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One of the best things about the holidays is all the delicious food! But it can also be one of the biggest challenges that our patients and clients face. They are bombarded with warnings about avoiding sugary treats, overeating, and alcohol for fear of gaining weight! This fear-mongering is not only unfounded but serves to further perpetuate weight stigma.
I remember when I first became a health coach I too contributed to the fearmongering and weight stigma by talking about all the ways that people could avoid gaining weight during the holiday season. In reality, research has shown that the focus on preventing weight gain has contributed to food and body preoccupation, weight cycling, a distraction from other personal health goals, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, and weight stigmatization. 
In other words, this hyperfocus on weight is negatively impacting the health and wellbeing of our patients and clients. This is why intuitive eating serves as an effective tool that can help our patients and clients eat more mindfully during the holiday season. As Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch explain in their book, Intuitive Eating, this approach provides a way for your patients and clients to regain trust in their body and its signals of hunger and satiety.  Rather than following arbitrary food rules intuitive eating allows your patients and clients to eat in a way that nourishes their bodies from the inside out.
Due to some misconceptions about intuitive eating, there may be some reluctance for your patients and clients to adopt this practice. If that is the case, I highly recommend that you check out my article, How to Start Intuitive Eating, for some tips on introducing intuitive eating as a practice that they can adopt in their lifestyle.
Maybe intuitive eating isn’t actually an issue for your patients and clients any other time of the year. For some reason when the holiday season comes around they seem to struggle or feel discouraged when trying to implement this practice.
So how do you encourage your patients and clients to eat intuitively during this festive time? I have a few tips that just might help! In this article, I share three ways you can encourage your patients and clients to eat more intuitively during the holidays.
#1 Maintain a Normal Eating Routine
The holiday season can largely impact our schedules, especially when it comes to traveling to see family or inviting friends over for dinner. Nonetheless, a very important aspect of eating intuitively during the holidays is to maintain our normal eating routine. While it’s tempting for your patients and clients to skip meals during the day while they wait for dinner to cook, you should definitely encourage them not to do that.
The reason is that intuitive eating encourages your patients and clients to be aware of their body’s response to food and that allows them to better focus on making food choices that are based on that awareness.  When they skip meals their ability to connect to their hunger and fullness cues can be diminished, which increases the likelihood that they will eat more than they intended.
So, encouraging them to maintain their normal eating routine is a great way for them to feel more connected to their hunger and fullness cues. As a result, they will feel more confident in their ability to eat more intuitively when dinner time finally rolls around.
#2 Don't Dismiss the Importance of Hydration
There are plenty of special beverages that your patients and clients can consume during the holiday and one of those should definitely be water. I know there is nothing special about water when it comes to taste, but when it comes to hydration it’s unmatched. Whether you realize it or not, encouraging your patients and clients to stay hydrated will help them eat more intuitively.
A key thing to remember is that intuitive eating helps your patients and clients in developing a healthier relationship with food which allows them to make more nutritious food and beverage choices.  Even though there might be a temptation to encourage them to avoid certain things, the restriction can become a bit of a slippery slope during the holidays.
Instead, encouraging them to add another glass or two of water during the day is a great health-promoting behavior. Not only are they nourishing their bodies, but they’re ensuring that they don’t confuse thirst with hunger which will help them eat more intuitively.
#3 Make a Plan for Leftovers
Of the many amazing benefits of holiday meals, one of the things that you cannot forget to mention to your patients and clients is planning for leftovers. In my opinion, leftovers are the best part of holiday meals, because they remind us that we can enjoy this meal again. This is very important for your patients and clients who have followed overly restrictive diets or struggled with emotional eating in the past.
Intuitive eating is an effective strategy that can help your patients and clients shift away from restrictive dieting and emotional eating to becoming more conscious about their food choices.  This allows your patients and clients to recognize that holidays don’t have to be seen as “cheat meals” they can only enjoy a few times out of the year.
Rather, they can plan to enjoy holiday meals and leftovers without any sense of guilt or shame. They don’t need to earn their meals but can enjoy them intuitively as little or as often as they like.
In this article, I shared three simple tips you can use to encourage your patients and clients to eat more intuitively during the holidays. These strategies are easy for them - and you - to implement! Whether it’s ensuring not to skip breakfast or making a plate to take home with them, there are many ways to fit intuitive eating into this holiday season.
The key thing to remind your patients and clients is that it will take patience and practice to make intuitive eating a habit. Therefore, encourage them not to feel any guilt or shame for indulging more than they intended. Or, choosing to enjoy a few glasses of eggnog instead of water.
We as health professionals need to remind our patients and clients that we are not asking for perfection, but progress. Sometimes that progress entails nailing every single one of the tips that I shared in the article. Other times that progress entails acknowledging that the next time they’re going to take into consideration at least one of the tips I shared in this article. Either way, this will hopefully serve as a helpful reminder of what we know works best when it comes to making healthy food choices during the holiday season, a less stressful experience.
So let's help your patients and clients enjoy this festive season to the fullest! If there are any additional tips that you’d like to share for eating more intuitively during the holidays, feel free to drop them below.
- Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, 10, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
- Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. St. Martin’s Essentials.
- Carbonneau, E., Bégin, C., Lemieux, S., Mongeau, L., Paquette, M. C., Turcotte, M., Labonté, M. È., & Provencher, V. (2017). A Health at Every Size intervention improves intuitive eating and diet quality in Canadian women. Clinical Nutrition, 36(3), 747–754. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2016.06.008
- Brown, L.B. (2009). Teaching the "health at every size" paradigm benefits future fitness and health professionals. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 41(2), 144-145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2008.04.358