At a certain point in life, summer plans seem to revolve around weddings. I'm coming off a three-weekend wedding streak, with three weddings in as many cities. That's three welcome parties, three celebratory cocktail hours, three series of passed appetizers, three-course meals, three-layer cakes and three next-day brunches.
Weddings are a blast. No one is here to argue that. But to say they can throw you off your healthy eating routine is an understatement. In the spirit of celebration, it feels wrong to turn down the appetizers, libations, meals and desserts. Physical activity may take a back seat to the travels and busy wedding weekend agendas, too. (Unless you count the hours on the dance floor, which I do.) The extra food, the long hours of travel and the lack of exercise time can compound over the course of a few months—especially if you have other weekend plans and parties beyond weddings.
Read More: The No-Diet Diet: How to Eat Intuitively
So how to enjoy wedding season without the stress? Rather than feeling guilty about an extra glass of wine or worrying about that piece of cake, intuitive eating principles can help you enjoy your celebration. "I encourage people to do three things: prioritize self-care, protect sleep routines and give yourself permission to enjoy the moment and the food," says Julie Duffy Dillon, a registered dietitian and intuitive eating expert.
While they may not seem "intuitive" at first, with a little practice these six intuitive eating tips will help you survive wedding season and still feel like yourself by the end of it.
This is the first intuitive eating principle—and the first step to relishing any and all celebrations. With any diet mentality comes restriction, food avoidance and food rules. A diet might tell you to fill up on salad and vegetables and skip the house-made mac-and-cheese. It might tell you to opt for a plain vodka and soda water instead of the couple's signature cocktail. A diet mentality might also tell you to avoid the dessert spread, because you can't possibly choose just one, so it's better to have none at all. In short, a diet restricts your food choices and may leave you feeling left out, anxious and unsatisfied.
Ditch the diet mentality, and give yourself permission to enjoy all the foods you like. Sometimes that may be a piece of wedding cake and other times you might crave roasted veggies from the buffet line. In the absence of restriction or food avoidance, you're able to pick and choose the foods you want to savor, or new foods you want to try, without guilt or mental angst.
Once you say "buh-bye" to diet mentality, it's time to tune into your physical and preferential hunger. Weddings often present food at every turn, along with a schedule that is out of your control. An hour-long ceremony right around your normal dinnertime, speeches from every member of the wedding party, or a long line at the buffet may lead to a famished state. This is when you are most likely to overeat.
Notice when you begin to feel signs of hunger—stomach growling, feeling agitated or difficulty concentrating—and eat something as soon as possible. This may be an appetizer, a dinner roll at the table or even a snack bar you stashed in your clutch. Since it can be a long time between cocktail hour and dinner, be sure to have some passed apps or hit up the cheese board to tide you over—versus just grabbing that glass or two of Champagne. If you know you'll get a full meal soon, plan accordingly and save some room for your main course. If you choose something small and savor what you eat, you'll have plenty of room for dinner and dessert later. Skipping breakfast or lunch the day of the wedding can also backfire by leading to some serious hunger later in the day. Whatever you do, don't ignore hunger in the name of saving calories.
Attempting to numb hunger with alcohol, caffeine, gum or fasting is a common dieting trick. You may not even realize you're doing this. The habit can make noticing your hunger signals harder, and that may be why you don't feel very hungry for meals or snacks but end up overeating later. As with other dieting tricks, this takes away from the joy of eating and savoring the foods you love.
Instead of numbing your hunger, eat before the event. This is a wedding season trick that intuitive eating experts call "practical hunger." It may help get you from arrival to appetizers or dinner without feeling famished. If you know it'll be hours before you have access to food again, eating a small snack before you go can help prevent overeating later.
In every stage of the wedding event—appetizers, meals, desserts—consider what will satisfy you. "Eating at buffets is advanced intuitive eating work," Dillon says. She suggests approaching a buffet mindfully and taking three deep breaths first. Then, decide on a scale of one to ten how hungry you are, before filling up your plate. Eat slowly and mindfully, enjoying each bite. Once you begin to feel full, give yourself permission to stop eating and discover satisfaction. You'll know you're satisfied when another bite doesn't sound appetizing.
Don't skip the wedding cake if that's what you really want. When you choose the foods you enjoy, and savor them, you'll be satisfied by your choices instead of craving—or regretting—something else.
Learning to listen for feedback from your body takes some work, but it's a basic nutrition principle. Each individual may notice different physical feelings after certain types of food.
An easy example is alcohol. In excess, alcohol dehydrates the body and may lead to a headache the next day (i.e., a hangover). Others who take advantage of the open bar may feel nothing at all. If you know recovering from alcohol takes your body a few days, look for healthier ways to celebrate. For example, alternate alcoholic drinks with a glass of water. This will provide extra hydration and slow down your consumption.
As you go through each wedding of your season, stay in tune with your body, too. Check in the day after to see how you're feeling, what you liked and disliked about the food or drinks you chose, and what you want to do differently in the future. "Give yourself permission to make mistakes," Dillon says. It happens. The goal is not to eat perfectly in every situation; it's to be lenient with yourself, open up the possibilities to eat food that you like, and notice how you feel in the process.
One of the few intuitive eating principles that has nothing to do with the act of eating is "joyful movement." During wedding season, your typical workouts may not fit into the wedding weekend schedule. Loosen your personal rules, and find movement that feels joyful instead. Avoid the urge to overexercise or to burn extra calories in preparation for wedding eats. That "will set up anyone to binge eat and provoke many to experience more anxiety and depression," Dillon says.
Enjoy your movement by exploring the city you're traveling to, trying a yoga or spin class, or practicing your dance floor moves. If it's summer, opt for a local hike, kayaking or canoeing or spending time in the pool before the vows are exchanged.
At the end of the weekend, remember that weddings are for celebrating love and joy, not for focusing on calories in and calories out. And, adds Dillon, "Remember you are more than a body. Feeling stuck in your skin gives calories and weight way more power than they deserve." Trying out one, or a few, of these intuitive eating principles at your upcoming weddings will help you savor both the moments and flavors of the event.