How to Practice Intuitive Eating Over the Holidays

By Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN

The holidays can be a fun time filled with gatherings and celebrations, but it can also be a time when people experiences stress and anxiety, especially around food choices. Food can be a large part of holiday get-togethers, which can include foods that are often considered bad or unhealthy. This mentality can lead to feelings of dread when faced with these foods and how to cope with these emotions. Practicing intuitive eating during this time is a great way to help cope with these feelings about food and give you food freedom.

It is possible to enjoy all the holiday foods you desire without feeling like you binged or ruined your day/week/month because of the foods that you ate. First off, it is important to prepare yourself for the feelings of being out of control and eating all the food, then “getting back on the wagon” come January 1st. The issue is not with the holiday itself. It is our reaction to the food and how we respond to the food around us. Here are some tips for coping with these feelings and how to eat intuitively throughout the season.


It is important to allow yourself to enjoy the holiday foods that you want and not restrict yourself. Restriction can lead to fixating on those foods and potentially overconsuming those foods which can lead to feeling out of control. It is important to remember that one “bad” meal or day will not make you unhealthy. All foods can fit into a balanced diet. The key is to eat those foods you consider “off-limits” in moderation and not eliminate them all together. I also like to tell my clients to pick and choose when they want to indulge, meaning if it’s store bought, leave it. Likewise, if it’s homemade or something you only get one time a year, enjoy it.


Having the mentality that the diet starts January 1st” can cause you to feel out of control when you are surrounded by holiday foods. This may make you feel like you have to eat all of the foods that you won’t be able to have once you start your diet. Even the thought of starting a diet in the New Year can cause you to crave those foods you will be restricting and make you feel out of control. Focus on creating balance and tell yourself “I will eat the foods that fuel my body and make me feel good and energized, but I can also enjoy all foods in moderation.”


Listening to your hunger and fullness cues over the holidays can be especially difficult when eating large meals, grazing all day, and having dessert after a meal becomes the norm. Listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues will help guide your food choices and help you think mindfully about the choices you are making. Before you eat, be mindful of how your body feels. Ask yourself…

    • How hungry am I?
    • What food do I want?
    • Am I eating because it is a typical time to eat or am I actually hungry?

On a scale of 1-10, it is best to stay between a 3 and 7. Eat when you are slightly hungry until you are full but not uncomfortable.


Restricting or skipping meals or over exercising so you “deserve” to eat the holiday foods you want can lead to overeating and the feeling of being out of control. You DO NOT need to “earn” your foods that you are planning to eat over the holidays.


Staying active during the holidays is a great way to manage stress and keep your mind and body feeling good. It is important to not think of exercise or moving your body as a punishment for the foods you ate or for permission to eat certain foods. Moving your body will help you feel good, make you feel more positive about your health, and reduce stress.

Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN
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