Eating competence in action: Season's Eatings

Peggy Crum, MA, RD, and ESI faculty member

Peggy Crum, a specialist in health promotion and student health education, finds that for many, the holiday season means constant and often-losing battles with food temptation:  feeling bad about giving in on the one hand and bad about missing out on the other. Her edition makes it clear that it need not be so. 

The holidays bring thoughts to mind of tables full of food that is tasty and delicious, warm and savory, bountiful and rich. Cooks and chefs alike pull out all the stops to make the most wonderfully scrumptious food. With all of these warm-fuzzy adjectives, why is anyone worried or concerned about the beginning of the holiday season? Well, for one thing, the oft-repeated message is that people eat more when food is delicious and plentiful. That sure sounds like most days during the month of December!

Trusting your internal regulators will save the day

  • Begin by giving yourself permission to eat any and all foods. Permission to eat, strangely enough, gives you permission to stop.
  • Try your best to be hungry when you start the meal. This is hard to do when you spend extra time in the kitchen ''taste-testing'' and when there are lots of foods sitting around. If it is possible to avoid eating until it is mealtime, do it. When you begin eating hungry, it is easier to tell when you are satisfied.
  • Pay attention to your appetite. It will tell you clearly which foods you want to eat and which you don't. To feel satsified, you need to eat foods you enjoy.
  • Structure helps. This is without a doubt where the holiday style of eating derails many folks. Try to maintain your usual predictable schedule of meals and snacks. 
  • Set things up so you can pay attention to your delicious food. Easily-grabbed food squanders your eating because you won't be paying attention. 
  • Reassure yourself that there is plenty to eat. There is no need to eat more than you want now because there will be more tasty food when it's time to eat again.
  • Don't dump on yourself for eating more than usual. If you let it be, your body will regulate naturally by using more energy and by requiring less food on subsequent days.

Have delicious food all year long

Becoming a competent eater will let you have delicious food, without overeating, all year long. Foods that are no longer forbidden become ordinary foods that can be consumed in ordinary ways. Large portion sizes become less appealing in the context of regular and reliable meals and snacks featuring adequate amounts of rewarding food. "Healthy" foods become enjoyable rather than dreary foods that must be eaten.  

For more information, read Part 1, How to Eat, pages 7-51 in Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook. Madison, WI: Kelcy Press; 2008.

1. Serdula MK, Mokdad AH, Williamson DF, Galuska DA, Mendlein JM, Heath GW. Prevalence of attempting weight loss and strategies for controlling weight. JAMA. 1999;282:1353-1358.

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