Intuitive Eating During the Holidays: A Step-by-Step Guide

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I’m Sarah (she/her), a Toronto-based writer, anti-diet nutritionist, and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. I teach folks how to have a healthy relationship with food and accept their natural body size.

Hi, I'm Sarah

I don’t know about you, but I’m over those infantilizing guides on how to avoid holiday weight gain. Like six feet under over.

I imagine some of you feel similarly. You’re done with dieting and number counting, but you still want to feel comfortable in your own skin and skip into the new year like a rockstar (if rockstars skipped, that is). You’d like to exchange calorie counting for intentional eating, reckless drinking for mindful consumption, and enjoy the company of loved ones without feeling bloated, guilty, or remorseful. I’ve got you, babe.

This where intuitive eating comes into play.

At its core, intuitive eating involves practicing supreme self-care as a pathway to manifesting a positive body image. Intuitive eating, unlike every other plan or approach out there, isn’t about restriction, deprivation, “yes” and “no” lists, or forbidden foods ala Adam and Eve. While I understand the inclination for strict guidelines, truthfully intuitive eating looks the same at holiday time as it does the remainder of the year. How do you like them apples?


I used to dread the holidays, especially during my more disordered eating periods. I’d feel victorious all season as I stuck to lentils, greens, brown rice pasta, and lean meats, only to binge on all of my favourite foods (cue the cheese, olives, and cured meats) as soon as I got anywhere near them. Now that I’ve come to fully trust myself around food and never deny myself, I love the holidays so much more.

But what if you’re still learning how to become an intuitive eater? What if you just deleted MyFitnessPal from your phone last week?

  1. Use a plate. Since we eat with our eyes, I always recommend using a plate or napkin rather than picking items off a buffet table or from a tray of hors d’oeuvres. I find it much more satisfying to view my food first before eating.

  2. Eat the real thing. Many guides out there will tell you to “eat x, not y” or convince you kale chips are truly as good as the real thing. Nobody believes this. Instead of picking up low calorie substitutes or using avoidance tactics, I recommend just eating the real thing. You know what I do when I want a cheeseburger? I eat a cheeseburger (a really damn good one.) I’m not saying all alternatives are terrible, but they’re best enjoyed in their own right. I love spaghetti squash because it’s delicious — not because it’s a low calorie substitute for pasta. Ditto for zucchini “pizzas”, legume flour pasta, and anything else in this category.

  3. Eat what you want to eat. Picture this. You’re at a holiday party and checking out the buffet station. You know what you’d like to eat, but you opt for vegetables and hummus because you believe this is the healthier option. Don’t get me wrong, I love vegetables and hummus. But if you see something on the table and you’d really like to try it, go for it! It’s healthier, if you ask me, to honour your cravings as they come up rather than fighting them off, only to binge on said food later in far larger quantities.

  4. Chew your food. This simple but effective tip can really go the mile. Instead of inhaling your food, try to consciously chew. Let those bites hang out on your tongue for a minute so you can fully savour them, instead of rushing through your snacks as though they’re forbidden.

  5. Employ affirmations and mantras. Not every day in my world is filled with butterflies and unicorn sightings. To combat any negativity, I like to use affirmations, mantras, and quotes. I also enjoy reading spiritual texts and self-help books — the kind of things that promote self-acceptance and celebrate differences.

  6. Wrap it up. Don’t be afraid to wrap up those last few bites at a restaurant if you’re not hungry, instead of forcing yourself to finish. I find this works equally well at dinner parties. My mom usually prepares a gluten-free dessert just for me (because she’s thoughtful and sweet.) I almost never have room for it. Instead of pushing myself to eat it and suffering the consequences (never enjoyable), I let her know how much I appreciate it and place it aside to enjoy the following day.

  7. Take your time. Don’t feel pressured to eat quickly or shovel food down your throat. Sit down, chew, and savour the experience. This will give your brain time to register fullness.

  8. Don’t save your calories. Do you ever skip breakfast and lunch to “save room” for dinner? It’s one thing to skip a meal because you’re legitimately not hungry, but it’s quite another to “save calories” so you can indulge later. Depriving and restricting throughout the day will only promote binge eating and overeating, leading you to feel bloated, guilty, and ashamed. Try opting for high quality protein and plenty of vegetables (as well as some healthy fats) throughout the day to give your body adequate nourishment, but try not to stress over meals out or holiday dinners. Ultimately, if you’re listening to your body, eating slowly, and trying to get your vitamins and minerals in when you can, it all comes out in the wash.

  9. Manage your stress levels. Chronic stress can lead to hypophagia (increased appetite). It’s super challenging (if not impossible) to eat mindfully when you’re stressed out. To combat this, try incorporating more self-care practices into your routine. My favourites: restorative yoga, diffusing essential oils, and morning meditation.

  10. Choose a variety of foods. Eating the same thing all the time gets boring and unsatisfying (unless it’s guacamole.) To keep your tastebuds happy, opt for diversity. For example, eat a few bites of cheese alongside some carrot sticks, caprese skewers, and a handful of olives.


I find this one extremely tricky. As much as I love red wine (in case you didn’t already know), I have a very low tolerance level. This makes navigating party scenes a bit challenging. Here’s what I recommend.

  1. Water, water, everywhere — with many drops to drink. Water is imperative for so many functions in the body. This is pretty generic advice, but it holds true for a reason. Drink water before you go out, between drinks, and before bed.

  2. Try a spritzer, or mix a less spirited welcome cocktail. For one thing, spritzers take longer to drink; they also integrate tip #1. If you’re preparing a cocktail for guests, try less boozy options. The first drink of the night really ought to serve as a flirty introduction — not a slap in the face.

  3. Avoid drinking on an empty stomach. This goes without saying, but if you’d like to avoid drinking too much at a networking event or holiday party, make sure to eat something before you go.

  4. Bring kombucha or other festive mocktail options. Even though the holidays are filled with occasions to drink, it doesn’t mean you have to participate. Kombucha, a probiotic-rich fermented tea, makes an excellent host or hostess gift and excellent conversation starter. It’s also my top choice when I don’t feel like drinking.

  5. Sit down at a table. I don’t know about you, but I always end up drinking more when I’m standing as opposed to when I’m sitting down. Why? Because I usually have no choice but to hold my glass. This will help you to monitor intake and slow down consumption.

  6. Ask for a weak pour. You can also ask the bartender or host to mix you a weaker drink to avoid overdoing it or drinking too much too soon. I usually do this if I’m drinking something other than wine or hard cider (see: low tolerance.)

  7. Choose drinks with a lot of volume. I like ordering hard cider at restaurants because it takes me a ridiculously long time to drink a pint. This comes in handy especially if I’m standing (see #5). You could also order a stiff, boozy beverage if you so fancy, though I know a fair share of people who could easily guzzle a martini.


  1. Am I hungry? Do I feel like eating? These types of events encourage eating by default ad proxy. But first off, ask yourself if you’re actually hungry. Just because food is available doesn’t mean you must participate.

  2. What looks appetizing? Before picking up anything, I like to scan the table (or trays) and evaluate whether the item looks good to me. I prefer to eat fresh, high quality food, so I’m generally not into all-you-can-eat buffets or food that’s been hanging out for who knows how long.

  3. What am I craving? It’s amazing what this simple little question can accomplish. Instead of wondering what you should eat or telling yourself what you shouldn’t eat, it might be more helpful to connect with your body and its needs. For myself, I know cravings for sweet potato or oatmeal suggest I need more carbohydrate. I totally recommend tuning in before making a decision.

  4. What would make me happiest right now? I come from a long line of champion hedonists and I happen to think there’s plenty of room for pleasure. Sometimes the answer to this question is broccoli and hummus; other times it’s chicken wings with hot sauce. Food choices shouldn’t correlate to “being good” or “being bad”. What do you feel like eating? What would make you feel your best?

  5. What can I do to make sure I’m feeling my best? So much attention is placed on our weight, size, and outward appearance. Instead, turn inward. What can you do to keep your immune system humming? What kinds of foods can you eat to keep your digestion regular? Focusing on how you feel rather than on what you look like is ultimately more satisfying and will help you swing into ’17 like a superstar.

What do you find most challenging about the holidays? What could you use more help with? Let me know in the comments!

Before you go, don’t forget to grab the guide!

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