Here are the last of my 12 Tips for Holiday Eating and Health in Body, Mind and Spirit. I do hope that you have found these useful. Enjoy the rest of this wonderful holiday season.

1.  Do a closet project.

Go through your closet and remove all of the clothes that are not current—that don’t fit, don’t feel comfortable, or are not currently in season.  Put them in storage, or give them away.  What good are they sitting in your closet?  Do you ever find that you talk down to yourself about your clothes that no longer feel good or fit you?  Do you ever feel as though you have a closet full of clothes and yet you can’t find anything to wear?  Remember, it is these kinds of thoughts that can lead to obsessing about food and weight and disordered eating behaviors later (a minute, an hour, a day, or
a week later).  Now take a look at what is left in your closet.  Are there gaps?  Do you have attractive and comfortable clothes for any occasion this season?  If not, give yourself a gift!

2. Don’t weigh yourself during the holidays (or anytime).

Scale weight measures only net weight. Your body water content can change several pounds in a day depending on hormonal changes, consumption of sodium, caffeine or alcohol, among other things.  Scale weight cannot measure the water content or whether weight changes are made up of fat or lean tissue.  Do not rely on the scale to tell you if you have been “good” or “bad”—your weight does not determine your character, nor your body composition, and your weight can’t tell you about the quality of your eating.  Remove the scale, throw it away or decorate it, but don’t use it for weighing your worth.


3. Listen to your intuition and your body regarding exercise, relaxation, sleep, and “down time”.

The holidays are often a time of rushing and to-do lists.  Planning to slow down, and getting enough rest as well as physical activity can help you to be more resilient against stressors. Outdoor walking can be a great stress reliever, and can help   regulate your appetite, too.  Learning to say no to things you don’t want to do, to set limits with others, and to anticipate stressful events in advance can help you to make a “Plan B”.  Invite a friend or family member to be a part of the plan so that you feel you have support.  Schedule time for yourself and commit to it.  Find ways to nourish your soul, what makes YOU happy—fun, love, connection, comfort—and you won’t be looking to food to fill the void.


4. So, when you are at a holiday party, buffet, sit down dinner, a friend’s home or your own home…

put the above strategies to practice, and you may find you are better able to enjoy the warmth of friends and family at holiday celebrations.  You can have choices, you can have fun, and you can honor and respect yourself—first of all—as well as others.  There are ways of showing your host or hostess you care about their efforts, other than feeling like you are obligated to eat everything put in front of you.  You also can learn to eat without fear, by listening to your body’s messages of how much food it needs, and remember that you can have more later, when your hunger returns.  Communicate to others what you need, take good care of yourself, eat well and enjoy




Dr. Barbara Birsinger is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters Degree in Public Health Nutrition and a Doctorate Degree in Spiritual Healing and Energy Medicine.  She works as a consultant in private practice at the Integrative Medical Clinic in Santa Rosa, The Body Positive Institute Counseling Center in San Rafael, and at Riverside Counseling in Petaluma.  Barbara offers her workshop, Decoding the Symbolic Meaning in Hungers, Food Cravings, Body Language and Weight as both a live weekend event, and as a live online Webinar Weekly Series starting in early 2013. For more details, click here to email Barbara.

As promised here are the next 4 tips of the 12 Tips for Holiday Eating and Health in Body, Mind and Spirit.

1.  Allow your favorite foods

and “normalize” them, as part of a well-rounded and diverse way of eating, so as to not feel afraid or desperate around certain foods.  Scarcity and deprivation (as in restricting or dieting or eating “diet” foods) lead to feelings of desperation and anxiety, which can lead to overeating later.  Practicing the “Eating from the Neck Down” exercise above helps you to trust your body when eating any kind of  food, and this can help you to feel more calm, secure, and well-taken care of—creating less of a need to overeat from symbolic hunger.

2.  Eat mindfully with an awareness of the present moment.

Mindful eating can help you to stay in the present moment and make choices in beginning or ending a meal by noticing hunger and satiety cues; identify disordered eating triggers such as feelings, environment, social situations or certain people, and certain foods; value quality of the eating experience over quantity of food; appreciate the sensual, spiritual and social, as well as the nourishing, capacity of food; and feel deep gratitude that may come from appreciating and experiencing food.

The following are some tips that can help you develop a mindful eating practice during the holidays and make your celebrations as well as everyday eating experiences enjoyable and satisfying:

  • Make your eating place special, aesthetic and peaceful.  Remove distractions (clutter, noise, media, etc.  Soothing music okay).
  • Contemplate the origins of the food you are about to eat: where did it come from, what process did it go through before it got to my table, what will this food do for me?
  • Take a moment of silence before you eat and bless and express gratitude for the food.
  • Continue to practice listening to your body: hunger/fullness attunement before, during and after eating.
  • Notice the sensual aspects—aroma, colors, flavor, texture, temperature, etc.—of the food you are eating.  Choose foods that have a variety of sensual aspects.
  • Chew your food slowly, not only to help digestion and mechanically slow down eating, but it helps to savor your food, really feel and taste it.
  • Use your Non-dominant hand to eat (whether finger foods or using utensils) to heighten your intuition, connection to the body, nutritional messages and satiety signals.  This also mechanically slows down eating and promotes mindfulness.

3.  Carry a food bag

when you are away from home with a variety foods, so that you can eat on demand—that is: what, when and how much your body tells you at any time, any place, or so that you can adhere to scheduled meals.  This contributes to the feeling of being well taken care of, and again, reducing the need to over- or under-eat.  So, if you are out running errands, working late, or just forget to eat, having foods to carry with you is like having a safety net—you will fundamentally feel more grounded, calm and taken care of, lessening anxiety and stress that can affect eating later.

4.  Enact self-acceptance

—replacing negative self-talk with non-judgmental thoughts and words about yourself, your body, your eating and your worth.  You are entitled to have pleasurable, fun and meaningful experiences during the holidays and everyday.  Every time you think a negative thought about yourself you are setting yourself up for eating struggles.  These thoughts are not innocuous.  We really believe them, and feel dreadful whenever we say them, even subconsciously.

The first step in replacing negative thoughts is to be consciously aware of them, and that they are not helping you.  In fact, these thoughts distract you from your real feelings just as overeating or restricting does.  Each time you think a bad body thought, something else is brewing (just as with symbolic hunger).  Critical body thoughts are not really about the body.  It is a translation from an uncomfortable feeling (that you don’t want to have), to your body or other aspects of yourself that you don’t accept.  By ending the body thought you are then able to begin to name your difficulties rather than label them as your weight or eating problem.  Also, by ending these thoughts, you break the circuit of the food-weight obsession cycle.

Self-acceptance is a process of consciously committing to giving yourself the kind, gentle, compassionate, loving messages you deserve to hear and believe.  The key to transformation is when you realize you are the only one that can consistently give enough of these messages to yourself.

Restoring balance to eating and stress levels can be especially difficult during the holiday season.   Most people struggle during the holidays with too much to do, too much stress, too little time, and too much food.  Over the next few weeks I will post 12 tips on intuitive eating and self-care can help you navigate smoothly through the holidays feeling healthy in body, mind and spirit. Here are the first 4 tips.

1.  Eat WHEN your body signals hunger.

Whenever your mind or hand reaches for food, always check in with your body about your hunger level—are you physically hungry, or do you want to eat when you are not physically hungry?  When you experience light-to-moderate physical hunger, your body can tell you what and how much food it needs, called nutritional cravings. However, if you let yourself get too hungry, either by being too busy to eat, or by consciously restricting foods to avoid weight gain, chances are that you’ll probably want to eat the first thing you can get, and the tendency is to overcompensate with more food than you need at the time, or for some, to restrict even more when the cravings get intense.  The desire to overeat hat inevitably follows restricting, can lead to more restricting; even thoughts of restricting creates a stress response in the body and raises cortisol, not to mention the psychological law of physics: for every deprivation, there tends to be an equal and opposite urge to indulge, sooner or later, and what happens is either the “cave” and a “binge” (whether a little or a lot) or even tighter restricting that continues the cycle.

To prevent this cycle, planning ahead is key. Imagine the event, (when, where, who, what will be served).  Categorize the foods you most want, those that don’t matter so much, and those that may cause anxiety or stress. Identify those with protein, carbohydrate and fat and good sources of vitamins and minerals so that you create a nutritionally sound meal, including the foods you want.  On the holiday event, eat as you normally would eat your meals—about 3-4 hours apart—usually the time it takes for true physical hunger to signal, as this grounds you in present time (see tip 4), and helps to prevent skipping meals and saving hunger for grazing on party foods where you may be likely to overindulge.

Reaching for food when you are not physically hungry–symbolic hunger–is usually an attempt to satisfy some other need—emotional, spiritual or social.  When this happens, it is important to be an observer, not a judge.  The holidays may bring up hidden emotions and longings to the surface.  Eating, or avoiding eating, is one way that many of us have learned to cope with uncomfortable feelings, to calm ourselves down and to feel better.  Sometimes you may be aware of feelings that trigger eating or restricting, and you might find a more appropriate way of dealing with the feeling (sitting with it, talking about it with someone else, expressing it, etc.).  But when you are not aware of feelings related to the symbolic hunger, or are unable to choose differently at that time, the most important thing is to not judge the behavior (because this can feed the food-weight obsession cycle), but to put to use the skills below.

2. Eat WHAT you really want, not what calories dictate.

If we don’t let ourselves have what we really want, we will usually continue to eat “chasing the satisfaction” with additional foods, to compensate for not getting the desired result (enjoyment and gratification).  We also need to trust the reasons we want certain foods, whether for physical requirements or for mental, emotional or even social or spiritual needs.  When you are a guest at a party or buffet, survey the foods offered ahead of time, and choose the foods that you really want and that will be most gratifying. Check in with hunger (Tip #1 above) and decide how much to eat to satisfy your hunger right now (Tip #4 below).  Remember, without judgment of yourself or the food, overeating isn’t likely. And, by practicing the technique of “Eating from the Neck Down”, below, you can learn to eat just the right amounts of the foods you want at any given time.  Then, you can get on with the spirit of the party or social event and enjoy yourself!

3.  Eat HOW MUCH you need in the present moment.  

Portions are an inside job with intuitive eating.  Envisioning the type of food and the amount of that food in your stomach before you eat it, signals the body to stop at the amount that feels “just right” in the body ahead of time.  Listening to the body in this way is like “eating from the neck down”; a way to connect mind and body, and “program” your body like a computer—to stop with the feeling satiety, but not overly full.  Checking in with your hunger level during eating also helps you to remember to stop eating when your physical hunger is just satisfied. Remember, you can have more later when physical hunger returns—but you might want to think about that ahead of time as well, repeating Tips 1,2,3 and 4 when thinking of eating returns.

4. Give yourself full permission to eat in full view.  

Choices of foods, or the size of your body does not dictate how deserving one is to eat.  Many people do not eat what they want in front of others only to eat secretively later, and often overeat or binge due to feeling deprived.  Why hide what you are entitled to?  Eating out in the open can prevent disordered eating later.  What would keep you from eating what you want in front of others?



Dr. Barbara Birsinger is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters Degree in Public Health Nutrition and a Doctorate Degree in Spiritual Healing and Energy Medicine.  She works as a consultant in private practice at the Integrative Medical Clinic in Santa Rosa, The Body Positive Institute Counseling Center in San Rafael, and at Riverside Counseling in Petaluma.  Barbara offers her workshop, Decoding the Symbolic Meaning in Hungers, Food Cravings, Body Language and Weight as both a live weekend event, and as a live online Webinar Weekly Series starting in early 2013. For more details, click here to email Barbara.