How to Eat Intuitively During the Holiday Season
I received a question, a few weeks ago, for my Q&A episode of the Chasing Joy Podcast and knew it needed to become a blog post. (I also answered on the show if you want to hear the short version). The gist of the question is, “how can I eat intuitively during the holidays with so many different parties, events, dinners and special foods?”
From October to the end of December is a wonderful, stressful, intense, exciting, fun, crazy time for a lot of people. Regardless of faith, you’re bound to come in contact with some kind of celebration, platters of food, parties, drinks, festivities and most definitely some manipulative marketing.
During the holidays I find myself gritting my teeth with frustration over some of the diet culture garbage I read online about food during the holidays. The most frustrating part is that a lot of it is disguised as “health tips,” when really obsessing about every calorie at a holiday part is anything but healthy.
Whether it’s people talking about starving all day in order to overeat at a big meal or associating special desserts with major guilt, so much of food talk around the holidays stems from diet culture. The goal is to make us feel crazy around food. So crazy and out of control that when January comes, we just want to hand over the reigns to whatever diet is trending.
It’s not an accident. The holiday binge and January purge is diet culture hallmark. It makes the industry billions of dollars at our physical and mental health’s expense.
So How to We Escape the Madness?!
What if there was another way? What if we ate in a way that didn’t make us feel horrible or want to starve ourselves come January?
The good news? There is another way.
The bad news? it’s not easy. It’s not a meal plan or a diet or a set of hard and fast rules.
You guessed it, I’m talking about intuitive eating. I want to say before I go further, I’m not an intuitive eating expert. Again this book is a great starting point. I’m also not a nutrition expert. I am merely a Georgie expert which is useful for pretty much just me. I do however know a bit about my own process of getting to intuitive eating so I share my experience in hopes that you can hopefully pick and choose what works for you and ultimately feel the sweet food freedom we deserve.
How to Eat Intuitively During the Holiday Season
Tune Out Diet Talk
The first step to intuitive eating around the holidays is to be a mindful media and marketing critic. Whenever you hear stories and ads that have you feeling “guilt” around food, tune that *ish right out. Whether it’s an ad or a story in a “health” magazine, know that behind the story there is probably a company profiting from your insecurity in some way.
Girl, you’re so much cooler, smarter, healthier, stronger than all that. It can be hard to tune out diet culture nonsense this time of year, but every time you practice it becomes a little easier. A good way to balance it out is to fill your feeds with positive folks who either share body positive, intuitive health advice or just anything that isn’t fear mongering health content.
Know That Restricting Leads to Binging
Raise your hand if you have ever under ate the day you had a big party, where you knew there would be lots of food *raises hand*
Raise your hand if you proceeded to obsess about said food, ate in a way that made you unhappy and ultimately felt kind of meh and a little shame after the event *raises hand*
Restricting your food intake day of will ultimately lead to binging and or feeling shitty. Maybe not that night, but it will happen. It’s a physical and mental response. It’s your body’s way of trying to protect you. Restricting before a party won’t make you feel better. It will almost always set you up to feel a lot worse. Not eating enough, the day of a party is causing your brain to focus on food all day.
If you do restrict before an event, most likely you’ll feel super hungry when you get there, eat past fullness, feel uncomfortable, feel shame, restrict the next day and the cycle will continue. It’s also important to recognize that no one party food is worth feeling anxiety and hunger all day. On top of the physical discomfort, the whole situation will probably lead to disappointment. What cocktail weenie or Christmas cookie can live up the built up hype?
Nourish Your Body Before a Party or Event
Instead of starving all day before a party, eat lots of good food! Seriously though. Eat just like you’d eat on a normal day. Listen to what you’re craving. Drink plenty of water, try to get some good greens, protein, carbs, fat, and fiber in there if possible. Then head to the party and have FUN.
When you get there, you’ll find that your hunger cues are a lot more tuned in. Compare that to when you were hungry all day. When I’m crazy hungry, literally all the things sound delicious. I am also a mean monster. When you go to a party and you’re not crazy hungry, it’s easier to say no to food that isn’t really anything you’d eat anyway.
For example, I don’t really love cake. If I’m not that hungry cake doesn’t look very good. If I had starved myself all day I’d eat a whole cake.
Eat Things That Feed Your Soul All Year
Part of the reason eating intuitively makes you feel less crazy around food (ie extra crazy around holiday food) is because no one food has any crazy power over you. This is because you haven’t any food on a good or bad pedestal. Once nothing is off limits, food feels less charged. Now, this process of uncharging certain foods can take a while. For example, if you never let yourself have your favorite cookie, then when it’s back in play you might feel out of control for a little while. However, over time your body recognizes that the cookie isn’t going anywhere. You can have it whenever you want so it’s not that big of a deal.
During some of the worst years of my eating disorder when I was eating 300-800 calories a day I used to obsessed over candy corn pumpkins around Halloween. I had zero control. One night I let myself have one, and that turned into almost 30. I felt so sick, which led to a purge, guilt, and even worse restriction the next day.
This year, almost nine years later, I bought a bag of candy corn pumpkins and ended up having one and realizing I don’t really like them anymore. It was like biting into a ball of sugar for my taste buds, right now. This is because I am in touch with what my body needs, what tastes good, what feels good. I only got to this point once I stopped restricting. I allow myself to have soul nourishing food all year round for no special reason. Mind you, this does take time. When cookies are always on the table, special holiday cookies won’t have the same control over you.
Give Yourself Grace, Things Won’t Always Go Perfectly
Intuitive eating is not a diet. It’s not just about hunger and fullness. If you’re like most women, you’ve been living most of your life with ingrained rules and shame around food and your body. If you’re new to intuitive eating, it’s going to feel a little crazy. You’ll have days where you eat past fullness and days you don’t eat enough. You’ll feel great about the whole thing one day and want to throw in the towel and get back to all your food rules the next. This is all part of the process. Holidays are especially tough for navigating intuitive eating, so be nice to yourself. Turns out being an asshole to yourself actually doesn’t make anything better. I know, crazy stuff, right?
Try to find a mantra during the season to help ground yourself when you’re feeling out of whack or anxious around food.
A mantra I’ll be practicing is, “I’m here to celebrate, connect and feel good.” The goal is pleasure. Saying this will help remind me what food (and how much) will bring me pleasure and connection.
Focus on the People Not Just the Food
This year I noticed how often I’d go to a party and actually forget about the food. Me? Forget to eat? Who is this girl and what did she do with Georgie? What I ate and didn’t eat used to be on the top of my mind, always.
Now, the more intuitively I eat, the less focused on food I am. Instead, if I’m at an event with people I love or new folks I’m meeting, I actually get more excited about the conversations I’m having than I am over the food I’m eating.
This isn’t me saying food isn’t an amazing and wonderful part of an event. Instead, I’m saying that food is a wonderful part of the event, but it’s not the only or even most important part. An example of this was, last weekend a dear friend of mine’s family was coming into town. We all gathered at my parents’ house to cook a big meal because her dad loves to cook. The whole night was about creating an amazing meal, but of course, the best part was the connection we had over the food, not just the food itself.
I have a hunch the incredible Moroccan sauce wouldn’t be as flavorful or memorable if it weren’t for the laughs, music, hugs, and stories that were shared. I loved every bite of that dish. However, I wasn’t sad or anxious when it was over, nor was I thinking about the calories, or how it fits into my meal plan. It was such a fun night and extra special because I wasn’t obsessing over every detail of the food itself. It was the connection that made that kind of meal so memorable.
Not all holiday parties will be filled with people you love, so distracting yourself from obsessive food thoughts isn’t always easy. During the events where you’re mostly small-talking, my suggestion is to focus on finding one or two people you connect with instead of trying to make an impression on everyone.
Play a Game After Dinner
If you’re at a longer family or friend’s party where food can sometimes be the main focus, try to suggest playing a game. If your goal is to really connect with people and not overthink the food, games are such a fun way to create new memories and connections. It can be simple as a card game, something a little saucy like Cards Against Humanity or something more physical like Guestures.
I love that after Thanksgiving dinner my family likes to break things up with a game. It helps break the evening up and is one of my favorite ways to connect with my family. It’s always pleasantly surprised to see who’s up for a game after dinner.
I’m sending you so much love and compassion this holiday season. Especially, if navigating food has been tricky in the past. I know how it feels and you’re definitely not alone. I’m so sick of diet culture hijacking our fun parties and making us feel crazy around food. Know that you’re doing the best you can. Also, know that it’s so so so worth it to feel freedom from obsessive food thoughts. You’re worth it.