The end of the year is fast approaching (scarily fast!). For many, this heralds in a time of Christmas parties, end of year wrap-up celebrations, catch-ups with family and friends, maybe a long-awaited holiday… Then BAM! Along comes New Year’s Eve!… It tends to be a season of magnificent spread of foods and drinks. A time of feasting.
Now for some people, a feast of delicious foods and drinks is a cause for unmitigated joy. But the truth is that for many of my clients it causes stress and anxiety.
What if you have overeaten, or even binged* in the past when presented with such foods? What if you’ve worked hard this year to try and eat intuitively, to honour your body signals and allow your appetite to guide you, but the festive season always throws you off-track?
What is Intuitive Eating at Christmas?
First, a reminder: what does intuitive eating actually look like? Well, eating according to your appetite, honouring your taste preferences and what you truly feel like eating rather than being rigidly stuck in only eating what you think you should do.
Now, why would the end of year celebrations throw people off their appetite signals? Well, a table brimming with delicious food can certainly throw people off track. There’s probably a lot more exciting food available – in larger quantities – than usual. You might linger at the table for longer because of all the great conversations, picking at food as you do. Sometimes the host might be offering food in a persuasive way (“you MUST try this…”, “look at all this food, what am I going to do with it all? Eat, everyone!”…). And of course, appetite regulation tends to drop down after a few glasses of wine… Sound familiar?
Now, let’s think about what the concept of intuitive, appetite-driven eating would look like when thrown into this heady mix.
Does intuitive eating at Christmas mean rigidly sticking to the exact same portions and types of foods day after day to feel ‘safe’? No! It encourages people to enjoy the occasion, and to be mindful and present. It means noticing and acknowledge your appetite, and being guided on when to stop eating by those signals. BUT… it also acknowledges that it’s perfectly normal to sometimes eat a little bit more when you’re really enjoying the food and the company! Ask yourself: is it Christmas every day? Do you eat these foods every day? If you relax and allow yourself to eat as you like, will it really have a dramatic, permanent impact upon your body when you know you’ll go back to your usual eating, which is nicely attuned to your appetite, the next day? Most people can see that Christmas is just a ‘blip’, which intuitive eating can flow around flexibly.
Allowing yourself to eat without guilt is the gift that intuitive eating gives you at times like these.
If you can, and if you feel like it, perhaps you might do a few small things to help you stay tuned to your appetite on days like this:
- Serve yourself the foods you like, in the portions you know are usually right for your appetite. Don’t serve more just because others are – you can always go back for more if that’s what you decide when the time comes.
- Eat your food at the right pace so that you taste it and enjoy it.
- Give yourself permission to say no to foods you don’t feel like, or even to say no to all further foods and drinks if you are full. You are eating to please yourself, not others.
- Pause after you’ve finished your meal. Everyone else might be going back for seconds because it’s delicious – and you can too! – but just take a few minutes to check in with yourself on whether it’s what you want to do.
- If there’s nibbles on the table – and you’re still a little unsure of your appetite signals – it can sometimes be helpful to take a plate and put on it the foods you like, so you can judge a bit better whether the amount looks ‘right’ to you. Think about what would normally be a snack for you, bearing in mind how hungry you are, and how far away lunch is. Remember – it’s just a guide to help you, you can always eat more, or less.
- Some people opt to fill up their own glass if/when they want more, rather than accepting ‘top-ups’ as they come. This can help reduce any anxiety over how much they’ve had to drink.
- Acknowledge that this is a special day, and it’s fine to eat in a slightly different way to usual. Don’t feel like you need to rigidly adhere to your appetite at the expense of relaxing into the occasion.
Wishing everyone a happy and positive experience over the festive season!
Claire Marnane, eating disorders and mindful eating dietitian
*Note: this post is aimed at people who are not actively binging on food in the weeks leading up to the festive season. It takes time to work on the skills necessary to cease binging behaviour. I recommend that, if this does sound like you, perhaps you might make a commitment (?New Year’s resolution!) to work on this issue slowly over the new year when there’s less pressure.
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