Holiday Interview: Elyse Resch

What are you most grateful for this time of year?

I am most grateful for my good health, which allows me to work full time, helping people heal from their eating disorders and disordered eating.  I am so grateful for my son, who, although mentally ill, is a light in my life.   And I’m continually grateful for my family of friends who support me through all of life’s ups and downs.

What is your favorite holiday meal?

My favorite holiday meal is Thanksgiving.  I love the fresh roasted turkey, the sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, and especially the apple pie. Oh boy, my mouth is watering!

You co-authored an amazingly insightful book called Intuitive Eating. Explain the concept of  “Intuitive Eating.”

“Intuitive Eating” is based on the belief that we are born with all of the internal wisdom we need to have to know how to eat.  With this internal wisdom, we can trust our bodies to tell us when to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat.   We use our Triune brain, composed of three parts, to help us to make our decisions in eating.  Those three parts include the reptilian brain or primitive instinctual survival layer of brain functioning, the mammalian or limbic layer of the brain, which is the seat of emotions and social behaviors, and the human brain or neo-cortex, which is the rational part of the brain. The best definition of Intuitive Eating is a “dynamic interplay of instinct, emotions, and thought”.  Unfortunately, many people become distracted from the wisdom of their inborn intuitive eater and need to be reconnected to it through education and practice.

It can be hard to eat well during the holidays. What advice do you have for those going to big holiday meals with lots of unhealthy food options?

First of all, there is room for all sorts of foods, if you’re an intuitive eater. We can eat both nutritious foods, and what I like to call “play foods”. Thinking that the “unhealthy food options” are off limits, only makes them more desirable and causes greater cravings than we would normally have for them. After all, we want what we can’t have!   Make those play food options just part of your enjoyable meal. Make sure you don’t go into a meal in primal hunger, where you can’t control the amount that you eat, because the instinctual survival part of the brain sends out chemicals to lead you to seek food in unreasonable quantities. Go into these meals mildly hungry, so you can truly enjoy the food but not be ravenous. Stay mindful while eating. Take a few hors d’oeuvres, so there is room to enjoy the dinner. And make sure to leave room for dessert.  As, I mentioned above–avoid “holiday mentality.” This is not the last time that you’ll ever have turkey or pumpkin pie or stuffing. And don’t trick yourself into thinking that you’ll “be good” after the holidays. Those kinds of promises never work. Be mindful, enjoy your food, seek satisfaction, and walk away from the food when you’re comfortably full. You’ll be more satisfied and you’ll feel more physically comfortable.

What advice do you have for those who do overindulge this holiday season?

First of all, if you use “Intuitive Eating,” you’re unlikely to “overindulge” during the holidays.  If, on the other hand, you overeat some, because the food is particularly delicious, take it in stride and trust that your inner intuitive eater will probably let you know that you’re less hungry when the next meal comes around.  Be sure to never use the term “guilt” for how much you’ve eaten, and never promise yourself that you’ll make up for it tomorrow or after the holidays. Typically, an occasional larger meal simply sends a message to the brain to speed the metabolism. The brain keeps your body in homeobalance, so unless you do something continually for a long time, your body will recover easily. But, be wise, be mindful, and don’t be judgmental. If you do that, it’s unlikely that you’ll continue to “overindulge.”

Any advice for parents whose kids only want to eat marshmallows and sugary desserts?

My hunch is that a child who only wants to eat these foods has likely been told that he/she shouldn’t be eating them or must eat enough “chicken and broccoli” before having dessert. As I mentioned above, we crave what we can’t have. If a child is offered a wide variety of foods when first fed solid foods and is not restricted from sweets when he/she first notices them, that child will end up with a balanced food intake. It might not be balanced at any particular meal, but it will be balanced over a week’s time. The more you restrict a child from these foods, the more the child will want them and reject other foods.

In addition to the delicious food, what is your favorite thing about the holidays?

My favorite thing about the holidays is having the opportunity to spend quality time with my family of friends.  Life is usually so hectic, that it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to relax, have great conversations, great food, and dress up a bit.

And finally, what is your holiday motto?

My holiday motto is:  “Don’t treat the holidays with a holiday mentality.” This may sound like a paradox, but it’s very important to take care of yourself during the holidays in the same way in which you need to take care of yourself all year round. Especially in relation to your eating, don’t treat this time as the time of year to let go of your internal wisdom about eating intuitively. Enjoy the food, but don’t go down the road of eating everything in sight, because you think you’ll go on a diet or restrict after the holidays are over. That thinking is a formula for disaster!

For more information about
Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD and the concept of Intuitive Eating, check out her website