Intuitive Eater Holiday Survival Guide:
Between diet talk, comments on appearance from well-meaning family members, and food being a focal point of the day, the holidays can certainly be a difficult time to navigate as a person on the Intuitive Eating journey.
This guide will give you actionable steps to handle some of the most common triggers you might face during the holidays including: navigating diet talk, dealing with body comments, feeling out of control around food, turning to food to fill a void, and handling family members still stuck in diet culture.
Navigating diet talk
Whether you have just started on your Intuitive Eating journey, or you’re years in, diet talk can be incredibly draining to navigate.
If you’re newer on your Intuitive Eating journey, diet talk can be especially triggering as it might lead you to doubt your new approach to eating since you might not yet be in a place where you are able to fully trust the process.
I’m going to walk you through a few scenarios with examples of how to respond.
Scenario 1: Say you’re sitting down to dinner and you’re serving yourself a plate of food and a family member comments on how much you’re putting on your plate.
“Woah there, you’re really piling it on, easy there.”
There are a few options on how to respond to a comment like this depending on your comfort level/ your relationship with the family member.
- You could say something like, “Yep! The food looks great and I’m excited to taste everything.” This reply gently shifts away from the judgemental commentary without involving direct confrontation. This is a good option if you’re not really in the mood to stir the pot.
- The more direct option *if* you feel called to be more confrontational might sound something like this, “Hey Uncle Joe, I prefer you don’t make comments about my food intake. It’s not funny or helpful.” This reply allows you to be firm and direct, letting the family member know how you really feel.
Scenario 2: Say it’s time for dessert and some of your family members are in the corner, having a conversation that might sound like, “I’ve already been so bad today… I’ll just write the day off as a cheat day and eat dessert.”
This is a little bit of a different situation than the first scenario because the comment isn’t necessarily being made to you, but it can still be triggering and upsetting to overhear. Let’s walk through a few options for responding here:
- You don’t say anything but you go through an internal dialogue which might sound like this. “This comment I overheard is triggering. It makes me wonder if I’m being ‘bad’ for choosing to have dessert. It’s valid to be triggered by this comment AND I’m working on remembering that food is just food, it has no moral value.” This structure allows you to self-validate the emotion you’re experiencing and then move onto a re-frame that aligns with your new mindset around food. This allows you to feel both seen in your emotion and also remind yourself of the journey you’re on.
- If you feel called to, you could hop into the conversation and say something like, “there’s nothing ‘bad’ about dessert!” or something like, “dessert tastes much better without a side of guilt.” These are gentle comments to let your family members know that you don’t subscribe to diet talk. Even small comments like these have the power to plant a seed in someone else, getting them to think twice about their comments.
There are endless other potential scenarios involving diet talk that will likely come up. Though I can’t be there to coach you through every possible situation, the important things to remember are:
- You don’t have to say anything! You can choose to guard your energy by simply not engaging
- Your feelings are always valid. It’s valid to feel triggered or offended by diet talk, especially if you’ve been burned by diet culture in your past. Try your best not to judge yourself for your emotions.
- Diet comments say much more about the person making the comment than they say about you. If the person making the comment is trying to make you feel guilty for your food choices, they are really just projecting their own food guilt onto you. That is their work, not yours.
- Removing yourself from the conversation is always an option. Perhaps get up and talk to a different family member. Play with the little kids or the pets. Take a moment to go to the bathroom or get some air.
Ultimately, diet talk is cheap conversation. Kinda like talking about the weather, it’s frankly uninteresting and unexciting. If you land in a situation where diet talk is happening, try asking your family member a question to steer the conversation to a more meaningful or interesting place. Here are some examples:
- How are you liking living in ______? What’s the vibe like there?
- How are you liking your job? Do you want to stay there? What’s the dream job for you?
- What’s been the craziest thing to happen to you since we last saw each other?
- What have you been reading/ watching?
Dealing with body comments
So you haven’t seen your family members in a while and you can anticipate them commenting on how your body has changed since you’ve last seen them…. Or worse, you worry they won’t comment, which will leave you wondering what they’re thinking about your body.
Perhaps your grandma *always* says “you look fabulous” and the few years she doesn’t say it, you fear it’s because you’ve gained weight.
When you’re doing the work to become an intuitive eater, you are not eating in attempts to manipulate the size or shape of your body.
So, when someone makes a comment about your body, it can get in the way of focusing on your internal cues.
Part of this work is learning to see your body as a tool, not an ornament to parade around and get compliments on. As a result, it can feel uncomfortable and difficult to navigate when a body comment is made.
Let’s walk through a few scenarios.
Scenario 1: The scenario where no one says anything about your body and you’re left wondering what they’re thinking…
Here’s what I want you to ask yourself: what am I assuming my family members are thinking about me but not saying?
My guess is that you’re assuming they think you’ve gained weight.
Now ask yourself: What’s so bad about that? (i.e what’s so bad about them thinking that I’ve gained weight?)
Some common answers I hear from clients when going through this exercise include: they’ll think I’m lazy, they’ll think I’ve let myself go, they’ll think i’m unsuccessful.
Whatever comes up for you here, I want you to ask yourself: what is my definition of lazy? What is my definition of success? What is my definition of letting myself go?
For the sake of the exercise, let’s define ‘letting yourself go.’
For example, my personal definition of ‘letting yourself go’ is not not showing up for yourself, not working on yourself, and not prioritizing mental and physical health.
Unfortunately, our culture’s definition of ‘letting yourself go’ very well might include gaining weight. But that’s not MY definition (and if you’re doing this work, it’s likely not yours either).
So, in these moments where you might be assuming your family is thinking you’ve let yourself go by gaining weight, you can remind yourself that this isn’t true according to your definition.
You might remind yourself: According to my definition, I am not letting myself go. I’ve been working on healing my relationship with food which improves my mental and physical health. I’ve been working on unlearning harmful diet thoughts. I’ve been working on getting more in tune with my body’s inner wisdom. I’ve been working on myself which is very much the opposite of my definition of letting myself go.
When you get clear on your definitions of things like health, success, happiness, etc, it allows you to check-in with yourself to make sure you’re living in alignment with your personal standards and values, not someone else’s.
When you are living in alignment with your personal values, you step into your most authentic self allowing you to feel a sense of inner peace and resonance.
Scenario 2: Perhaps you’ve unintentionally lost weight as a result of becoming an intuitive eater (this might happen if you started the intuitive eating ABOVE your body’s set point weight. Key word here is unintentional. If eating in alignment with your body’s cues resulted in weight loss but the goal was not weight loss; that’s unintentional.
Say a family member notices that you’ve lost weight and says something like, “oh my god you look like you’ve lost weight! You look amazing!”
Though the family member means to compliment you, being praised for weight loss can be uncomfortable as it suggests that your worth is tied to your size. It is also inadvertently suggesting that you looked worse before the weight loss, or that you were somehow less valuable as a person before you lost weight (which of course, is not true).
A few options for how to respond:
- Say, “It’s funny you should say that because for the first time in my life, I’ve actually stopped dieting and stopped trying to lose weight. I now just eat what my body craves instead of following food rules.” This gives the person a chance to ask questions and if they are open to hearing and you are open to sharing, you can teach them a little bit about Intuitive Eating.
- Say, “oh, really? I hadn’t noticed. I wasn’t trying to lose weight.” This reply helps to devalue the weight loss and redirect the comment from a praise to a more neutral fact.The fact that you aren’t super stoked about weight loss might throw off the person who made the comment, as it’s not the norm to be so nonchalant about weight loss in today’s diet culture.
- If you feel comfortable doing so, you can explain to the person why comments about weight loss don’t feel like compliments to you. You can share how you’re working to unlearn disordered thinking around food and body. You might also help them understand how praising someone for weight loss makes it seem like a person’s value is linked to the size of their body. You can share with them that while this is of course not the intention, it is the outcome of such comments.
Scenario 3: A family member makes a comment about someone else’s body to you. “Ohh, she got so big!”
This comment could trigger a few thought spirals…
It might lead you to think, “If she thinks that so-and-so is ‘big’ then I wonder what she thinks about me….”
A few simple options for responding here:
- I’d rather not talk about other people’s body’s. Can we talk about something else?
- Her body size is the least important thing about her.
- Who cares? What matters is that she’s happy and healthy, which we frankly can’t tell by the size of her body.
- If you’re feeling willing to be vulnerable, you might share that when comments about others body’s are made, it naturally makes you feel like you are being judged for your own body. This might help the person to understand the harm of their actions.
At the end of the day, it’s important to acknowledge that body comments can feel upsetting no matter how well you respond. You can use the following structure to help guide your internal dialogue when you’re upset by a body comment:
Validate your emotions AND reframe to a thought that serves your new mindset.
Ex.) I’m feeling upset that it feels like my family members are noticing I’ve gained weight. It’s valid to feel upset AND I’m working on remembering that my worth does not come from the size or shape of my body. My worth is inherent.
Feeling out of control around the abundance of food
If you’re newer on your intuitive eating journey, the abundance of holiday food might be concerning to you.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “what if I can’t handle myself and end up eating waaay past the point of comfortable fullness.”
This is a completely valid fear, given the fact that when you were in your dieting days, holidays were likely times of all-out binges because “f*ck it, it’s a cheat day anyway.” But things are different now. Now you eat according to your body’s internal cues. Cheat days no longer exist.
First off, it’s important to eat regular meals/ snacks leading up to the meal. A common diet-mindset practice is to “save up all your calories” so you can enter the celebratory meal as hungry as possible. Take this tip from an intuitive eating dietitian: you do NOT want to enter the meal as hungry as possible… when you enter an eating experience from a place of extreme hunger, your body kicks in it’s primal drive to eat in response to perceived starvation. As a result, it will feel very difficult to hear your fullness cues during the meal and you’ll likely land in a state of uncomfortable fullness. When you eat regularly throughout the day leading up to the meal, your blood sugar and metabolism stay stable. This helps your attunement with your body’s cues which promotes eating to a comfortable level.
Going into the meal, remind yourself that you’re allowed to eat whatever you want today AND every other day. This will help you to avoid that “last supper” mentality. If your body really believes that another diet won’t start tomorrow, you won’t feel the need to desperately shove in all the ‘good’ stuff now.
While eating, take time to tune into the flavors and textures of the foods. It might feel difficult to stay present with your body throughout the whole eating experience, but I wonder if you can manage to stay present for even the first 3 bites?
When you feel yourself getting full, you might experience a little sadness…when the food is so yummy and special, it can be sad to realize you’re full and it’s time to stop eating.
I challenge you to allow yourself to feel this sadness. You might even give yourself a moment to mourn the fact that you are full and therefore done eating. What’s important to remember is that the sadness from stopping eating will pass quickly whereas the pain and discomfort from overeating will last all night and potentially even into the next morning. You are strong enough to handle the brief sadness. I promise you.
Finally, know that intuitive eating is NOT the hunger fullness diet. In other words, you are not a failure if you end up eating past the point of comfortable fullness. What’s important is that you stay neutral and avoid shaming or berating yourself for it. When you shame yourself, you cause a stress response on your body. This stress inhibits digestion which can lead to further discomfort in your body. The best thing to do is know that the feeling of extreme fullness will pass in time. Eating past comfortable fullness happens, especially at exciting events with lots of special foods!
Turning to food to fill a void
For many people, a difficult reality of holiday gatherings can be not feeling fully understood by family members. Perhaps you’ve changed a lot since you’ve last seen them, or you have differing values, or maybe you’ve just never felt like you were able to deeply connect to your family members… this can feel very lonely and uncomfortable.
What can sometimes happen when experiencing uncomfortable emotions (like loneliness) is that you might find yourself turning to food to fill that void. This often happens even subconsciously. When you catch yourself in a moment of continuing to eat even if you are no longer hungry, the question becomes: If your body doesn’t physically require more food, then there must be some other need that this extra food is filling; what is that need?
Perhaps its a need for authentic connection that you’re not getting from your family members. This could be a good chance to remind yourself that though you might not feel fully understood by the people around you, there ARE people who DO fully understand you.
There are many other possible unmet needs that you might be subconsciously trying to fill with food. It’s up to you to explore what you might be needing in that moment. You might not necessarily be able to give yourself what you need in the moment, but even having the awareness of your needs can help prevent future episodes of eating past the point of comfortable fullness.
How to handle family members who are stuck in diet culture
Maybe you have that one uncle who won’t shut the f*ck up about keto. Or that cousin who is pushing Whole-30 on you. Or perhaps one of your parents or siblings is on the Intermittent Fasting wave…this can be so upsetting to witness.
When you come to realize that diets will *never* lead to sustainable health and RARELY lead to sustainable weight loss (95% of people who lose weight on deits regain the weight within 5 years), It can be painful to watch family members continue to try new diets, desperately hoping for a fix.
Maybe you’re feeling like you just want to shake them and get them to see that diets aren’t the answer.
I totally feel the frustration. This is something I still struggle to refrain from.
But here’s the hard truth:
Not everyone is in a place where they are ready to give up the fantasy of weight loss and dieting.
Unfortunately, if a person is not ready to move past diet culture, they might react by mocking you.
This might sound something like “so you’re saying I can just eat whatever I want? If I did that, I’d just eat crap all the time!”
You might respond by trying to explain how at first you think you’d only eat cheeseburgers and ice cream if you allow all foods but actually your body starts to naturally crave nutrient-dense foods too!
They don’t believe you.
The conversation leaves you feeling depleted and misunderstood.
I can’t tell you how many times some version of this scenario has happened to me. And my clients often share their frustration with similar circumstances.I know how upsetting it can be when someone simply does not understand your journey.
And when someone starts mocking the work that has been so life-changing for you… god it’s so infuriating.
But here’s what I need you to understand:
It is not your job to convince everyone stuck in diet culture to reject the diet mentality and become an intuitive eater.
I know you’re so excited and passionate about intuitive eating (and believe me, I’m SO glad that you are) but the hard truth is that many people are not in a place where they are ready to fully break up with dieting.
For many people, going on various diets or chronically restricting becomes a part of their identity.
As a result, when you try to tell them that they’ll never find sustainable success through dieting, they feel like their identity is being attacked.
I know it can be painful to watch your loved ones suffer, but just remember this:
By doing the work to heal your own relationship with food, you are doing ENOUGH.When you heal your relationship with food, the work ripples. You are breaking the inherited chain of dieting in your family.
It is not fair for you to waste your energy on those who are committing to misunderstanding you.
So when you find yourself frustrated by the family members who are still very much stuck in diet culture, I challenge you to come from a place of compassion. You know firsthand how sh*tty it is to be so deeply entrenched in the world of dieting and restricting. If the person is not in a place where they are open to learning from you, compassion is enough.
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re talking to a friend/ family member who you feel IS open to learning about Intuitive Eating, heres one of my favorite podcasts to send people who want a comprehensive intro to the topic. It’s just 1.5 hours long, making it very accessible to someone who is truly interested in learning.
Do you have questions about anything discussed in this survival guide? If so, I’d love to hear from you. You can message me on Instagram here or send me an email at email@example.com.
Interested in getting more support on your Intuitive Eating journey? My group coaching program is now open for enrollment and there are still spots available. Click here to fill out an application. Once I review your application, I’ll be in touch via email to set up a free discovery call to make sure you’re a beautiful fit for the program.
Last modified: November 18, 2021