The holiday season, those last few months of the year that are chock-full of events and parties and family gatherings, can be a pretty overwhelming time if you don’t feel in control of your body or your ability to make good food choices. This is an excellent time to use the principles of Intuitive Eating: eat when you’re hungry, eat until you are satisfied, and choose foods that make you feel good. Intuitive eating is learning to listen to your body’s cues to make the right food choices for you. That’s going to look different for every person.
As “Turkey Day” is on the horizon, here are some tips that will help you feel full, satisfied, and thankful after your Thanksgiving meal – and can be used throughout the holiday season.
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 a holiday like Thanksgiving, your body will likely be sending you hunger cues because it 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 respond by eating. 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.
We often think of choices as #1 or #2, but within each choice, there are so many layers with 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 partway through. You choose to try pumpkin pie, but partway 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.
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 should I do in this moment?” If eating is a substitution for an emotion, maybe it’d be best to excuse yourself from the table and take a quick break and a few deep breaths. Or simply focus on savoring your food. You and your family put extra love and attention into the day’s feast, so take time to really taste it. To slow down and enjoy every flavor, take a minute before the meal to breathe deeply 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 have leftovers for later.
You can actually 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 or two times a year. Overeating or binging often stems from restriction. When we allow ourselves to eat and enjoy the foods we love, any time of the year, the novelty wears off, we enjoy it when we want it, and the chance of overeating it is reduced.
This is one of the key principles of Intuitive Eating, created by fellow RDs Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. While you are eating, check in with yourself periodically. Ask yourself, “Am I still truly hungry?” It takes time for the signal of fullness to travel from our stomach to our brain, so slow down, pause, and check in every so often. This year, you have permission to decline membership to the “Clean Your Plate” Club. Listen to your body and eat until you are satisfied. Listen to your body and stop when it is full.
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.
The traditional American Thanksgiving foods are healthy and nourishing: turkey, cranberries, green beans, squash, sweet potato, onions, roasted carrots, and Brussels 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 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.