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The Benefits of Intuitive Eating Over the Holidays

Est. reading time: 4 mins
Posted Under: Interviews, Treatment Insights

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW

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For many families, the holiday season is focused on food. Large meals with loved ones, enjoying comfort foods, or embarking on a baking spree are often part of the holiday experience.

For those who struggle with disordered eating however, this emphasis on food can become a minefield of triggers. Consequently, this may lead to increased symptoms of conditions such as: anorexia nervosa, bulimia, body dysmorphia, binge-eating disorder and/or exercise compulsion.

One of the treatment philosophies our clinicians and registered dietitians recommend for navigating food-related triggers is intuitive eating. This therapeutic model developed by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole promotes mindful awareness of hunger cues and satiety. Continue reading to learn about common holiday EDO triggers and how intuitive eating can help.

Common Triggers for Disordered Eating During the Holidays

Since holiday gatherings involve abundant food choices and eating in front of others, those struggling with disordered eating may feel significant stress, leading to unhealthy coping behaviors. For example, clients may feel the need to restrict food prior to a holiday gathering or binge or purge after a meal due to feelings of guilt or overwhelm.

Food-Related Disordered Eating Triggers May Include:

  1. Comments from others
    During the holidays our clinicians hear a lot of complaints from clients regarding comments others. This may include talking about what they are eating, that they feel “guilty” for eating certain foods or that they’re “fasting until dinner.”
  2. Typical narratives about New Year’s resolutions
    New Year’s resolutions often involve losing weight, exercising more, or changing physical attributes. Evidently, if loved ones project this onto a client, like asking if they want to lose weight, it can be harder to embody a non-judgmental stance towards food and self.
  3. The sheer abundance of food
    Holiday meals can be especially triggering because there is pressure to eat large amounts of these “special” meals while also feeling guilty or “stuffed” afterwards. This contradiction feels impossible for those struggling with disordered eating.

How Intuitive Eating Can Help with Food-Related Holiday Stress

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating guides people to make choices based on their own bodies after they’ve developed their own hunger cues in a supportive therapeutic or group setting. Clients also grant themselves unconditional permission to eat instead of turning to restriction, binging/purging, or other disordered eating habits. In addition, research has associated Intuitive Eating with fewer eating disorder symptoms, body shape concerns, and greater spiritual well-being.

There are a variety of support mechanisms to promote a peaceful relationship with food such as: schedule regular meals, practice mindfulness, use scales to gauge hunger, and name emotions as they arise to give them space apart from food.

The Intuitive Eating Meal Support Card

Our clinicians use two resources originally created by Eveyln Tribole and Elyse Resch to help clients develop these internal cues, a “Hunger-Fullness Scale” card with a “What Type of Hunger?” prompt on the reverse side.

The Long-Term Benefits of Intuitive Eating (for any time of the year):

  1. A Healthier Alternative to Diet Culture
    Where prescriptive diets rely on “rules,” restrictions, and “points,” Intuitive Eating focuses on our internal cues and preferences. This approach also helps people understand that everybody needs energy and satisfaction from their food.
  2. A Food Journey with Compassion
    Diet culture and social media is negative and damaging and toxic – which is partly how it’s become a billion-dollar industry. These judgmental messages also infiltrate our conversations with each other and with ourselves. Intuitive Eating promotes treating yourself with compassion, respecting your body as it is now, and rejecting diet culture.
  3. Develop Coping Strategies
    Our clinicians and dietitians often begin supported meal groups with a mindful check-in. Everyone rates their hunger on the hunger/fullness scale, food-related anxiety, general anxiety, and an intention for the meal. These are practices that others can carry into their own independent meals and that families can implement together.
  4. Encourages Open Dialogue and Support from Loved Ones
    Intuitive Eating encourages open, affirming dialogue between loved ones to cope ahead of potential triggers. For example, if an event is coming up, the person can speak with their family about topics or comments to avoid. They can also make a “coping skills” card with their clinician or dietitian, or even create a list of positive self-talk with a friend.

By refocusing on our internal hunger cues, Intuitive Eating provides more options and helps develop a healthier long-term relationship with food–both physically and mentally.

Seeking Support

 Realizing you or a loved one are experiencing an eating disorder can be overwhelming. Please know that you are not alone, and that there are many options for support. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is an excellent resource where you can learn more about the disorders or connect with professionals and peer support groups.

Do you or a loved one need help with mental health?

The Dorm is here.

Here at The Dorm in DC and NYC, we treat young adults who may be struggling with an eating disorder through a holistic approach. Our treatment encompasses nutritional support and education, one-on-one therapy, group therapy, family coaching, as well as alternative approaches such as exercise, yoga, reiki, community service, and meditation. We strongly align with the intuitive eating philosophy as well as incorporate Health at Every size, which has been shown to promote sustained, long-term physical and mental health improvements.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call or email us.

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