Do you look forward to the holiday season or have a sense of dread about it? Maybe a bit of both? As the holiday season approaches, I get excited for holiday themed food and decorations. I buy magazines from the store advertising the latest fabulous holiday cookies, ways to have a spectacular stress-free hosting party, or how to decorate to make your house pop. My ambitions are high when I dream about it but the stress of doing it all can build as you try to do all the holiday bucket list things. For many of us, holiday stress leads to emotional eating.
Many of us have trouble with food at various times of year. We strive to mentally keep ourselves in check, care for ourselves effectively, but don’t always consider how to connect to our body and it’s wants and needs also. Add in a holiday season full of activities, expectations, and performance and we can easily cave and grab a quick dopamine hit with those tasty sugar cookies or salty holiday Chex mix (I’ve recently tried a new recipe and it is amazing!).
Consider the following 3 tips for avoiding holiday stress eating, adding joy to the season not weight around your waist.
Create some space.
Usually, our desire to emotionally eat is a need to feel better NOW. We dive in to the fridge or pantry and grab what we know will make us feel better right away. This often leads us to feed our emotional brain, and later feel guilty by our logical brain. Setting a time for 5 – 10 minutes can create some space to tune in to your body. Are you actually hungry or are you thirsty? When was the last time you ate? What might fuel you the most right now? Maybe you decide that cookie sounds great and you still want it. That’s okay too! But give yourself time to evaluate.
Now that you have decided what you want to eat or drink, enjoy it! Try the script below to slow down and enjoy it to the fullest.
“ Inhale the aroma. Break off a piece and look at it, examining every nook and cranny. Pop it in your mouth. See if it’s possible to hold it on your tongue, noticing any tendency to suck on it or chew it. See if you can sense all the different flavors. If you notice your mind wandering while you do this, simply notice where it went, then gently escort it back to the present moment. Now begin to chew it, counting how many chews it takes to finish it completely. Repeat with the next piece.”
Telling ourselves, “I shouldn’t have eaten that” or “Why did I eat that? That was bad for me” is unhelpful and will lead to decreased self-esteem, criticism, and falling in to a reactive pain cycle that may lead to other poor choices or uncomfortable feelings. Instead of shutting down or lashing out at yourself, try these steps toward self-compassion instead:
Many situations and memories can lead to us feeling all sorts of uncomfortable things or lead us to cling to nostalgia by eating more than we feel comfortable. You are not alone in this experience. Reach out to a friend and share your struggles. Share with your therapist how the holidays impact you so you can talk through it and practice some of these strategies to increase your strength and confidence heading in to this season.
May you find the space to find peace in the season. May you savor the holiday food and enjoy it in the moment. May you recognize your strength of tolerating difficult emotions and ability to make the choices that fit for you.
Happy Holiday Season!
Rachael Kool, professional counselor and normal, everyday adult screw up.