So here we are in December and the holiday season is upon us. This time of the year can be a challenging time to navigate, especially if you are just in the beginning of your make-peace-with-food journey.
Food is in abundant supply and so is the media’s continued supply of mixed messages. If you open any women’s magazine you will most likely see a miss mash between “How to bake delicious cookies and sweet treats” to “How to beat the Christmas bulge and look fabulous in the little black dress”.
Years ago, long before I became firmly rooted in a non-diet approach, I both followed and gave out advice such as “ How to stop overeating at Christmas, to prevent weight gain and “How to avoid temptations” (insert face palm here…). Anyway, these days when I know better, I would like to rectify this past advice with something more useful and something that won’t backfire into deprivation driven eating or binge like behaviour, just because diet mentality is reinforced.
The Holiday Season can be challenging to navigate for many reasons, not just food alone, but dealing with family, in-laws etc. and the general stress of this time of year often have their own challenges and if the relationship with particular people are strained normally, the holiday season may not make it any easier. As a result we may turn to food (or alcohol) in order to cope. Don’t beat your self up about it, if this is the case, we all do what we in have to in order to survive.
The hallmark of diet mentality is this All Or Nothing thinking. It is either Good or Bad. Intuitive eating helps us live in the grey (though I prefer to think of it as a rainbow…), where choice and flexibility exists. Of course it may feel easier to roll with an all or nothing approach, sussing out all the nuances in between is so much messier. But it is here, in the mess and the nuance, that peace and freedom resides.
So actually, even though this time of year IS challenging to navigate, between family stuff, diet talk, overwhelm and perhaps fear of how to cope with it all, it can also provide us with rich soil for practice and growth.
These are my five suggestions for How To Navigate The Holiday Season As An Intuitive Eater.
Give yourself full permission to eat ALL foods
This is the basic tenet of intuitive eating. In order to create space for choice, we have to first let go of all the rigid food rules we’re holding on to. If ALL foods are ‘allowed’ then there’s no reason for feeling guilty for eating anything. If you could have whatever you want of what is on offer, what do YOU want? Pick what you truly enjoy of the seasonal feasts on offer and feel free to say no to the rest. You are don’t have to eat something “just because”.
Practice honouring your hunger and fullness ques (and don’t arrive to the party starving!)
Now is a prime opportunity to truly listen to your body. Of course there may be some overeating past comfortable fullness, that’s to be expected simply by the share amount of food that tends to be serves on Christmas Day alone. That is totally cool too. Your body knows how to handle it.
And if you are not “saving up calories” but continue with a practice of eating regular meals, there is less chance of inhaling everything in sight, just because you are Starving!
If you can let go of any idea starting (another) diet in January, it will be so much easier to relax into this and to let your body guide you. You are just respecting your body’s cues and that’s that.
You don’t need to repent anything
Adopt this as a mantra if one of your struggles are with over exercising and/ or a fear of weight gain. Move your body because it feels good to do so. You don’t need to earn food, or burn it off. Not over the Holiday Season or any other time of the year for that matter. Trust that your body know how to regulate itself.
Say No, if you have to. Your body, your rules. If you are surrounded by diet talk, try changing the conversation or excuse yourself. Leave if you have to, in order to keep your sanity and if it is too triggering. Also unsubscribe and unfollow all the diet advice that may be still coming your way.
Rest, Move, Socialise, Eat – Do whatever you need to take care of YOU
Allow yourself some time to do what feels best for you. This may be the greatest gift you can gift yourself. Oh and be gentle with yourself too. Self-kindness and self compassion is always a good idea.
I’ve been grappling with the headline for this particular blog post because part of what I also want to touch on is this; “To give yourself full permission to eat (all) foods is not the same as eating with abandonment.”
There are some challenging concepts when it comes to Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating that I feel are both radical as well as counter cultural. And they can be very challenging to put into practice, yet I believe they are vital if we want to reach a place of peace with food and eating.
Many people seem to think that their main problem with “staying on the diet band wagon” is their lack of willpower, and if they just tried harder they could do it. Or if they weren’t such emotional eaters they wouldn’t have such an issue with food and (over) eating.
Here’s thing though.
When you are restricting you are fighting biology.
If your body is not getting what it needs, it will make sure that your brain become preoccupied with thoughts of food, your senses heighten so that you will ultimately feed yourself. Because this is fundamental for our survival.
Someone recently shared this famous study with me which was done back in the late 1940s called The Great Starvation Experiment. And when you think of it, it very much mimics the conventional dieting of today…
So the first focus of mindful eating is always to get to a place of tuning in, become aware of our hunger cues, as well as our fullness cues, so we can honour the need to eat.
This is where the permission to eat starts. When you notice you are hungry – EAT.
This is a kind act of self care. It sounds so simple, and it is. But not if we are used to eat according to plans, set by someone who does not live in your body, it may be a little challenging to start. Each time you honour your hunger, you are re enforcing your inherent self worth. Luckily most of us have access to food, so there is truly no need to fight hunger.
With this permission to eat, you open the door to explore how different foods affect your hunger and fullness, you may notice that it is useful to bring snacks in certain circumstances when you know that getting access to food can be tricky, and when you don’t want to end up in a ravenous state with limited choices. I can’t tell you how often I end up like this myself, even though I am so well aware of how it makes me feel, both to eat sugary foods to lift my blood sugar (though they may taste great for the first few bites), and how miserable I feel when I’m venturing into “ravenous” territory.
However, if I was supposed to be adhering to someone else’s plan with set amount of foods I most likely would have to be using precious energy and willpower to NOT eat, even though my body is telling me “feed me!” And truly, what message is this sending to myself? That I am not worthy of being fed?
Deprivation and restriction feed the binge cycle, so no 1. is to give yourself full permission to eat when you are hungry.
Great, now here’s the next permission slip; “Give yourself permission to eat ALL foods”.
Peace and freedom with foods comes from neutralising foods. Yep, you heard that right, that means letting go of the moral compass, and the labels of “good” and”bad”. Does it mean we throw nutrition out the window too? No.
It simply means we drop the moral judgment of ourselves (and others), according to what we eat.
It means I’m no different as a person, whether I eat a doughnut for breakfast, or have a green kale smoothie.
It means we can drop guilt from our diets, and any shame we hold about ourselves that stems from our food choices.
It means we have the freedom to choose, whatever will bring us most pleasure and satisfaction in that moment.
It means we are free to be with our direct experience of eating.
It means we can begin to embrace OUR OWN specific needs with kindness.
It mean we can eat with pleasure and satisfaction, for nourishment and self care.
And however and with whatever foods that brings us pleasure, satisfaction and nourishment, we have the flexibility to change this up as needed, because we are no longer tied to rigid dietary rules.
“But if I let myself have whatever I want I will never stop eating”.
“If I let myself eat whatever I want I will end up living on coffee and chocolate.”
Maybe…? Or maybe not.
This is what I mean with my statement above, that giving ourselves full permission to eat all foods, is not the same as eating with abandonment. Which all too often happens after dieting. This way of eating is actually a natural response to deprivation.
When you’ve given yourself full permission to eat all foods, and you bring kindness and curiosity to your eating experience, you are free to explore how different foods affect your body, as well as perhaps even your mind and spirit.
You have opened the door for choice. You don’t have to eat everything today, as there will always be another day to have that food again.
Most of all you have given yourself permission to eat and nourish yourself in a way that makes YOU and your body FEEL good.
And to re-enforce the message to yourself and your body, that you are worthy and worth it.
That may just be the taste of freedom that you are looking for.
Do you long to let go of obsession around food, eating and weight? Would you like to feel freedom and peace around meals and beyond, but need some help and support to get there?
It would be an honour to walk with you on this path. Please email me HERE to set up a free 30 min consultation to explore how this may be possible for you too.