Christmas: The perfect time to start changing your eating habits!

13th December, 2014

Mince tartsPeople often consider the silly season to be a bad time to start focusing on changing eating habits. This would probably be true if you were planning to go on a diet, which is one of the many reasons why diets aren’t very effective in the long-term. Diets often require you to follow rules and usually aren’t flexible enough to allow for more frequent social eating (and drinking).

However, you don’t need to go on a diet to improve your health, lose weight or get fit. A much better approach is to start listening to your body, get back in touch with your hunger signals and learn to eat intuitively again.

Intuitive eating or mindful eating are two terms you will see popping up more and more in my posts and blogs (if you haven’t already). In a nutshell, intuitive eating is trusting your body to know when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat. You are not dictated by meal plans, food choices or portion sizes. For the most part, you eat only when you’re hungry and stop eating before you feel overfull. Very doable, but not always as simple as it sounds.

When I talk about this with my clients, two common comments are; “But I never feel hungry?” or “it doesn’t matter what I eat, I always feel hungry!”

If you’re like many adults, you have probably forgotten how to listen to your appetite and you certainly don’t trust your appetite.

The good news is that trusting your appetite and eating mindfully are skills you can re-learn. I say re-learn as when you were very young, you trusted your appetite, eating only when hungry and putting food down or spitting it out once you’d had enough. You even ate mindfully as you explored new flavours and textures and decided what did and didn’t taste good. Anyone who has children should know what I am talking about.

The freedom to eat whatever you want that comes with intuitive eating does not mean you will only ever want to eat pleasure foods such as chocolate, chips or mince tarts. As you start to recognise when you are truly hungry for food (fuel), you will discover that you are less likely to choose a block of chocolate over a steak & veggies. As you start to eat what you truly enjoy and you associate satisfaction of hunger with feeling comfortable, you will discover that you are less likely to over-eat. 

The beauty with intuitive eating and allowing all food in moderation is that you can still enjoy pleasure food when you really feel like it. When you choose to eat chocolate because it’s what you really want, you will derive much more pleasure from the moment and there’s no reason to feel guilty afterward.

So why is Christmas an excellent time to start changing your eating habits? Most likely you’ll have more social eating and encounter more pleasure foods such as mince tarts (a little favourite of mine), Christmas cake and other rich foods. This is perfect time to start practising mindfulness and listening to your appetite. Before you hoe into all the wonderful food on offer, ask yourself “am I hungry?” and “do I really feel like eating this food at this moment?”.

The food on offer over Christmas will not adversely affect you health, but eating mindlessly may. For many people, the more rigid you are with your eating or the more restrictive your diet, the more likely you are to over-eat when the opportunity presents itself. Have you ever noticed that people, who don’t diet or don’t restrict certain food, don’t appear to have an issue with all the extra eating around Christmas? 

Your mindset also plays a big part. Every year I see people who enter the silly season with the attitude “oh well, no point trying to eat healthy with so many social events and parties, best to wait till after New Year”. Wrong!! The issue is not the extra food and drinks at parties, the issue is “thinking” the extra cheer is an issue which then results in you over-eating at parties. Having “fallen off the wagon”, you may then decide there’s no point in trying to manage your day-to-day eating either. 

Such thinking is not helpful. You have roughly 21 meals in a week (7 breakfasts, 7 lunches and 7 dinners), even if you over-eat at 5 occasions in the one week, you still have 16 meals where you can eat mindfully and this alone will help keep your health in check.

I am looking forward to enjoying a mince tart or three over the next 2 weeks!

Merry Christmas, Zoe