Christmas can be full of fun, food, sparkles and gatherings.

But it can also be a time full of stress, overeating and loneliness for many. The lead into Christmas can evoke a whole heap of emotions and chaotic eating patterns.

If you’ve never heard of Intuitive eating, put simply it is a self care eating framework of 10 guiding principles that help you discover what your body needs to function with confidence and ease. Essentially, it’s the opposite of a traditional diet, with no directions on what to eat, when to eat it and what to remove from your diet. Instead, it teaches you how to create a healthy attitude towards food and towards your body.

Let’s talk about Eating at Christmas

Think of eating like a pendulum – the optimal place to be is the centre, not swaying too far right or too far left. At Christmas, if we forgo all the foods we enjoy so that we can get more nutrient dense foods into our bodies, the pendulum is too far right. By the same token, if we spend all the time having fun and forgetting about getting enough food into us, then that too far left. Eating is central to the behaviour of people. Our eating behaviours are dependent on several factors beyond our genes, physiological needs of hunger or metabolism. The environment we live in and how our mind operates play a role in food choice and consumption.

Physical hunger

Hearing and meeting the needs of your physical hunger is one of the principles of Intuitive Eating. Physical hunger is a biological urge telling you to replenish fuel. It builds gradually and has different signals, such as a growling stomach, fatigue, or irritability. It is satisfied when you eat any food.

Emotional hunger

Emotional hunger happens when we feel a threat in our nervous system and it is usually felt as an intense craving that cannot be satisfied. Eating in response to threats is a normal response, it is only unhelpful action when it’s the only thing we use to cope with daily challenges.

Consider this story, Christmas is busy, some might say chaos, the lists are particularly long and the emotions are higher.

Your body and your nervous system knows it, so as part of a calming strategy you reach for your favourite comfort food to get you through, you ask for hug, shed a tear or whatever else you do when you need to process emotions.

In an ideal world, this would happen: you’d do what you do and then you move back to regular eating patterns.

But we are not living in an ideal world, the threat is always lurking…mutterings of “New Year New You” and how it can save you from your sins and whip you back into shape. But studies have shown that dieting puts our eating under conscious cognitive control, which means you are thinking way too hard about eating.

Of course, it is advisable to support your health with your food, however, the irony is that our thinking brain is so caught up in the good and bad narrative about food that we fail to hear our natural cues, that we harm our health.

And so the pendulum is swinging erratically between restriction and emotional overeating – with you struggling in the middle.

5 intuitive eating ideas you can try this Christmas

People who practice intuitive eating have learned how to eat according to what their body wants – not what their mind tells them, and this approach is much easier to stick to.

Here are 5 ideas that you can start practising today and carry confidently in 2023 as true health-supportive approaches to eating.

1.

Eat 3 meals every day, simple right, but committing to 3 meals a day is key. ESPECIALLY if you have had an emotional eating episode. Ensuring you consume enough nutrition to fuel your body and activities is key. This will support you to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger.

2.

Stop, pause and think about what would satisfy you at this eating period. As you eat, connect in with your hunger before eating, gently say to yourself all of the options are available to me. When we deprive ourselves from certain foods, in the moment you might feel like you have won, however the mind may linger on the mince pie and back fire later as the desire heightens and you end up overeating.

3.

Eating slowly has been shown to have a positive effect on food choice and eating to comfortable levels, allowing you to register your fullness. You’ve heard the concept that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to register fullness but you might still struggle to know when to stop, you can start by taking a breath. Taking 2/3 breaths will provide your body with OXYGEN, calming your nervous system, kicking off digestion, producing energy in your cells and allowing you to enjoy eating.

4.

Intentionally create more calming feelings about what you eat. The science on the Gut-Brain connection tells us we can support our emotions through our gut. Stresses include fear of food, restrictive eating, over exercising, eating guilt and shame and negative body thoughts. Stressors, in particular prolonged stress, create unfavourable neurological responses through the gut-brain axis and can create significant health risks. As Christmas gets busier, make a conscious decision to look after yourself and your gut bacteria by giving it plenty of nourishment both from food and relaxing, calming behaviours.

5.

Show yourself compassion. It is important to remember that emotional eating is normal, occasional overeating especially around celebrations happens. If you tend to beat yourself up when you do overeat, work your hardest to offer yourself kind words and get back to eating 3 meals the next day. Remember the reality of indulging over a couple of days is not going to harm your health, however the feelings of failure and guilt can have a far more significant impact on your mind and body.

A final word

Eating does not require any special talents, it simply requires appreciation and respect both for ourselves and our food.

Our bodies are amazing, they are always working on keeping us in balance, they know how to keep that pendulum from bobbing too far left and too far right. Input new thoughts into your mind, work on bringing those down into your body so that you can feel the benefit of not worrying about eating and focus on the fun stuff that Christmas can bring!

This season I am covering all of the principles of intuitive eating – so you can implement them in a practical way and begin your journey of ending the diet cycle.

PS – If you are curious about intuitive eating and want to know more – make sure to take a listen to my brand new podcast ‘The Confident and Eating Podcast’ – which you can find by clicking on this link https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/8a8PMqR5Avb

Merry Christmas,

Denise