People who have implemented and benefited from dietary changes know how conflicting the approach of the holiday season can be. Our minds abound with questions such as: is it okay to indulge for just a couple of weeks? or will my friends and family be willing to cater to my dietary requirements?
You are not alone. Surveys show that over half of Americans go into the festive season intending to put their diets on hold. Whether or not this is justified according to health, social or lifestyle perspectives, the conundrum posed by dieting during the holidays reveals a downside of rigid and uncompromising dietary regimens.
An excellent alternative is gaining in popularity — intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is a practice whereby you forego the austerity required by traditional diets and instead try to get in tune with your body’s needs. By listening to their bodies, people who practice intuitive eating can achieve the benefits of traditional diets — weight loss, appetite control and improved mental and physical well-being — without hassle!
Does Intuitive Eating Work?
As with any new or resurfacing idea, most people approach the concept of intuitive eating with a healthy dose of skepticism. Thankfully, the scientific literature supports the efficacy and merits of intuitive eating.
A qualitative study of middle-aged women published in the Health Psychology Open journal found that intuitive eating helped participants avoid the negative feelings associated with setbacks in following a strict diet. These negative feelings include frustration, depression and demoralization.
Critics of intuitive eating claim that it can lead to uncontrollable eating habits. However, a study of over 700 Hungarian university students found little to no connection between intuitive eating and uncontrolled eating.
Can Intuitive Eating Help You Lose Weight?
The desire to lose weight, improve one’s physique or boost overall self-image is one of the primary reasons individuals alter their diets. A mixed methods study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that self-image, alongside overall health, was the main impetus behind participants changing their diets.
Intuitive eating is effective at helping individuals lose weight healthily. An Australian literature review of 26 studies found that individuals who follow intuitive eating principles had, on average, a lower body mass index (BMI) than those not following intuitive eating. It also found many other benefits associated with intuitive eating outside weight loss, including improved cholesterol readings and better diastolic blood pressure markers.
Intuitive Eating Principles
As a modern dietary concept, intuitive eating was created by a dietician, Evelyn Tribole, and a nutritionist, Elyse Resch, in 1995. Tribole and Resch centered their concept around 10 principles:
- Reject the diet mentality. Letting go of the diet culture of restriction and shame frees individuals to live freely and fully.
- Honor your hunger. Eating when your body signals to you, through hunger, that it needs nutrition averts overeating further down the line.
- Make peace with food. Insatiable cravings and bouts of guilt are mitigated by not creating a list of forbidden foods.
- Challenge the food police. Avoid labeling certain food groups as “good” or “bad” to free yourself from the cycle of negativity associated with diets.
- Discover the satisfaction factor. Enjoy food instead of associating meals with weight gain and guilt — this approach will help you discover when you have truly eaten your fill.
- Feel your fullness. Be mindful of the signals your body sends about your level of satiety.
- Cope with Your emotions and kindness. Recognize that emotional eating won’t solve your problems, and try to recognize your emotional triggers.
- Respect your body. Accepting your body and genetic traits is a critical step in intuitive eating.
- Movement — Feel the difference. Move your body without giving yourself the pressure of following stringent exercise routines.
- Honor your health — Gentle nutrition. Provide your body with adequate nutrition, and it will reward you. Don’t beat yourself up over one unhealthy meal. True progress is made gradually over time — one slip-up won’t set you back.
Intuitive Eating Tips
The principles of intuitive eating can be a lot to take in all at once. Moreover, taking abstract concepts and implementing them simultaneously can take time and effort. Hence, deriving five actionable tips for this holiday season can help you successfully implement intuitive eating.
Afford Yourself the Pleasure of Enjoying the Holidays
The festive season only comes around once per year — a time of joy, celebration and happiness. You deserve to indulge in the cheerful spirit of the holidays without being shackled down by guilt and shame. Give yourself permission to eat your favorite foods, relish holiday drinks and savor the generational homemade recipes that only come out during the holidays.
Don’t View Healthy Eating as Black and White
Refrain from believing that there is no point in eating healthily or practicing moderation during the holiday season. Just because you are having dessert after dinner doesn’t mean your healthy lifestyle is irreversibly damaged.
Many people make the mistake of exhibiting extremes during the festive period. Individuals either punish themselves by practicing total austerity (and missing out on fantastic meals), or they abandon any semblance of healthy eating and believe that because they are not following their diet to the tee, they now have to overeat at every opportunity. A healthy compromise and balance are always within reach.
Trust Your Body
Listening to your body will let you know when it has had enough food and if it can endure the third helping of turkey and cranberry sauce. Your body is designed to regulate your appetite and eating habits as per its needs. You don’t have to police your every thought and want associated with food during the holiday season.
Be Kind to Yourself and Those Around You
Well-intended jokes and comments about overeating and the need for a period of dieting following the holidays might seem harmless, but they can fuel a toxic cycle. You are not the only one at risk of falling victim to this.
Be mindful of the jokes you make and the conversations you engage with regarding other people’s appetites, appearances or health. By channeling this positive change outward, you will naturally afford yourself the same kindness. Don’t perpetuate the notion that enjoying yourself during this period is unhealthy and worthy of punitive measures.
Don’t Punish Yourself After the Holidays
Once the new year arrives, don’t subject yourself to arbitrary, oppressive, unfair food rules. Instead, acknowledge that there is a time and place for enjoyment and indulgence and that you deserve to treat yourself.
Punishing yourself is counterproductive and likely to worsen future eating habits.
Harness the Power of Intuitive Eating
A true commitment to intuitive eating requires being kinder to yourself and fostering a healthier relationship with food. There is no need to punish yourself during or after the holidays. You deserve to focus your thoughts, time and energy on resting, enjoying the company of your loved ones and reflecting on the past year. By trusting your body to do what it was designed to do — regulate your hunger and eating habits — you can enjoy guilt-free participation in all of the holiday festivities!