Interpreting Holiday Eating Advice with an Intuitive Eye

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Use caution when following holiday eating advice

It wouldn’t be December without the songs, sparkly decorations, and yes, advice about what to eat during the holidays.  Much of which you might want to ignore if you’re trying to become a normal, intuitive eater, or if you are already one and want to stay that way.

No matter which description fits you, it can be hard sometimes to stay clear on what to stay clear of.  Here’s an example of one snippet I recently read.

If you overate at Thanksgiving, don’t feel guilty.  You know you’ll eat poorly at times during the holiday so just roll with it.  Of course, this doesn’t mean you can go hog-wild just because it’s the holidays.  You still have to be moderate.

On the face of it, it might seem like good advice.  But is it really? Let’s break it apart and examine each sentence.

If you overate at Thanksgiving, don’t feel guilty.  
How that sentence reads to me:  Overeating isn’t healthy but beating yourself up over it isn’t either.
What I think is right with it:  Absolutely give up the guilt.  It doesn’t help.
What I think is wrong with it:  Overeating is part of normal eating.  It’s really only unhealthy if we do it too often, and that usually means there’s something going on that has nothing to do with Thanksgiving per se.  It is often the worry that we can’t have everything we want, or as much of it as we want, that really drives significant overeating at Thanksgiving or any other time.

You know you’ll eat poorly at times during the holidays so just roll with it.
How that sentence reads to me:  Nutrition isn’t always the top priority.
What I think is right with it:  So true that sometimes we eat for other reasons than nutrition.  The holidays are a good example of that with all the food traditions that add so much to our enjoyment of the season.
What I think is wrong with it:  I’m not sure what their definition of eating poorly is.  If it’s what I suspect, then they’re labeling an evening of rich party fare as an episode of bad-for-you eating.  But an evening of pleasure that features wonderful foods doesn’t have to be bad for us.  Our bodies are perfectly capable of managing rich foods without negative effects when we eat intuitively.

…this doesn’t mean you can go hog-wild…You still have to be moderate.
How those sentences read to me:  Stay on guard!
What I think is right with them:  Not much.  It just screams “be careful, be very careful” about your eating.  Refer back to what I think is right with the previous sentence as to why I think that’s a problem.
What I think is wrong with them:  The tendency to “go hog-wild” often reflects scarcity, whether it be real or perceived.  If a person is starving, they’ll eat large amounts when they get the chance to eat.  If they have been deprived, they’ll eat large amounts when they get the chance to eat what they’ve been deprived of.  Telling us we still have to be moderate, and waving a finger in our faces about not enjoying holiday food without worrying about it, is deprivation.

I am sure some people will read this post and wonder, is she telling us to just eat with abandon?  In a sense, yes, I am.  But with an abandon that hinges on eating intuitively, which means listening to our bodies to guide us in eating in a way that makes us feel well.  And also means no worry — just eating well, enjoying what comes our way without concern how it will affect our waistline.  Because that just sets up feelings of deprivation.  When we eat intuitively — whether it be during the holidays or the rest of the year — our eating will most likely have no negative effect on our waistline.

Have you read any holiday eating advice that leaves you confused?

9 Responses (Add Yours)

  • julie says:

    It’s decent advice for the dieting mindset, who are trying very hard not to eat too much or too heavy. Irrelevant and a bit silly for people who have learned to eat intuitively. I’m more comfortable with this advice to some that I’ve seen, such as to eat lots of salad beforehand so not much of the meal is eaten, avoid the dessert, take very small servings, bring your own food, etc. I just ignore it all

  • Marsha says:

    You’re right, Julie. Eating advice has definitely come a long way. I just want to help keep it moving in the right direction. Thanks for the comment and hope you are having a good season so far. From the title of your last blog post, sounds like it may be tentative. :) I’ll have to read the post.

  • [...] free to check out a great post by Green Mountain Fox Run about Interpreting Holiday Eating through an intuitive [...]

  • Kim says:

    Holiday advice is always confusing because everyone has a different set of rules to follow. I have avoided holiday weight gain during the last 5 years by following a simple routine. I eat a well balanced breakfast so I don’t feel starving during the day. When I face that overloaded table, sideboard, counter top and tray tables I choose what I want the most and don’t put anything on my plate unless I have considered if I really want it. I don’t let anyone guilt trip me into trying another dish or eating something I wasn’t planning on eating. Since I have given myself permission to have what I want, I find I eat more than usual, but nowhere near what I used to during the holidays. What’s more, there is no guilt and I feel great instead of horrible and I don’t have that rebound eating that I used to have after I “failed” at restricting myself so I punished myself with more “bad” food because I was a loser anyway. It’s scary the first time you do it, but it works. By far one of the best take aways from my time at Green Mountain.

  • Jill says:

    I don’t understand the fuss from the media about so-called holiday weight gain… Studies show that the actual weight gain is usually about 1 pound. One pound! I am looking forward to the holidays… I will have time to catch up with friends… and yes I will go out to lunch with them! I’m also looking forward to extra opportunities to move my body in a manner I enjoy… yoga, weight lifting, & aerobics. Guilt-free is the way for me.

  • Hello Marsha. I’m assuming men are welcome here. :) And why shouldn’t they? I’m married to a beautiful woman, one who ponders on the same holiday stuff you women do.

    In any case, I’d say you’ve dissected that snippet of holiday food advice and punched neat holes all over it. As for me, I love the holidays, but don’t find the need to change my conduct around food. It helps that I listen to my body more than my head and my intuition serves me well.

  • Marsha says:

    So glad to see you “get it,” Kim & Jill. Although I knew that already. :)

    And Sage, you are most definitely welcome here. I spent some time browsing your blog. Love what you have to say.

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself! Great piece.

  • [...] Interpreting Holiday Eating Advice with an Intuitive Eye. Great reminder to be critical of the messages we hear regarding what’s healthy and non-healthy. [...]

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