Oh, the diet trap. It’s grippy little claws gain so much strength at this time of year! It is such a shame we feel like dieting or weight loss is an inevitable consequence of the festive season. Instead of it being a time where we can relax and appreciate spending time with those we love, we are ambushed by messages about how we should and shouldn’t be behaving when it comes to eating and exercising. Just so we don’t come out the other side having gained 5kg. (Why is it that we are always threatened with gaining 5kg if we eat a piece of pavlova or have an extra cocktail?!)

The holidays are a super-emotional time, making it easy to fall into the diet trap. Get 7 ways to avoid being sucked in and enjoy a mindful festive season.


But if you are new to intuitive eating or you are working on building a healthier relationship with food, I totally get that the festive season can seem daunting and that diet trap becomes much more seductive.


There are the family and friends judging you for eating too much.


Or not enough.


Or boring you to death with how they have made the trifle sugar free (and therefore guilt free!).


Or bragging about how virtuous they are for sticking to their diet over the holidays.


Or telling you they are going to start eating ‘clean’ in the New Year (and that you might also like to, to try to help you get ‘healthier’, aka lose weight).


Oh, and the gazillion messages from the media and “well-meaning” health professionals, telling you that weight gain over the festive season is the absolute worst. All wrapped up in a pretty package with their 10 best tips for sticking to your diet, so you don’t sabotage your weight loss. With the subtle implication that you are a failure if you do happen to gain weight as the ribbon on top.


Throw in our cultures’ fat phobic ideas of what male and female bodies should look like; that plays on your mind when you contemplate putting on a sundress, or some shorts, or heaven forbid, a pair of bathers to cool off in the summer weather.


And yes, I won’t lie. There IS a lot of extra food and booze and opportunities to eat to navigate when you are trying to give yourself unconditional permission to eat according to your hunger and fullness.


It is hard. And therefore, very tempting to fall back into old diet-ey thought patterns and behaviours.


So how can you get through it all remaining true to your new attitudes about food and your body, without getting caught up in the diet trap?


Answer 5 quick questions and find out!

7 ways to avoid the diet trap

Set an intention

Part of intuitive eating is taking a moment before eating to check in with your hunger to guide food choices. You can add to this practice by using this same moment to set an intention for how you would like to feel after you have eaten.


For example, you might decide that after eating you would like your physical hunger to have subsided and your stomach to feel comfortable and light.


Or, you might set the intention before eating that you are going to try all the food available, and while you anticipate you will probably feel uncomfortably full afterwards, you are OK with that because you only get the opportunity to enjoy this food and the company you are with during the festive season.


P.S. if you end up feeling differently to the way you intended after eating, it doesn’t mean you have stuffed up. It just means you are a human.


Food is still morally neutral

Contrary to what you will see and read, food is still morally neutral during the holidays. That is, food is neither ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (or naughty, sinful, guilt-free, etc.) and you are not a good or bad person based on what you eat. It is all just food. Don’t give it more power than it deserves.


Be a discerning foodie

Just because food is available, it doesn’t mean you MUST eat it because it is a holiday tradition.


In addition to setting an intention for your meal, you can also try assessing the spread of food on offer and choose the food that you know you will really enjoy and leave behind the food you know you don’t like.


Or, choose the food you know from your mindful eating experiences in the past, makes your body feel good, and leave behind the food you have learnt doesn’t feel great in your body (the food you leave behind will probably still be there if you change your mind).

The holidays are a super-emotional time, making it easy to fall into the diet trap. Get 7 ways to avoid being sucked in and enjoy a mindful festive season.

Be prepared for the saboteurs

I mentioned these guys earlier. These are the ones that give you the shifty sideways eyes when you help yourself to a bit of all the desserts.


Or the ones who ask, “Surely you can’t still be hungry?” if you go in for a second helping.


Or the ones who want to know why you aren’t eating because you have taken a pause during eating and realised that you are feeling comfortably full and don’t want anymore.


Or the ones who make their way through the buffet vocalising which foods are good and bad.


The list is endless.


Acknowledge ahead of time that you are probably going to have to deal with other people’s weight obsessions and their projection of that onto you and have a plan ready. You can get some tips on my post Living in a world obsessed with weight.


Avoid the temptation to restrict

Common advice at this time of year is to skip meals or cut back your food intake before an upcoming party or event to ‘save’ your calories and prevent weight gain. But it is well known that overriding our hunger by restricting food often leads to a pre-occupation with food and binge eating when you finally do eat. (1) It’s a bit counter-productive and not in the spirit of intuitive eating.


Move to feel good

Another temptation during the holidays is to use exercise to burn off what you have eaten. Or to do exercise in advance to ‘earn’ what you are going to eat later. Both behaviours sit smack-bang in dietland and encourage negative thoughts about our bodies, food and eating. Keep moving because it makes your body feel good, not as a punishment.


Remember what the holidays are about

While food and socialising are tightly intertwined in many cultures, the holiday season is about more than what we put in our mouths. It’s about taking the time to connect with family and friends, reflect on the past 12 months and think about the year ahead.


Do you have any tips for staying in tune with your body or avoiding falling into the diet trap through the festive season?



Answer 5 quick questions and find out!

(1) American Psychologist; February 1985, Vol. 40, p193-201

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Answer 5 quick questions to find out what eating style you are drawn to and how it can influence your food choices, your relationship with food and even your health.​

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