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Eating Intuitively During the Holidays

Thanksgiving Dinner

The holiday season can be a scary time when we don’t feel in control of our body or our food choices. This is when we can use principles of Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is learning to listen to your body cues to make the right food choices for your body. Eat when you’re hungry, eat until you are satisfied, and choose foods that make you feel good. That’s going to look different for every person. As a dietitian, people come to me feeling defeated and fed up with constant dieting. But they still want me to tell them what, when and how much they should eat. Unfortunately, that’s not my job. Only you and your body know the answers. My job is to help you get in tune with your body so that you know how to make the best choices that will leave you feeling your best.

Here are some tips that will help you feel full, satisfied, and thankful after your Thanksgiving meal.

1. Listen to Your Body. Take a step back. Stop listening to external cues like diet culture telling you to eat only the turkey and veggies at Thanksgiving or to eat a small breakfast and lunch so that you can eat anything you want at dinner. Our bodies are smart and they know what they need. When you wake up on the day of Thanksgiving, your body will likely be sending hunger cues. Your body doesn’t know it’s not a typical day. So listen. Eat breakfast, eat lunch if you have a later meal or a snack if you have an earlier meal. When our body sends hunger cues, it is our job to listen, and eat. If we don’t eat, we are teaching our body that what it is saying doesn’t matter and we eventually become disconnected from our body cues. So pause, feel, listen, and then act. You’ll be thankful your body tells you what it needs.

2. You Have a Choice. We often think of choices as #1 or #2, but within each choice are so many layers of more choices. For example, you choose to eat pie. You also then have a choice about what type, where to eat it, when to eat it, and how much to eat. You can also make one choice and change your mind part way through. You choose to try pumpkin pie, but part way through, you see your cousin eating the cherry pie and you want in. You have the choice to stop, not finish the pumpkin pie, and serve yourself some cherry. Knowing that your choice is not always a final decision can be freeing. If you listen closely to your body, you will always make the best choice for that moment.

3. Practice Mindfulness. Check in with your emotions and ask yourself, what do I really need right now? What do I really want right now? Am I hungry, or am I avoiding a feeling? If I’m avoiding a feeling, what can I do to protect myself in this moment? Maybe that means getting up from the table or taking a quick bathroom break to take a few deep breaths. Savor your food. You and your family put extra love and attention into today’s feast, so take time to really taste it. To slow down and enjoy every flavor, take a minute before the meal to take a few deep breaths and notice the smells. As you eat try putting your fork or spoon down between each bite. Take time to chew your food and move it around in your mouth before swallowing it. Actually taste it. Take moments of pause to notice how you feel. When you feel satisfied, stop eating. Chat with family and friends, and then return to how you feel. Maybe you’re not full, maybe you need a few more bites. Or maybe with time you notice you are truly full and you can save your leftovers for later.

4. Here’s a Big Secret. You can eat Thanksgiving foods any time of year. Go ahead, make stuffing in January. Right?! Why not?! These foods are always available, but for some reason we restrict them to one time a year. Over eating or binging often stems from restriction. When we allow ourselves to eat and enjoy the foods we love, anytime of year, the novelty wears off, we enjoy it when we want, and the chance of overeating it is reduced. This Thanksgiving I want to gift you with unconditional permission to eat.

5. Respect your Fullness. This is one of the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating, created by fellow RDs Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. While you are eating check in with yourself periodically. Ask yourself this: “Am I still truly hungry?”. It takes time for the signal of fullness to travel from our stomach to our brain, so slow down, and take a moment to pause and check in every so often. This year, I’m giving you permission to decline membership to the “clean your plate club”. Listen to your body and eat until your satisfied. Listen to your body and stop when it is full.

6. Move your Body Because it Feels Good, not because you want to shame it for overeating. When we acknowledge our feelings and actions we are better able to accept them and move on. Maybe you did overeat at Thanksgiving. It happens. Sometimes things taste so good. But you feel full. Please, don’t feel guilty about this feeling. Feeling full is a normal reaction to overeating. Try encouraging some family or friends to go for a walk after the meal. Talk about your weekend plans, talk about that recent work achievement, talk about your favorite TV show. Leave the diet talk and body shaming at the door. Remember movement is a celebration of what your body can do not a punishment for what you ate.

7. Thanksgiving Is Healthy. The Traditional American Thanksgiving foods are healthy and nourishing: turkey, cranberries, green beans, squash, sweet potato, onions, roasted carrots, and Brussel sprouts. Yes, health is partly about choosing healthy foods, but it’s so much more than just that. Overall health is about our physical and mental being.

And if you feel a little over full after your meal give yourself a break. Be thankful that your body knows how to handle it, that your body won’t change overnight, and that your body was able to tell you how it felt. This Thanksgiving focus on finding enjoyment, acceptance, love, and pleasure in what you choose to eat. Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.

If you have leftovers try this super simple leftover dish. Winner, winner, Turkey breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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