Hey! Christmas is a difficult time for coping with food, especially if you're new to this whole Intuitive Eating.
As usual, this is for people who are experiencing food distress, poor body image, food rules, thoughts of diets gone by… And not designed as eating disorder treatment or in place of an ED therapist or counsellor. If you’re receiving ED treatments, this can be a complimentary recourse, but if you are experiencing major food and body distress that aren’t helped by resources similar to these, please contact your GP or beat UK here.
Tip Number 1: Work on Unconditional Permission to Eat.
→ If you have a “Stuff It: It’s Christmas” mindset you’re putting yourself in a sort of “diet starts Monday!” mindset that means you’re mentally preparing for future restriction by eating all the foods now that you think are “bad”.
→ To break this cycle, we need to practice food neutrality
This would like like:
> “I know all foods are morally equal; no food is good, no food is bad”
> “Even foods that are demonised as being “unhealthy” contain nutrients I need. E.g. burgers contain protein, cheese contains calcium, cake contains energy””
> “A few days of eating only play foods (i.e. foods we usually deem “bad” like crisps, biscuits, fried food) won’t do anything to my health. And it’s actually better for my health to eat what feels right to me in the moment”
> “Trying to control my food intake by limiting “bad foods” and forcing myself to eat “healthy foods” will only make everything more complicated so instead I am going to do these 5 things”:
Before eating, do a hunger scan (On YT search “5 minute full body scan” or listen to my recording on Dieting Gone Bad Podcast).
After this, acknowledge your hunger and decide what it is you want to eat: sweet, salty, a meal, a snack, a really specific food?
If you decide you’re not physically hungry, decide if it will serve you emotionally to eat something. Or go and find an activity that will nourish you.
Before eating ask yourself: Why am I eating this (e.g. because I “have to” due to health? When is best to eat this (e.g. do I want it right now, or am I not hungry yet and want to eat in a while?
Before eating, take a few seconds to breathe deeply and appreciate the food you’re about to eat. Throughout eating try to take pauses to breathe. You can put your fork down every few bites (if that feels too like old disordered eating behaviours, don’t do this), and halfway through the meal ask yourself “How hungry am I now? Am I satisfied? Should I stop eating this and find something else that will take me to comfortable fullness e.g. something sweet?” by either replaying the hunger scan or doing a quick check. Remember hunger scans aren’t forever, just in the beginning when you’re relearning what hunger feels like.
Here some affirmations to help you tell yourself that these foods aren’t just for Christmas:
“Food is more exciting this time of year, because there’s added pressures like “I need to be organised because shops will be closed, or I need to make sure I have all the trimmings for Christmas Dinner and Boxing Day. But I can chill out about it; Christmas is just another day”.
“I don’t need to eat past comfortable fullness because I need to; I trust myself around food. I don’t need to reach my maximum stuffed-ness to feel like Christmas was a success, because I can find the same foods all year round and I have no diet to start in January".
“I don’t need to eat foods just because they’re available, but I know if I do eat past comfortable fullness or eat without checking in with my hunger cues, it’s no big deal. Christmas is a difficult time for food”.
“Even a few weeks of eating more than I usually do won’t result in any significant weight gain. And even if I do gain weight, challenging the belief that weight gain is bad is important”.
Tip Number 2: Listen To Your Body
Great! “Listen to my body”, yeah sounds really easy (not). Okay so “listen to your body” on it’s own is not going to help. So here are some ways you can actually do it:
> Breathe, breathe, and breathe again: Lots of food, relatives, tighter fancier clothes, inboxes filled with fitness influencers guide to avoiding weight gain (Errr, you get the picture..). So we need to get those meditation apps front and centre on your phone. If you don’t already have one, download Insight Timer, Calm, or Headspace and find a few 5 minute SOS meditations you can reach for when you need to breathe.
> Use box breathing (breathe in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, wait for 4, repeat) during meals to check in on how the food tastes, how hungry you are (hungry, comfortable, stuffed?)
> If you feel like you’re approaching fullness (Yay great, that’s what food is for remember! Not a negative thing) then take a bit of a pause to decide if you’re done eating this food, want to eat something else instead (like dessert or cheese), or go back to eating the same food. Even if you’re only checking in but not doing anything different, it still allows to be mindful and work on interoceptive awareness (aka tuning in with yourself).
Note the goal here is never to eat as little as possible. There’s no reward for perfect eating, because that doesn’t exist. The goal is to feel aware of how full and satisfied you are, so you can feel physically best. Being over-full is not a bad thing, and doesn’t need to be forcefully compensated (e.g. not eating dinner because you’re too full from lunch).
It’s also normal for Christmas Day to be different; you might be too full from the big meal to eat a normal dinner; instead have something small and see how that feels.
Tip Number 3: Don’t Be Tempted To Save Up Calories
Think about past Christmas’ when you might save up food because you’re going to have a big Christmas dinner. We don’t want this anymore; that’s a sneaky form of diet culture. It’s like when people save up calories throughout the day so they can eat “whatever they want” at night; nope nuh uh uh...
Instead let’s do the wild thing: Let’s have breakfast (say toast and beans or nut butter, Christmas style porridge or pancakes with cinnamon and apples) and a snack when we’re hungry again. Then eat Christmas lunch. Let’s avoid being completely empty when Christmas dinner rolls around, this way we can really take time to savour the meal.
Note that it’s different not eating because you’re busy or if you genuinely forget to eat breakfast on Christmas morning, but this year try to make a conscious effort.
Tip Number 4: Focus On Other, More Important Things
> Remember Christmas isn’t all about food; Christmas food is great and it’s exciting, but there’s other things that matter too. This is not in a diet-y way. Let’s say it together: We love Christmas food, we’re not trying to limit our intake.
> If you are feeling anxious while eating, take some deep breaths and remember WHY you’re celebrating: It’s about spending time with family. Since this Christmas is different due to covid-19, it might be the first real time you’ve spent with others outside of your house in a long long time. So really savour that and enjoy!
> Schedule activities you want to do: make candles or bath bombs, watch all the Christmas films (even the awful Netflix ones), make hot chocolate with all the trimmings, bake cookies and eat hot out of the oven..
Tip Number 5: Have Self-Compassion
Say we get to Christmas Day, and it’s so overwhelming that you feel yourself following back into old disordered eating routines (e.g. feelings of wanting to restrict or binge), be kind to yourself.
You might be new to this whole thing; think about how long December has been a food nightmare that ends with a diet in January; you need time to heal that. So it’s cool if you feel like you’ve failed (remember you can’t fail Intuitive Eating) but remind yourself you never ever need to make up for food by eating less/”eating healthier” or exercising.
Instead of beating yourself up, do something that makes your body feel good & remember you deserve to nourish yourself with whatever food you decide to.
Have a Merry Christmas