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Dietitians Dish: How to healthfully enjoy the holidays

Nov. 29, 2011 at 5:29 a.m.

Stephanie Markman

By Stephanie Markman

Guilt: A common feeling once all of the holiday parties and celebrations are over. We love the holidays, but most of us dread the fight between enjoying all of the festive treats and feasts and not gaining those holiday pounds. But did you know you can enjoy every part of the holidays and maintain your weight? There are no tricks or quick fixes; it's all about intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating in a nutshell is eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are just starting to feel full. Not a novel idea, but one we often fall away from as life gets busy and food is abundant. Think about it; our bodies were designed to let us know when we need food and when we have had enough. It only makes sense to trust this intuition to help you maintain a healthy body weight. However, it can be very easy to misinterpret your sense of hunger and fullness when you stop using it as your guide for when and how much to eat.

The first step in getting back to intuitive eating is to realize that you control food, and food does not control you. Secondly, start recognizing your hunger cues; hunger is not always a grumbling stomach, but can also be a headache, feeling weak or mentally groggy. Keep in mind that sometimes we may feel hungry, but we are actually thirsty.

Next time you think you are hungry, try drinking some water, wait 15 minutes and, if the hunger feeling doesn't go away, it is probably time to eat. Eating only when you are hungry will take away a large portion of the guilt we can feel after eating. How often do we say, "I shouldn't have eaten that; I wasn't even hungry?"

When you start planning your next meal, be mindful about what types of foods your body really wants. Try eating your usual meal one day and a more healthful one the next, focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat. Pay attention to how you feel after the meal; you will quickly discover that eating well gives you more energy. Once you start feeling and seeing the benefits of eating healthfully, you will be more inclined to eat that way at every meal. When you start listening to what your body needs, you will be able to eat what you want and not feel guilty about it either.

The final key to intuitive eating is to stop eating at the first sign of fullness. Did you know that it takes your brain about 20 minutes to realize your stomach is full? Use this knowledge to your advantage; if you are skeptical, try it for a day. Be very mindful about what you are eating, enjoy your food and stay away from distractions, such as television. This way you will be able to recognize that first sign of fullness. Stop here, wait about 20 minutes and see how you feel. If you still feel hungry, eat some more, but most often you will forget about eating more food altogether.

If you have strayed from intuitive eating, don't be discouraged if it doesn't come back right away. It takes time, patience and attention. Use these tools when you are enjoying holiday food, eat what you want when you are hungry and stop at the first sign of fullness. Once this becomes your new habit, your body will adjust to the size it feels best at, and you will discover freedom from food-related guilt. It's all about listening to your body and trusting your instincts; give it a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Stephanie Markman is a registered and licensed dietitian. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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