Coping with Food Challenges During the Holidays

holiday cookies and drink treatThe holiday season is upon us! We’ve got some tips to help you cope with the unique food challenges the holiday season brings.

The skill of Self Compassion can help you immensely during the holidays. We are often compassionate toward other people, but fail to allow ourselves the same. Practicing self compassion will allow you to maintain realistic expectations, and to go easy on yourself when the holidays inevitably don’t go exactly as planned or wished.

Eat The Cookie! Have Some Pie!

It’s far better to give yourself permission to enjoy some treats now rather than setting yourself up for cravings and binging later.

Eating is an important part of the traditions of the holidays and a way that we connect with each other. Enjoying your holiday meals and parties is your right!

Instead of restricting, focus on staying mindful. Note that this isn’t permission for a free for all to overeat or stuff yourself, but permission to let go of rigid food rules.

Rather than nibbling on everything, select what appeals most to you. Trust that you get more of something else later if you choose.

Whatever you’re going to eat, be sure to get the full pleasure by slowing down and savoring with all of your senses. Really smell, taste, chew, and experience the food.

Take our self-compassion quiz.

This is practicing the skill of Permission. Give yourself permission to eat what you want and permission to enjoy doing that without guilt.

The skill of permission goes far beyond food. Also seek to give yourself permission to rest, relax, play and practice self care, and permission to get all of your other human needs met.

So, eat the cookie. Have some pie. And enjoy this holiday season.

Dealing With Reward or Entertainment Eating

rewarding holiday foodThe second tip is about reward or entertainment eating.

Rewarding yourself isn’t a bad thing. You work hard during the holidays. But, be careful not to fall into the trap of only rewarding yourself with food.

Much holiday eating falls into the category of entertainment. Holiday parties and family get-togethers offer fun times for celebrating with loved ones and friends.

Additionally, you may feel the need to reward yourself for your hard work throughout the year, and in the holiday preparations.

There are special foods you don’t want to miss, and that’s ok. It’s perfectly normal to look forward to the upcoming meals and parties, and to make some eating choices outside of your normal routine.

But also consider how to shift some focus to non-food rewards and entertainment.

For instance:

Can you get together with friends for a hike, rather than for happy hour?

Can you shop for a beautiful new outfit in your current size as a reward?

What about setting aside some time for self care indulgences – a morning in bed, a massage, a long catch up phone call with a friend?

A good skill to practice is Pausing. When you find yourself reaching for food and drink beyond what you want to be eating, take a brief moment and pause to ask yourself what are you really needing. It might well be a completely different type of reward or entertainment.

Dealing with Stress or Anxiety Eating

Here is our third tip on coping with the unique food challenges the holiday season brings.

The holidays are wonderful, and fun, and amazing, and yes, stressful. Some of us naturally turn to food when the stress and anxiety start to build. Maybe shifting your focus will help.

holiday stressThe holidays are a time of joy, but also of stress.

Perfectionism often kicks in. You may deeply desire a “perfect” holiday for yourself and your loved ones – like the ones you remember from your youth, or the ones you wish you had. But when you look at this realistically you may see that your perfectionist ideals are only causing stress.

It’s important to consciously counter these perfectionist tendencies. Do this by shifting some energy from creating the perfect holiday toward whatever will ease your stress and anxiety.

Remember that your holidays don’t have to look like those in the movies. In fact you and your family may benefit more from a lower key approach that emphasizes more your family values.

Making a list of the top stressful things about the holidays will help you look for ways to mitigate. Maybe it’s time to change traditions? Or skip some events?

Take this self test and find out if anxiety could be impacting your life.

Also look for what you most enjoy or appreciate during this time of the year and ways you can expand on those. Knowing what gives you pleasure as well as what gives you stress will help you stay in balance.

A skill that can help you is Soaking in the Good. Counter our natural evolutionary bias toward the negative by taking extra notice of all the good things around you. Savor your morning coffee for instance, and notice the beautiful decorations on your walk to work. Really take in that sweaty hug from your child, and the holiday smells in the air.

Dealing With Soothing or Comfort Eating

soothing comfort foodHere is our fourth tip on coping with the unique food challenges the holiday season brings.

What better time to comfort ourselves with food than during the holiday season when comfort food is everywhere! But let’s also look at some other ways to soothe during this time.

While it’s perfectly ok and normal to eat for soothing and comfort during the holidays, we want to also look for some non-food ways to comfort ourselves.

Keep a list of things handy that you find soothing, calming, grounding, or comforting, and choose one or more every day. Examples could include time with your pet, reading, doodling, being in nature, a cup of hot tea, or chatting with a friend. It could include deep breathing, stretching, or journaling.

Do your emotions feel out of control or overwhelming? Take our Emotion Regulation quiz.

Also pull out this list any time you start feeling overwhelmed, and pick something that will shift your attention and soothe you for a few minutes. Something simple like sitting outside for a few minutes while taking some deep breaths can totally change your energy.

A good skill to practice is Non-Judgment. When we judge ourselves or others, it puts us in a place of competition and feeling either less than or more than. Accepting more and judging less helps us stay balanced and grounded.

Dealing with Deprivation or Rebellion Eating

Here is the fifth and final tip in on coping with unique food challenges during the holidays.

Deprivation and rebellion eating can become a big part of our holidays without us even realizing it. It doesn’t have to be that way though. We can take steps to recognize and deal with these issues before they get out of hand.

holiday rebellion foodTriggers to eat for reasons of deprivation or rebellion are rampant during the holidays. During this time we need to take particular care not increase feelings of deprivation. Allowing yourself to eat some special holiday treats is one way to do this.

You can also reduce your need for deprivation or rebellion eating by starting now to allow yourself more of the experiences that you’ve been deprived of. Maybe you’ve never been the favorite child, or haven’t felt understood or accepted by family members. If so, plan to spend more time with people who do understand and accept you, and make you feel like the favorite.

Think also of ways you can rebel that don’t involve food. Can you make your boundaries clearer, use words to speak your truth, or tune out more effectively?

Are you binge eating? Could you have binge eating disorder? Take this quiz to find out.

The skill of Grieving can help you here. Get as clear as you can on the family dynamics and losses that set off your feelings of deprivation or rebellion, and then allow some time to grieve rather than pushing the feelings away.

It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but the holidays are a natural time for looking back and grieving, as well as for celebrating. By allowing this, you will clear some of your deprivation and need for rebellion.

Now that the holidays are over, it may be time to seek further help with disordered eating issues. Click the following links to learn more about our Make Peace with Food group and our Beyond Emotional Eating 8-week Virtual Program. There is hope.

Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP on Twitter
Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
Rachel’s passion is to help people discover their personal gifts and strengths to achieve self-acceptance, create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and find meaning and fulfillment in work and life roles. She helps people create nurturance and healing from within to restore balance and enoughness and overcome binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression and lack of career fulfillment.

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