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This time of year is so wonderful in so many ways. It’s warm and cozy and sparkly, it’s full of connection and reconnection, gatherings and just general cheer. Also- food. Lots and lots of food. My grandmother’s triple cheese potato casserole topped with cornflakes comes to mind. 

For the binge eater and compulsive muncher, this time of year can be particularly anxiety-provoking. If you can relate, the rest of this post is for you !

I can remember a time when I would force myself to run four miles on Christmas morning so that I could fully ‘enjoy myself’ at my grandma’s dinner table later that day. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with exercising on holidays unless that exercise is reinforcing a harmful, conditional relationship with food and how you enjoy it. For me, it was harmful. I didn’t allow myself to feel good eating anything unless I had worked (read: punished) myself for it. 

In my experience, this way of thinking about food is harmful for two main reasons: first, it creates a tit-for-tat mindset around food and your body, and reinforces the outdated idea that calories in should be less than calories out (a multitude of nutritional research has proven this wrong because it’s an oversimplified weight loss method). If whether or not you ‘get’ to enjoy your food is determined by how much you’ve suffered physically or emotionally, you’ll never learn to truly enjoy or feel grateful for your food, no matter how hard you work. Period.

The second reason that this sort of behavior is so harmful is that it severely limits what we experience as enjoyment in general. Think about it – if my entire holiday revolves around my troubled relationship with food, it will affect every other beautiful thing about this season. The more that I allow food to run the show, the less capable I am of fully showing up and experiencing a spectrum of joy with my family and friends. 

I know that de-escalating the food drama is easier said than done, especially if it’s a drama that has played out for years and years and has cemented itself into a habit. Here are a few things to try or to gently remind yourself of as you settle into the spaciousness of this holiday season. It doesn’t have to be all about food and our bodies. 

1. Take some time to reflect on what you LOVE about this time of year.

Lean into the joy of it. What are your absolute favorite holiday memories? Who did you share them with? What makes you feel warm and cozy? Once you have your list, highlight all the items on the list that don’t involve food at all. Take this list out whenever you’re feeling frantic about food or your body this season. Remind yourself often how easy it can be to experience joy outside the kitchen!

2. Plan some activities! 

If all of your family/social traditions this time of year center a big meal or special recipes, maybe it’s time to start some new traditions! Organize the family touch football game on Thanksgiving. Plan a caroling night with your friends. Host a gift wrapping night or a walking tour of your neighborhood to take in the holiday lights. Sometimes the opportunities to find some food-less joy need to be created instead of stumbled upon – you’re the perfect person to plan them!

3. Don’t arrive empty handed.

Rich food is readily available at holiday gatherings and the healthiest options are usually skimped on. You can change that! The internet is flooded with plant-based, whole food versions of the recipes that your family annually enjoys. Maybe you can volunteer to bring an *improved* version of the regular mashed potatoes or green bean casserole that’s always served. Maybe you can provide a winter root vegetable salad or crudités plate! The options are endless, and it’ll guarantee that you have a healthy option yourself when you’re feeling nibble-y.

4. Start the day planning to enjoy yourself. 

Your mind is SO powerful. You have the ability to make yourself miserable or to thoroughly soak up each moment of the festivities, and it all depends on how you decide to feel and what you choose to focus on. The more permission you give yourself to be in the moment, the less desperate you’ll be for the momentary pleasure of another plate of food or a fifth sugar cookie. Because let’s be honest, holiday binge eating doesn’t come from honest hunger – it’s abandoning the present moment, judging ourselves for eating, self-soothing by eating more, and landing in a vicious, frantic cycle that repeats every year like clockwork. Walk into the gathering with the intention of openness to whatever happens; every interaction, every moment of laughter, and yes, every bite is another opportunity to be so happy with where you are. Allow it! You deserve it!

Happy Holidays! The most valuable gift you can give this holiday is the gift of grace for yourself and those around you. Gift it freely, loves!

Navigating Holiday Food Anxiety

December 7, 2021

Food + Nutrition

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