Updated: Dec 18, 2022
By: Andrea, B.S.W, M.A, Registered Psychotherapist - Qualifying
The holidays can be a joyous time as we come together with friends and family to carry on traditions and make memories. However, this time of year can also be challenging and stressful. Many holiday traditions are centred around eating. For individuals recovering from an eating disorder or experiencing distorted eating patterns, this can trigger feelings of anxiety. We so badly want to enjoy the holidays while battling those lingering voices…
“This is my favourite time of year, but I can’t say no to all the good food around me.”
“I have no willpower during the holidays.”
“I’ll just enjoy it all now, and my diet will start on January 2nd.”
“If I don’t eat all day, I can enjoy the holiday dinner tonight.”
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
These thoughts would often replay in my mind over and over. The thought of new years resolutions and starting a new diet or exercise plan reassured me that it was okay to overeat. “I will deal with it in the new year”. Unfortunately, these thoughts only reinforced distorted eating patterns and created a greater disconnect from my body’s natural hunger and fullness signals. Food restrictions and new years resolutions only provided brief comfort in binge patterns, but the food guilt quickly followed.
Research suggests that food guilt leaves many feeling out of control around the holidays resulting in the restriction and binging of food. Food guilt also results in an increased preoccupation with food. The holidays can quickly become about the foods you can and can’t eat rather than enjoying traditions and focusing on what this time of year means to you.
5 Tips to help you avoid falling into old patterns this holiday season
1. Eat breakfast and lunch as usual.
The holidays are different because many people are off work and experiencing a shift in their usual routine. These changes to your routine can alter your eating schedule and throw off natural hunger signals. If you go too long without eating, you are likely to overindulge due to hunger, resulting in feeling stuffed and sluggish.
Rather than following old restrictive patterns, continue to eat breakfast and lunch as you would any other day. This will help keep your appetite regulated, so you don’t get too hungry, which can lead to a binge.
2. Reassure yourself that these foods aren’t going anywhere.
Although the holidays are once a year, you can make these foods anytime. This will limit the desire to eat everything in front of you as you know you can have it whenever you want rather than only once a year.
Challenge the old ways of doing things and the belief that these foods can only be indulged once a year. When you think about the upcoming diet approaching in January, you will likely want to indulge in the holiday treats even more. When we question the old ways of doing something, we can begin to see food differently and remove the deprivation mentality. This can help you all year round and not just over the holidays.
3. Allow yourself to eat, and don’t compensate if there is a binge.
Eat the foods that once made you feel guilty!
Research suggests that when we avoid our holiday favourites, we will likely experience increased cravings for these foods and the guilt that follows once we allow ourselves to eat them.
You don’t need to earn your food! Instead, allow yourself to eat the foods you want and commit to enjoying those foods free from guilt. Remind yourself that no single meal will make you unhealthy.
4. Identify a support person and plan ahead.
Ask someone in advance to be your support person during a holiday gathering. They can distract you from triggering moments with relatives or help change the subject during awkward conversations about diets, food, or weight.
Plan to sit next to your support person during mealtime. If you have one cousin who loves discussing the newest diet or exercise plan, avoid sitting next to them.
5. Practice Mindfulness and Self-Compassion
With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it can be easy to forget to check in with yourself. Maintaining regular check-ins to see what you want and need and connecting to your body’s hunger and satiety cues is important.
Before sitting down for the holiday meal you’ve looked forward to, assess your hunger levels. Consider what foods your body is craving and allow yourself to eat whatever holiday foods sound good to you. Reflect on how your body feels as you’re eating, rather than the food guilt.
Check-in with yourself throughout the meal to assess your fullness. Get curious with yourself! Was the food as tasty as you imagined it to be? Are you feeling both physically and mentally satisfied with the meal? Are you still hungry? Most importantly, hold compassion for yourself! It is okay if you have one too many cookies or a second helping of food. Remember, one meal won’t make you unhealthy.
So, this holiday season, enjoy time with friends and family!
Reflect on what this time of year means to you. Be compassionate to yourself. Feeling scared or overwhelmed with all the food options is okay, but give yourself full permission to enjoy whatever foods you’re craving guilt-free!