While I’m out on maternity leave, please warmly welcome Martha Barnhouse, a registered dietitian and intuitive eating coach from Spokane, WA. 

The holidays can be a source of stress for many struggling in their relationships with food and body. The joy of tradition and celebration is often clouded by fear of weight gain, discomfort and ‘losing control’. It is common for people to take an all-or-nothing approach in these months, imposing deprivation before and after important events during the season, which sets them up for bingeing or overeating within the events themselves. This cycle can create a sense of justification for body distrust, despite the fundamental problem being the lack of body trust itself.

Intuitive eating, by nature, reduces food and body-related stress, making space for improved enjoyment and focus on meaningful relationships and experiences. If you want to thrive rather than just survive through the holidays, intuitive eating is the answer!

Here are 5 ways to improve your holidays with intuitive eating:

  • Stop saving calories! I hear it all the time: “I’m saving my calories for tonight.” Folks, this does NOTHING but damage for your body and ultimately predisposes you to overeating. Our bodies require consistent and satisfying meals in order to express appropriate hunger and fullness cues and to prevent panicked cravings and overindulgence later. Eating less throughout the day is actually sabotaging you! Structured eating of satisfying foods prior your holiday event will help you to better hone in on your hunger and fullness cues and be better able to assess and respond to what your body wants and needs.
  • Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Nothing is off limits! Yes, you heard me right. Give yourself permission to eat ANYTHING that looks or sounds good to your body. Labeling foods as ‘forbidden’ creates a sense of deprivation that can fuel desire and overeating. Allowing yourself permission to eat anything reduces the power of different foods and prevents overeating by appropriately satiating your body. You are also allowed unconditional permission NOT to eat. When your body is satiated or something does not look or sound good to you, you are allowed to listen to your body, even over the pressure of others, and say ‘no’.
  • Cultivate a diet-free zone. This is a tough one. Nowadays, everyone seems to think they are entitled to impose their opinion about the morality of different foods or eating habits on others. Diet talk is rampant, and often disguised as ‘health’. If you hear attributions of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ surrounding food and eating, RUN! There is no morality in food, and this narrative may have you questioning your own intuition. Unfollow and delete social media accounts that perpetuate the narrative that your body is wrong. Step away from diet and weight-related conversations. And for the love of EVERYTHING, do not plan a New Year diet or weight loss resolution! When restriction or deprivation is planned, it can make you eat every meal prior like it is your last supper. You overeat, feel out of control and completely disconnect from and distrust your body. This will only feed a cycle that of ongoing damage to your body and relationship with food. 
  • Address the stress. For many of us, food can be a go-to tool for stress management. Emotional eating from time to time is okay, as long as we have some awareness around what is going on. That being said, the holidays can bring a great deal of stress and it is important to have some effective tools in place, outside of food, to manage the stress and preserve food and body trust. Get some mindful movement in, invest in quality relationships, make time for self-care, practice diaphragmatic breathing, get the Headspace app or find other non-food-related ways to minimize stress. Also, get good SLEEP! Sleep will always make us better able to manage stress and tune into our bodies, no question! 
  • Honor the experience. Life is meant to be LIVED. When we focus so hard on managing our food intake and body size, we miss out on the greater experiences and the way food can so beautifully enhance those experiences. Enjoy yourself. Take note of the many various aspects that make each celebration unique: The people, the atmosphere, the décor, the food, etc. Don’t let one overpower the others, leave room to enjoy them all thoroughly. Engage in the foods that feed the experience and make it better. Do the same with the people. Allow yourself to be in the moment, savoring the event, appreciating how it makes you feel in its entirety. Look for the ways it can be meaningful and memorable to you.

Holidays do not have to be a time of significant food stress and feelings of failure. An intuitive approach allows freedom and enjoyment of all the wonderful things the holidays have to offer. But don’t stop there! Say goodbye to your New Year’s resolutions and commit, instead, to honoring your body, turning your back on diet culture, and choosing intuitive eating for a lifetime of freedom.


Martha Barnhouse is a registered dietitian and intuitive eating coach committed to refuting diet culture and bridging the gap between food and faith. Martha completed her Bachelors degree in dietetics at Seattle Pacific University before going on to pursue a Masters degree in Exercise Science and Performance Psychology from Eastern Washington University. Martha hopes to help eradicate stigma and shame around eating habits and body size both in and outside the church. She currently coaches others toward body trust and food and body confidence through her company MB Wellness, LLC. You can learn more at www.mbwellnessdaily.com or on Instagram @mb_wellness.