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Holiday Eating

Posted by on Dec 21, 2011 in Blog Posts | 2 comments

This is reprinted/posted with permission from Ellyn Satter’s family meals focus newsletters. If you haven’t found them yet, they are archived on her website and are a treasure trove of information on adults and children in terms of eating and wellness!

Have a fantastic end of the year, and a Happy, Healthy 2012!

December 17, 2008
Interpreting the news and research about feeding and eating

In honor of the season, we are interrupting our series on toddler feeding, ”A Series of Unfortunate Events.” We will pick up the story again in January.

The November 2007 through March 2008 Family Meals Focus Newsletter introduced the Satter Eating Competence Model (ecSatter). This guest posting demonstrates what a difference it can make to apply ecSatter to holiday eating. For the 75% of the population that continually restrict food intake to achieve and maintain lowered body weight,1 the 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. As this newsletter by VISIONS Treating the Dieting Casualty graduate and How to Eat clinician Peggy Crum, RD, demonstrates, it need not be so. Peggy originally published this article in Michigan State University’s Health4U NutritionMatters

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 portions are large and when food is delicious. That sure sounds like most days during the month of December!

Here’s where trusting your internal regulators comes in to 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 can pass on. Satiety requires that you fill yourself with foods you enjoy.
  • Structure helps. This is without a doubt where the holiday style of eating derails many folks. It may help to avoid the places where food is sitting around. Try to maintain your usual predictable schedule of meals and snacks.
  • The most helpful part of holiday eating is that there is always plenty of food. 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.
  • Holiday gatherings are times when you may eat 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.

Despite what the naysayers say, you can regulate in the midst of delicious food.

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.


Copyright  2008 by Ellyn Satter. Published at

Copyright © 2011 by Ellyn Satter. Published at

Rights to reproduce: As long as you leave it unchanged, you don’t charge for it, and you include the entire copyright statement, you may reproduce this article. Please let us know you have used it by sending a website link or an electronic copy to

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  1. Camilla

    A question that I keep wanting to ask here: who doesn’t get to play?

    I’ve always eaten this way (never dieted, usually eaten a good variety of foods)… except that recently bloodwork (nothing symptomatic) has caused medical advice to be given to me, to count and limit carbs. I think my restriction is light enough, that I can in fact still play (50% calories from carbs isn’t that hard to hit) but I am trying to get my head around where the line is.

  2. Bobbini

    We did a little holiday-themed Satter experiment last night. My daughter’s kindergarten class made gingerbread houses and she didn’t use up all her allotted decorations, bringing them home in a ziploc bag.

    My son knew the marshmallows, gumdrops, etc. belonged to his sister, so he kept asking her if he could have some during the hour leading up to dinner. I decided to co-opt the bag on behalf of the family, and plopped it on the table, along with the baked rotini and bread. All four of us could help ourselves to treats alongside our meal. By the end of dinner, maybe 10 pieces of candy had been consumed (that’s a total from among mini-marshmallows, M&Ms, gum drops and a couple caramels), but most of the entree was gone, and there were a few slices left from the half-loaf of bread. Well over half the candy was still in the ziploc bag when we cleared the table.