7 Tips for Coping with Emotional Eating Over the Holidays

christmas cookies

I know how the holidays can be super stressful, particularly for those dealing with eating, food, or weight concerns.

While I’m a big sucker for the warm and fuzzies brought on by the Christmas season (and any events involving Christmas carols, twinkle lights, and mulled wine), I used to have a ton of anxiety about the constant exposure to decadent foods at holiday events. I would mentally set out rules for myself in advance (I’ll only eat certain foods, I’ll eat in moderation, etc.), only to feel defeated when I failed to meet my self-imposed guidelines and left parties stuffed on sugar cookies and fudge.

High stress and tension (common for many around the holidays) can lead us to eat solely to soothe emotions. Ever had the experience of “eating your feelings?” Yeah, me too. It happens!

But food does not bring the emotional fulfillment or comfort we seek in these instances, and we can wind up feeling even crappier—physically and emotionally—after an emotional eating session.

That’s why I want to share with you some pointers for avoiding an emotional binge over the holidays that have helped me over the years:

Do set aside some time for yourself daily. It could be just 5 or 10 minutes to sit in peace and quiet, engage in meditation, say a prayer, or do some light stretching. But make sure you are taking the time to connect with yourself before getting swept up in the frenzy.

Don’t be reluctant to engage in self-care. If you’re the type that thinks self-care is selfish or indulgent (I used to hold onto some of those beliefs), it’s time to let that ish go. I know it’s cliche to say “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” But it’s TRUE. If you’re in a bad place emotionally, it’s way less likely you’re going to be able to support others in a positive way. So self-care isn’t selfish at all. Take the time to take care of you.

Do tune into your inner voice. If you feel unusual hunger pangs or cravings, ask yourself if you’re actually hungry or experiencing some other emotion. Is something stressful going on that is making you want to eat to deal with that stressor? Or do you actually just want to eat? (Either answer is fine! The awareness is what matters!) If an emotion is driving your urge to eat, give yourself license to feel all the feels. I know, it can be extremely uncomfortable to go there (which is why we’re driven to eat to numb out that discomfort). But knowing that food won’t actually solve the problem might help you approach negative emotions with curiosity and self-compassion.

Do love your food. It’s not “bad” or indulgent or shameful to be a person who loves food (I sure do!). But for some reason, I totally used to think I was flawed for enjoying food so much! Why? Food is pretty amazing, and the act of eating can be a joyful experience if we ditch the shame. Celebrate and savor your food. Experience the nuances of taste, smell, and texture as you eat. When we are fully present during a meal (not multitasking or eating hastily or in secret), we’re more likely to know when our bodies have had enough. 

Don’t restrict yourself. If you go into a situation with a restrictive mindset (like I’m only going to eat X” or “I’m not allowed to eat Y”), you are more likely to binge in the end. (I learned this the hard way. Many times.) Give yourself license to eat whatever looks good to you, but only eat it while it is still enjoyable. If something doesn’t actually taste as good as it looked or it loses its appeal, you have no obligation to eat the whole thing (even if Aunt Patty gets offended by you discarding half a piece of her dry pie—Sorry Pat!).

Do notice patterns. It's often said that the way we approach food is indicative of the way we approach many things in life. So take note of what comes up for you. Do you subconsciously tell yourself you don’t deserve to eat a certain food or you need to repent for it if you do? Do you eat a certain way in public and another way when no one else is in sight? Approach this as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and grow. We all have more to learn.

Don’t beat yourself up. If at any point you do find yourself feeling completely stuffed, know that IT’S OK! It happens to the best of us at times. Respect your journey, forgive yourself, and know that by engaging in these practices, you’re on the right path to curbing emotional eating episodes in the future.


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