When you are already struggling with anxiety around food and eating, it can seem like the worst time of the year. But, though it doesn’t necessarily help, you aren’t alone. In fact, some research suggests that one-third of all holiday stress derives from food-based overindulgence. Below is a combination of research and personal experience which I can only hope will help if you are in a similar position. This isn’t medical advice and I still recommend seeing a professional who can help you in the long term and deal with your specific difficulties.
Try to stop viewing food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’
For me, this has been one of the most difficult things to do. To be totally honest, I still struggle with it. Seeing food as neutral rather than ‘good’ or ‘bad’ means letting go of all those toxic things you’ve been taught.
Abby Langer R.D. explained in an article for Self that going into the holiday season with the intention of restricting calories and strict plans usually ends in disaster. This all-or-nothing mentality can lead to even more negative feelings around eating and your body. Usually, these super restrictive rules lead to ‘slip-ups’. Once you’ve broken your ‘rules’, it can be easy to end up bingeing and ultimately, making yourself feel worse.
As difficult as it is when you begin to see food as ‘neutral’ and simply eat what you feel like, at the time, it takes a weight off your mind. I’ve found that focusing on listening to what my body wants has resulted in me eating less sugary snacks and more healthy foods that are nutritious and, generally good.
It’s also important to realize that the low-calorie option isn’t always the best option nutrition-wise. Eating a balanced and healthy diet is ultimately going to be better for you. That can include protein, salad, vegetables, and some sweet holiday snacks.
Plan your food purchases
It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit and end up buying all the sweets and chocolates available. I have an awful tendency to fall for the pretty packaging and can end up buying things that, without that pretty container, I wouldn’t usually buy. Making a list before you go shopping can be hugely beneficial for this and can help you to avoid falling into this trap.
It will also help you to eat better in the time surrounding the holidays when you’re still cooking for yourself. Maintaining a normal way of eating as much as possible is of huge benefit and can make you feel that you’re more in control.
It’s also worth saying here that, if you don’t have it, you can’t eat it. If you are looking to avoid ‘unhealthy’ snacks and foods, making sure you keep them to a minimum will inevitably help you to avoid them, at least when you’re in your own house.
Planning to have healthy snacks on hand can also be of huge benefit to those last-minute invitations. You can bring something from home that you are comfortable eating, which means that you’ll have a ‘safe’ option to rely on.
Avoid those negative people
Unfortunately, there seems to be at least one in every family. It might be that random uncle who comments on your body or weight that you can usually avoid.
However, over the holiday season, you are forced to interact with him. It’s definitely not great but, unfortunately, it can be unavoidable. When you are forced into interactions with those types of people, try to set boundaries with them right up front.
For instance, Langer suggests telling them that you won’t discuss your body or your diet. She also suggests the ‘that’s none of your business’ angle might work. However, it could also cause issues so what I try to do is stay away from those types of people as much as I possibly can.
Alternatively, if you really cannot manage to avoid them, try to immediately re-direct the conversation when you start to feel triggered. Remember that you always have the right to take some time away from everybody to breathe and regain control of the situation. If you really struggle, try to chat to a friend about being on hand for a text if you need emotional support.
Remember that you are human and that things can affect your emotions differently even on a day-to-day basis. Trying to take some personal time away from people during the holiday season, as I find this can really be helpful in maintaining a more balanced perspective. Taking care of yourself and accepting the way you feel is also hugely helpful when it comes to dealing with food and the holidays.
As much as you can, try to enjoy the food itself and become more focused on the enjoyment than the calories or carbs. It can be a difficult time when it comes to food, forgive yourself when you are unable to cope, and really take time to analyze how you feel. It’ll likely help you in the future.