What Is Intuitive Eating?

The holiday season can be a time of hyperfocus around food, so much so that I often have clients tell me around this time of year that they want to wait to schedule their follow up visits until after the holidays so they can eat and enjoy without restriction- they tell me that it’s too hard to avoid eating their favorite holiday foods.  The truth is, they’re right, the research does show that over-restriction of foods can lead to a rebound effect and is a common trigger for the common yo-yo dieting cycle. That is NOT the goal!


Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to food and health and in many ways, a complete about-face to the historical nutrition advice focused around counting calories or relying on willpower. Instead, Intuitive Eating is a focus on reconnecting with our body’s own hunger and fullness cues and understanding some of the emotional and behavioral reasons behind why we eat.  It’s composed of 10 core principles which I will review in a future post, however for the purpose of today’s post I’m sharing 4 tips to help incorporate a more intuitive approach to your holiday meals.

1) Plan to enjoy your favorite foods!

No guilt needed. If you go into a dinner or event with the idea that “your diet starts tomorrow” it will blunt your ability to make intuitive food choices. The thinking that a diet is around the corner after “this event” or the New Year makes us more likely to feel the need to “eat while you can”.  Instead, allow yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods that you have looked forward to and enjoy. Remembering to eat for the intent to feel satisfied, not restricted or over-stuffed. Being mindful of the happy memories a holiday food may bring up or noting a new recipe you may want to try.


2) Aim to keep some of your normal eating patterns during the holidays

Intuitive Eating is rooted in paying attention to your body’s own hunger and fullness cues and trusting yourself to make choices about what to eat, how much to eat and when.  While schedules can get turned upside down due to holiday travel, family meals, etc. keeping some of your regular mealtimes can be helpful in feeling good about food choices.  Aim to be a proactive eater rather than a reactive one. This means not skipping breakfast and lunch before a holiday meal then arriving very hungry.


3) Move when you can  

Travel, house guests, weather…the list could go on of things that can get in the way of your regular exercise routine. Instead, aim to set a few realistic goals for movement. Not with the intention to burn off calories or earn a big dinner but to doing something that feels good to you. Maybe that means going for a walk after dinner or taking the stairs in the mall when out shopping. Keeping yourself active, even in small ways, can make you feel more positive about your health and reduce stress.


4) Remember the reason for the season

Focusing on the people and events that make the holidays special rather than food alone can help take some of the stress off. Think about some of your family’s holiday traditions – what things come to mind that do not involve food? A movie you always watch together this time of year, a family hike or shopping outing. 

How Can I Get Started With Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating does not mean making perfectly healthy choices all the time. Eating for the sake of enjoying a food, even when you’re not hungry, is still intuitive eating- the difference is it happens with greater awareness of the “why” and your mindset around the choice. Choosing to have a slice of cake after a filling dinner because it’s delicious cake and you enjoy it, rather than choosing to eat it because “you’ve already blown your diet and you might as well”.  If you want to learn more about Intuitive Eating I highly suggest checking out the book by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA or contact me here.