The holidays are upon us and while they are meant for celebrations of family, friends, and love, they also can be full of stress and anxiety about food and weight. What should I eat? What should I NOT eat? How do I avoid guilt about eating a big meal on Thanksgiving?? How do I release the anxiety so I can actually enjoy eating delicious holiday food with my loved ones?
These are choruses that may ring familiar to you. Does this tape run through your head as you think about the upcoming family gatherings, holiday parties, pot-lucks, and holiday bake sales? It’s hard to resist the temptation to dig into all of the delicious offerings. It’s also challenging to let go of the fear of food that many of us identify with. If you have struggled with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or if you have experienced emotional stress over eating during the holidays, do not fear. You can still enjoy the holidays AND enjoy the food!
I have struggled with eating disorders and know all too well the anxiety about what types of foods will be at holiday events and not being able to trust myself to healthily enjoy them. I have been able to find peace with the season, and can enjoy in moderation all of the foods that I love! For me, one of the biggest keys to this freedom is self-compassion — allowing myself to be present, find joy, and not dwell in self-judgment or guilt.
Here are ten tips for getting what you want out of the holiday season, keeping the food anxiety at bay, and truly enjoying the value of this special time of year.
Eight Tips for Overcoming Food Anxiety During the Holidays:
1.) Don’t go to any gathering too hungry. If you have a few stops to make at holiday events in an evening, have a little something to eat before you go so that you are not starving when you arrive amidst all of the delicious food. When you arrive, check out all of the options and then decide which ones will make you feel good, satisfied, and happy. Eat those in moderation.
2.) Have a buddy in the know. Whether it is a partner, family member, friend, or colleague, find someone who you can feel comfortable sharing your anxious feelings with. Let them know what you hope to accomplish during the event and let them know what your worries are about. Have them be a buddy for you as you focus your attention on enjoyment and not on fear.
3.) Try not to label foods “good” or “bad”. Labels are not healthy for any of us, as they can confine us into a place where we might not feel free to be who we are. Foods feel the same way! Sure, there are some foods that are healthier for you than others, but to truly overcome food anxiety it is important to not separate foods into groups. You can eat anything in moderation. If there is a food that you really love that you might label “bad”, try it anyway. Try to have a small portion and eat it without judging yourself or the food. See what happens!
4.) Know where you can go and what you can do to release holiday anxiety in a healthy way. Keeping active is an easy way to help your mind and your body feel in sync and energized. Go to the park and take a walk around the lake. Practice mindfulness or meditation. Breathe. Or perhaps you find peace listening to music or talking with a friend. Before you enter a potentially stressful situation, identify your personal outlets for stress that you have known to be effective before. Keep those close and plan them into your schedule.
5.) Give yourself a BREAK! The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and to be a break from your regular routine. Allow yourself to ease up on rules or expectations and try to truly be in the moment. Family might be in town that you have not seen for a while. Be present with them and don’t let food take that precious time away from you. The same thing goes for work: leave it at the office!
6.) Come prepared with what you need in order to feel at peace. At some family gatherings, family members may pressure you to “just eat!”, or “don’t you want more??”. Before you enter this atmosphere, know what your personal goals are. Perhaps they are to eat until you are satisfied and then stop. Don’t feel pressured to eat more than you want or need to, despite what others say. Etiquette experts say that it is ok to say no, so follow what your intuition tells you.
7.) Ask for support. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or with any form of emotional eating, there are many places you can go to find others who understand what you are feeling. There are numerous local support groups for eating disorders (local Denver ones are found here), or you can reach out to a therapist or friend who can provide empathy, understanding, and supportive tools for helping you get through the stressful times.
8.) Don’t focus on numbers. I don’t like numbers. They can “tell” us what to feel about ourselves. In terms of weight and food amounts and calories, numbers can be quite damaging. During the holidays, try to feel what your body needs through its internal signals to you, not through counting calories or fat grams. Your body has a voice and it wants to tell you exactly what it needs. It intuitively will guide you to eat until you are satisfied physically and emotionally. So leave the calculators at home and go out with a mission to eat intuitively, to enjoy the food, and to not control it. Don’t allow the word ‘diet’ into your vocabulary! The intuitive eating approach is guaranteed to help you overcome struggles with holiday food anxiety, eating disorders, and emotional stress.
I am hosting a workshop: ”Are you WEIGHTING for freedom from holiday emotional eating?” at my office on Tuesday, December 13th at 5:30pm. Contact me for more information!
Have a happy, healthy, and stress-free holiday season!