yourself regularly
4. Be aware of your emotions
5. Make moving your body a priority
6. Drink wisely
7. Be ready to respond to diet and weight talk
8. Have self-compassion
As a taste, here I offer four of those strategies. If you would like to hear the rest, not just from me, but clients’ who talk about their own experiences, check out the video above!
Let’s get started!
1. Avoid the Holiday Binge/New Year’s Repent Cycle
The pressure to avoid all the forbidden foods that are everywhere this time of year leaves us vulnerable to the Holiday Binge-New Year’s Repent Cycle. You know this cycle, right? We spend much of the year in diet mentality either restricting food or feeling like we should, then the holidays roll around with all of their special foods, treats, and sweets, leading to feelings of guilt for many of us and the feeling of needing to atone for our “sins” just in time for the the New Year’s diets to roll out.
Although we tend to blame ourselves and our lack of willpower for this cycle, it is our society's collective plan to diet come January 1st that actually leads to and encourages increased overeating and bingeing during the holiday season. This is referred to as the “last supper mentality”, the thinking that we must consume all the foods of the season, often in larger amounts than feels good to our bodies, because that new diet or lifestyle is right around the corner.
This all-or-nothing approach to food and eating often leads to mindless eating and a disconnectedness to our bodies that can leave us feeling overstuffed, guilty and ashamed and enjoying the holiday foods less. Then when January comes around the multi billion dollar diet and fitness industry is ready and waiting to promise us just the solution we need to solve our problems with food and our bodies.
Simply becoming aware of this cycle and the trap that is created over and over year after year can bring awareness to our falling prey to it. What if you decided to break the cycle and try something new? Keep reading to figure out how.
2. Give Yourself the Gift of Permission
Holiday foods come with a lot of hype because we usually only have them once a year. Because they are only available one time a year, this can create a subconscious feeling of deprivation, driving us to think we have to eat every last bite while it lasts. When we are deprived of any food, no matter if it is because it only comes around once a year or on purpose because of being in diet or restrictive mode, when we are around that particular food we may feel out of control and eat more than we feel like we “should” or “need to” and in response have feelings of guilt and self-blame and a feeling of lacking will power around certain foods.
The reality is that it is the deprivation of these foods that creates this response, not a failure on our part or lack of willpower. The deprivation heightens the desire. It is just the way our bodies and our minds are wired, it is biology and psychology.
This is where the 3rd principle of intuitive eating“ Make Peace with Food – can really come into play and be put into practice. Permission, wrapped up in mindfulness is the antidote to feeling out of control and all the emotions that come along with that. When we give ourselves full permission while staying mindful, food loses its control over us. In our diet obsessed world it may seem scary to offer yourself full permission, but it can be transformative.
You might experiment with giving yourself full permission with certain foods that bring forth that feeling of being out of control “ maybe outside of the holiday meal “ maybe its cookies or maybe it's a certain pie you really enjoy. Find a food that challenges you and try to really tune in instead of out.
- What flavors do I taste?
- What textures do I notice?
- Is there a point where it doesn't taste as good as the first couple of bites?
- What would it be like to know you can stop whenever you want and have more later or tomorrow?
- Notice what feelings come up for you or what memories? Are they pleasant or do they make you want to numb out and become mindless?
- Do last supper feelings come up “ the thinking that this is your only shot to the food so you better eat as much as you can?
Try to just be curious and notice without judgement. Notice how tuning in rather than tuning out changes the experience of eating.
3. Be Aware of Your Emotions
Aside from the abundance of delicious food, this time of year can bring up all sorts of emotions, both the warm fuzzy ones and the more challenging. For those of us who typically turn to food in response to emotions, this can be a particularly challenging part of the holidays.
Emotions, both positive and negative, are part of this season. For many of us food is a coping mechanism and way that we have developed to deal with our feelings and emotions. We naturally and understandably gravitate towards food to both celebrate and cope. Instead of demonizing that fact and wishing we could will it away, a better approach is to acknowledge and accept that it is just a normal part of relating and coping with emotions and how we feel and can be part of a perfectly healthy relationship with food.
When uncomfortable emotions come up, we often would rather stuff them than acknowledge them, both literally with food, and figuratively by ignoring them and having the “suck it up and move on” mentality. The practice of becoming more aware of and acknowledging feelings/emotions versus stuffing them though is one of the most honoring things you can do for yourself.
Can you, with curiosity and without judgement, begin to become aware of when you are using food to soothe an emotion? You might not change the behavior, but even just awareness can go a long way-even after the fact. When we become aware, we can then mindfully explore different ways to respond. Food is just one way to cope, there are so many others. When we pause and take a breath we give ourselves the opportunity to see what we might really need in that moment.
This diagram from a favorite handout I work through often with clients gives you some choices to consider some of those different ways to respond. The next time you are feeling some kind of way and wanting to turn to food experiment with a different response and see how it makes you feel.
4. Remember to Nourish Yourself Regularly
It is a hectic time, so schedules can get thrown off making it is easy to skip or delay meals. This can also be intentional if you have a history of dieting and saving calories for holiday gatherings. It is so important to honor your hunger by planning and eating consistently and regularly throughout the day. In a culture that is constantly telling us to eat less and that hunger is good (I’m eyeing you intermittent fasting) we get the distorted message that eating regularly and nourishing ourselves is a bad thing.
On the contrary, from a health and nutrition perspective, when we eat in a balanced way and nourish ourselves regularly and consistently we give our bodies the energy and nutrients they need to do all the things that are part of this busy season. Eating consistently also can leave you less vulnerable to the inevitable response to extreme hunger, which often leads to that out of control feeling with food and eating beyond comfortable fullness.
Consider this all too familiar scenario. Say you have a holiday party in the evening and you know there will be lots of rich and tasty foods. So you decide to skip meals during the day or eat “light” in preparation. By the time you arrive to the party you are famished and feel like you could eat a horse. So that is precisely what you do. Leaving you feeling stuffed, uncomfortable, and feeling like you’ve failed.
I offer another alternative. Instead, you have that same holiday party that evening. You wake up and eat a normal, balanced breakfast with some carbs, protein, and fat – think eggs, toast and fruit or oatmeal with nuts and berries. Then three to four hours later you have a balanced, filling, and satisfying lunch. You might even need a snack in the mid afternoon. Then you arrive to the party and you are able to enjoy the foods from a fed and nourished state, rather than starving and out of control.
Any time we arrive to a meal or eating experience from a place of extreme hunger, the natural response, because again of biology and our bodies working to get their needs met, is to arrive at the other end of the spectrum to feeling overly full. When we restrict by skipping meals and “saving up” we set ourselves up to eat beyond what our body needs and in response to feel not only physically overstuffed, but mentally feeling guilt and shame with that eating experience. Give it a try. Try listening in to your body and your hunger and responding with feeding yourself on a regular and consistent basis and see how it makes you feel.
To hear about the other four strategies…
5. Make moving your body a priority
6. Drink wisely
7. Be ready to respond to diet and weight talk
8. Have self-compassion
Check out the Zoom chat video above!
The holidays come with a lot. A lot of busyness and stress for many, but also a lot of goodness too. Guilt and self-sabotage around food and our bodies don’t have to be a built-in part of the season.
It is possible with some preparation, mindfulness and practice to stay connected to and honor your body and allow food to be a part of the season, but not our main focus and something to enjoy, not stress over. The key is coming from a place of compassion for yourself and being curious instead of critical as you go through this holiday season and beyond. I hope these tips and strategies will help you approach the holidays from a kinder and more gentle place to help you find more peace and joy during this season.