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Holiday Eating Extravaganza: 7 Ways to Prepare for the Food-Focused Holiday Season

November 7, 2023

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

Today my goal is to help prepare you for this holiday eating extravaganza with 7 strategies you can use to feel prepared, confident and calm, so that you can celebrate the holidays in a way that feels empowering to you.  

We all know that we’re told to “eat, drink and be merry,” but that’s not as joyful as it might sound. For a lot of us, the holidays are stressful. Whether it be the stress of finances and buying gifts, or the stress of being around family members that are really triggering or frustrating to you, or the stress of all the food along with the constant chatter about how many calories are in it, and holiday weight gain, blah, blah, blah. 

Really quick I don’t want to forget to mention that I have a free resource for you. It’s my holiday intuitive eating guide. It’s filled with some of the tips I’m sharing here today, as well as some tips that I’m not mentioning in this episode. So go grab that because the more of these reminders you have, and the more you can stay connected to your intuitive eating process, the easier the holiday season will be. 

7 Strategies for Intuitive Eating During the Holidays

1) Zoom Out 

No single meal or food is going to cause you to gain weight or become unhealthy. And let’s also call out that the fear mongering around holiday weight gain is rooted in fatphobia and anti-fat bias. This is a good time for us to notice those biases that most of us hold to some degree, and to do the uncomfortable work of unlearning that way of thinking. If you do gain weight during the holidays, so what?

It doesn’t mean you are a bad person or that you failed. But I also want you to keep in mind that Thanksgiving dinner (or any other holiday meal) doesn’t cause weight gain.

There is no specific meal or food that is going to cause our bodies to change or cause us to become healthy or unhealthy. It just doesn’t work like that.

2) Plan Your Menus Strategically (With Flexibility) 

Like I mentioned a minute ago, a lot of your days and weeks over these next couple of months will probably be relatively normal. And the ones that aren’t, you can plan accordingly for them. 

One of my biggest tips for you would be to plan your menus each week. I recommend this normally, on an ongoing basis, because I truly believe that it makes intuitive eating SO much easier (not to mention it makes grocery shopping easier and will save you TONS of time and money). 

A lot of people assume with intuitive eating that they should just wing it so that they can eat whatever sounds good in the moment, but that tends to backfire and leaves you hanging when you don’t have the food on hand that you need to put together a meal or snack. 

We can plan our meals ahead without being rigid or diet-y about it. We can plan things that are satisfying, and things that make sense in terms of the time and effort it takes to prepare them based on what we have going on that day. 

Now, during the holidays you’ll also be factoring in the weeks where there are holiday meals taking place. For those you would plan based on what you know about the schedule that day. Plan for what you can on those days of big holiday meals, and then be prepared to be flexible with it in the moment and let your body lead you.

Which brings me to my next point…

3) Trust Your Body

The overall essence of intuitive eating is that we are learning to reconnect with and trust our bodies. This is a GREAT opportunity to practice that. (And yes, I get that it’s stressful, but if we can think of it as an opportunity, it allows us to embrace the challenge with more of an open heart.)

On any given day, your body knows what it needs. Your body will give you the signals that tell you when you are hungry, when you are full, what you are hungry for. The key is that we slow down to check in. 

Let’s do a quick visualization to practice…

Imagine yourself sitting down for a holiday meal. Maybe it’s Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner, or whatever holiday you celebrate. You’re sitting there and your plate is empty, and you’re deciding what to put on it. Imagine yourself doing a quick check in with your body to see how you’re feeling. Notice any stress or worry that you’re experiencing. And check in with your appetite. Are you hungry? If so, how hungry are you? Are you full? That’s ok. We’re not judging the sensation. Just noticing. 

Now that you’re aware of how hungry or full you are, imagine yourself scanning the food on the table and deciding what looks good and what you want to put on your plate. 

Maybe you’re excited to eat and you’re hungry for some of everything. Wonderful. Embrace that and eat it mindfully, savoring the tastes and textures!

Maybe you’re only hungry for a couple of specific things. That’s great too. Put those things on your plate and enjoy them.

Perhaps you snacked leading up to the meal and you’re really not that hungry. You get to decide if you still eat right now or not. You didn’t do anything wrong by snacking. You haven’t blown it. You haven’t failed. You were hungry earlier and you ate. 

You might decide that you do still want to participate in the holiday meal in that moment. Go for it. Try to stay connected to your body so you don’t end up uncomfortably full. 

You might also decide to just try a few bites of the things you wanted and to hold off on having a full plate of food until later. Perhaps you could take a container of leftovers home. 

There’s no right/wrong here. 

The idea is to let your body guide you and to make intentional decisions. 

Keep coming back to your body. Practice listening to your body and trusting your body. 

4) Remind Yourself You Don’t Have to Compensate

You don’t have to try and offset the calories you eat during the holidays by saving up for later, eating less the next day, or trying to burn off the calories or earn them through exercise. 

This is all vintage diet mentality. It assumes that our bodies work on a calories in, calories out basis – and the reality is that our metabolism is much more complicated than that. 

Keep coming back to the wisdom of your body. Keep checking in with your body like we talked about earlier. Your body will tell you when you are hungry, when you are satisfied, and what you are hungry for.

Let’s also be mindful of not using exercise as punishment in order to burn off the calories we are, or to earn the calories we’re going to eat. This is also part of the diet mentality, and frankly it makes us less likely to want to work out or move our bodies. Why would we WANT to do something that’s about punishment and earning our food? We don’t need to earn the right to eat. We already deserve and require food just for being alive. 

Instead, with movement, think about what would feel good to your body during the holiday season. For some of you it might mean prioritizing your workouts that you normally do and keeping those on your schedule as a form of self-care. For others, it might mean being creative with movement like stretching while you’re wrapping presents, and getting in some extra steps while you’re out shopping, dancing to holiday music while you’re decorating gingerbread men. Maybe your neighborhood has a lot of cool holiday lights and you can take a few evening strolls through the neighborhood to enjoy the decorations.

5) Keep Snacks on Hand

Instead of being afraid of all the extra food that surrounds us this time of year, I encourage you to go the other direction and lean into it. Make sure you have plenty of snacks on hand at all times. Given that our schedules often get kind of wonky this time of year, you might have moments where you’re out and about or at a gathering or stuck at work or your kids’ holiday vocal concert and you need a snack. 

I personally like to embrace a combo of the seasonal flavors in my snacks, along with the snacks that are familiar to me that I keep around all the time. Sometimes I want something like those almond bark covered pretzels or a frosted sugar cookie, and other times I want my tried-and-true greek yogurt with berries and granola. 

Nourishing your body is an act of self-care. 

6) Enjoy Non-Food Aspects of the Holidays

With all the food hype around us it’s easy to forget that the holidays are actually meant to be about other things. I remember early on in my own intuitive eating journey it was really comforting for me to remind myself that the food is just food. It’s really not that exciting if you think of it that way. I needed the food to lose its charm, and that helped me to stress less about it. 

I started embracing the fun of decorating my house, listening to Christmas music (I grew up with Manheim Steamroller on repeat at my house, and I’ll always have a soft spot for the NSYNC Christmas album. I really enjoy driving around looking at Christmas lights, and I started a tradition a few years ago with a Santa jigsaw puzzle that we do every year. 

At Thanksgiving I try to embrace the spirit of gratitude, and I have a little bowl that sits on our table where we can put slips of paper in it each day with something we are grateful for. I also love to watch the Macy’s parade with my kids. 

So think about ways you can embrace non-food aspects of the holiday season. You might have to experiment to see what fits for you, but what we want to do here is to train your brain to recognize that it’s not all about the food. The food is just one part of the holidays. Yes the food can be special, but it’s still just food. And what makes it special is what it symbolizes. 

7) Don’t Fall For Clickbait

Part of why we are so obsessed about the food and weight during the holidays is because we are constantly exposed to messages telling us to stress about it. 

Think of how many times you’ve seen a segment on the Today Show about how much exercise you’d have to do to burn off Thanksgiving dinner, or healthy swaps you can make at your holiday dinner.

Or how about the headlines claiming that the average person gains 10 gazillion pounds over the holidays? These things freak us out, right? I did a deep dive on this a year or two ago, and it turns out that studies show the average person doesn’t actually gain weight during the holidays. It’s all made up rhetoric designed as click bait. And the reason media outlets keep talking about it is because it works – it gets clicks.

So let’s make a pact – Raise your right hand and repeat after me: 

I promise not to click on clickbait articles that will make me feel stressed and guilty about food and weight this holiday season.

Great. Glad we’re on the same page. In fact you could have fun with it and keep a tally of how many of these types of headlines, news segments or social media posts you see. I am envisioning us playing bingo with it because it’s that ridiculous. 

Reading these types of articles, watching these types of Reels or TikToks, watching these news segments is only going to suck you back into the diet mentality. It is going to make you doubt yourself and your ability to listen to your body, which is the LAST thing you need right now. 

Wrapping Up

The holidays can be a stressful time, especially when it comes to our eating. Knowing that this time of year brings all these extra challenges allows us to prepare ahead of time so we can step into it with intentionality and compassion towards ourselves. I encourage you to think about these things and what you can do to empower yourself to navigate these next several weeks with a sense of confidence that you are doing what’s right for YOU.

As always, be gentle with yourself and stay curious. We’ll talk again soon!

Resources Mentioned:
Grab my Free Holiday Intuitive Eating Guide

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