How to Enjoy the Holidays When Food Stresses You Out

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There was a time where I dreaded the holidays. And not because of the travel, busyness, or other reasons you might think. The holiday hatred stemmed from my own fear of all the food involved, including the dishes and desserts that seemed to come out in full force during this time of year.  

On Thanksgiving especially, I remember eyeing the pumpkin pie displayed neatly on a cake stand, calling to me as it shone brightly from the buffet table. I used to love pumpkin pie in the years before I struggled with an eating disorder. Now, it became something I feared. I didn’t allow myself to eat it anymore because I worried about what it would do to my body. But restricting myself from something I craved so badly only made me obsess about it more. I would usually end up binging on a plateful of other foods in lieu of a slice of pumpkin pie, sending myself in a tailspin of guilt, shame, and frustration. So the cycle went, and every holiday season was shrouded by this vicious relationship with food.

Regrettably, I missed out on so many precious moments with the people I loved the most because I was so preoccupied with food guilt and body shame. Those years defined by an unhealthy relationship with food were arguably some of the most difficult of my life, but I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned through the journey that has made me the person I am today.

Looking back, there is so much I wish I could tell myself as I struggled to find peace with food and my body. I know that I did the best under the circumstances I was under. If you too, have found yourself in a similar situation, you are likely doing the same. But you know what? You don’t have to struggle through the Holidays anymore or miss out on countless moments with your loved ones because food and body hatred are taking up that precious mental space.

So whether you are struggling with an eating disorder, are overcoming an unhealthy relationship with food, or simply find food to be stressful over the holidays, keep these tips in mind as you navigate this season to bring more joy back to eating and peace to your life:

Start From a Place of Compassion

We are often our own worst critic. Think about the thoughts that replay over and over in your mind about yourself. Is that voice negative and judgmental? Are your words toward yourself harsh and critical? You can challenge the narrative you always tell yourself and choose to treat yourself with more compassion and grace. For example, if you find yourself thinking, “I’m a failure around food”, or, “I don’t deserve to eat”, try to reframe those thoughts from a more compassionate lens. From this point of view, these phrases could be changed to, “I am learning to eat in a way that feels best in my body”, and, “My body deserves food and nourishment to function well and in order to thrive”. If you tend to view yourself and your body in a black-and-white point of view, practice finding the middle, neutral ground.

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Eat Regular, Balanced Meals and Snacks

Many people come into the holidays with a “fast or famine” mentality, where it’s customary to not eat anything all day in order to have free range to gorge in one meal. These types of eating patterns only make food more chaotic and stressful. Not to mention, going several hours without eating or only grazing ahead of a meal can have serious effects on how you feel in your body. Help keep your energy and blood sugar levels stable by eating regular, consistent meals, even on days where there will be a big holiday feast. You’ll likely find yourself less obsessive and more able to actually enjoy the foods you are eating when you’re not coming into a meal starving.

Challenge the Food Police

The food police can be an extension of the negative, shaming voice in your mind that constantly patrols and criticizes everything you eat or don’t eat. You may have a tendency to view foods as good or bad to help you decide what you should or shouldn’t eat. But all this does is create unnecessary stress around food, especially during the holidays. A simple way to negate the food police is to give yourself permission to eat the foods you want while allowing yourself the chance to savor and enjoy. Food is meant to be both nourishing and pleasurable, and eating one meal does not have the power to change or ruin your body.

Take Breaks When Needed

Sometimes food feels overwhelming because it represents other areas of our life that also feel overwhelming. Maybe gathering with certain friends or family members is triggering or the conversation at hand feels stifling. Whatever may be going on, know that you have full permission to give yourself a break and remove yourself from any situation that may be stressful. This might mean stepping outside for some fresh air, calling someone that you feel safe with, or setting a boundary in a relationship. Be mindful of how much time you’re engaging on social media platforms and the effects this might have on you, too. Sometimes taking a break from social media can help you feel more grounded and less anxious.

Focus on the Values That Matter

Keep food in context and in its proper place in order to reclaim your power over it. At the end of the day, food is just food, and there is nothing it can do to rob you of the things that matter most, like relationships, values, and people. Also remember that food is always in your future. Give yourself consent to eat the foods you want to a point of satisfaction so that you can move on and focus on the things that mean the most to you. When your values and relationships are a focal point of the holidays (rather than food), this can also help keep you grounded during an otherwise stressful time. If you overdid it on the holidays, remember that fullness, like feelings, will eventually dissipate. Food will always be there and feelings will come and go, but the memories you want to remember won’t stay forever. Stay focused on what really matters.

If you need more guidance or positive mantras to help you stay grounded during the busy holiday season, be sure to download your free holiday eating affirmation guide below!

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