christmas food

Psychotherapist Jennifer Cawley discovers how to strike a healthy balance and take pleasure in festive feasting, minus the guilt.

How many times have you felt stressed or anxious about navigating the buffet at a Christmas party? Or felt guilty after tucking into a four-course Christmas dinner? While it’s not healthy to eat lots of the same food group on a regular basis, worrying about what and what not to eat isn’t either.

Psychotherapist Jennifer Cawley discovers how to tackle that internal voice, regain balance and finally eat in peace.

Beating the food fight

In the lead up to Christmas, many of us look to the latest fad diets in preparation for indulging across the period. Unfortunately, such diets are often short-lived – they instill a ‘feast-famine’ mentality that polarises our eating habits, which isn’t sustainable. Diets also have a nasty way of taking us away from the present moment of pleasurable eating and into a state of self-vigilance.

Intuitive eating advocate and no-diet nutritionist, Laura Thomas names (and shames) this internal voice. “You know that voice in your head that says ‘you shouldn’t eat that’ or bargains with you to work out in order to ‘earn’ a meal? That’s the food police.”

Rather than turn to external fixes, what if it’s possible to trust your intuition around eating? Laura says that it’s entirely achievable; “This is about respecting your normal biological drive to eat; for energy, for nourishment, and for pleasure.” The key is in tuning out the critical voice and listening to your physical and emotional wellbeing with a more compassionate, kinder ear. 

Allow yourself to enjoy food

So, what’s the key to getting that balance right? “By respecting your innate need to eat food and by giving yourself permission to eat foods that taste good and are satisfying, you’ll find more peace around food,” says Laura. “You’ll stop eating everything quickly for fear of judgement and actually enjoy what you’re eating. And then when you’re content, you’ll stop.”

“That compulsive drive to eat everything in sight will dissipate because you know that tomorrow you’ll still be allowed to eat whatever you want, whenever you want.”

Listen to your body’s signals

Of course, we’ve all indulged beyond the feeling of fullness and this is a personal thing for everyone. “Overeating means different things to different people,” explains dietician Jo Travers. ”There’s overeating when you feel you’ve eaten too much and you feel uncomfortable, but sometimes that feeling is not as obvious, so it’s to do with how you perceive it.”

One easy way to tune into our hunger signals is by slowing down. “Sometimes, we eat too quickly – not giving our stretch receptors enough time to send a message to our brains to say it’s full,” explains Jo. “Taking the time to enjoy food, especially during the holiday period, means we have time to listen to the sensory inputs that tell us we’re full.”

Master intuitive movement

Another way to break that internal dialogue is to get physical this festive season. “Intuitive movement is about finding joy in activity – whether it’s going for a brisk walk or joining a local running club. Something that boosts your energy rather than leaving you drained and exhausted is a critical part of the process,” explains Laura. Activity is even more effective if you’re outdoors and focus your eyes on the horizon. This act of looking into the distance relaxes the eye muscles, which has an overall calming effect on your nervous system.

Create balance on your plate

Finally, focus on balanced eating as often as possible. Overeating one type of food group is bad for your health and energy levels, not to mention boring. “When you eat only one food group like carbs, for example, you get a spike in blood sugar followed by an inevitable crash,” explains Jo. When you’re tucking into leftovers, try to add some greens and protein to the mix – this will give you energy as well as satisfaction.

This year, it’s time we all enjoyed the food on our plate. “Give yourself permission to eat this Christmas, and always. Eat foods that make you happy, make you feel good, and satisfy you,” says Laura.

Want to learn how to eat more mindfully? Check our Jo Traver’s five ways to never be ‘hangry’ again!

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