Holidays can be stressful with all the preparation, logistics, and spending, but eating doesn't need to be on that list. Here are some ideas for how to enjoy less stressful holiday meals while limiting potentially negative experiences, so you're not feeling guilty after eating.
This post has been adapted from a section in my new book The Intuitive Eating Guide to Recovery: Let Go of Toxic Diet Culture, Reconnect with Food, and Build Self-Love which comes out December 8th, so pre-order now 🥳
Feeling Peaceful at Holiday Meals
Holidays and celebrations are a breeding ground for triggers because there are many variables surrounding food and eating. Concerns that you’ll eat “too much,” eat uncontrollably, be pressured to eat certain foods, or have your choices questioned commonly arise before a holiday meal. Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or simply a family dinner, these tips can help.
To prepare: Visualize these potential situations beforehand, tune into your body, and practice self-compassion.
Reduce Stress Before the Meal
Prior to starting the holiday meal (and preferably before you go to the location or other people come to your house), visualize how you will respond to possible comments or situations. What coping skills will be helpful? What options can you take if you feel upset?
Before the meal, take a minute to ground yourself. Take a few deep breaths. Remember that you are worthy and safe. Prepare for any potential situations that could come up. How will you handle any uncomfortable or unpleasant situations? What can you do to soothe yourself?
After you've prepared for potential situations, think of something that you are grateful for (see below). Then finish by visualizing yourself peacefully enjoying what you want. Imagine having pleasant experiences with those you love.
Be sure to avoid setting unrealistic expectations when you visualize. For example, you might eat past fullness, or someone could rudely comment about your food choices. This is normal and to be expected. Everybody’s got their stuff around food, and emotions are typically charged around the holidays.
Next, think of something that makes you feel grateful for this situation. This isn't only for Thanksgiving. Expressing gratitude, even if silently, is helpful year-round. While this isn’t fail-proof, grounding yourself can help you feel calmer going into the meal.
It could be something like how excited you are to eat pecan pie or that you got your whole family to figure out how to use Zoom for a virtual holiday meal. Both gratitude and visualization have numerous advantages. For instance, visualization helps you mentally prepare and be more effective at problem-solving.
Practicing gratitude contributes to feeling more balanced with less depressive symptoms. Feeling more stable and less anxious helps you make decisions that support your body best.
During the Meal
When you are enjoying your food, try to stay tuned in to your body to alert you to its needs. Additionally, treat yourself with compassion, care, and respect.
Tune Into Your Body
When selecting what to eat, remind yourself that one meal is not going to make or break your health. Don’t forget that you are free to eat anything, and it is completely up to you to decide what to feed your body.
Survey your options. What looks good to you right now? How much food do you need to satisfy your hunger? What foods make your taste buds jump with holiday spirit?
Halfway through your meal, you might even want to pause and decide if what you are eating is satisfying. Do you want something different? Do you need more? Are you starting to feel full?
Show Compassion for Yourself
If you feel triggered in the middle of the meal, practice grounding exercises like deep breathing or focusing on your food. Savor the food’s aromas, appearance, textures, and flavors. Disengage with negative conversations around food guilt or body-bashing.
If you feel safe to do so, talk about how negative comments around food choices and your body make you feel. You could also ask your family or friends not to comment about these things and also ask them not to make negative statements regarding food choices of their own. (For example: "I am so bad for eating seconds of sweet potato casserole").
Feeling Less Guilt After the Meal
If you happen to feel incredibly full, remember that your body will digest this food and you'll be ok. Instead of restricting later, eat an amount of food that feels relatable to how hungry you are. One meal is not going to make or break your health.
Keeping Stress Lower During the Holiday Season
Most importantly, continue caring for yourself. If self-care feels challenging at the moment treat yourself like you’d treat a friend in the same situation. Feed your body in a way that feels good and meets your needs.
Above all, remember that you deserve to eat and enjoy food. You are worthy of eating in peace, and you are allowed to eat more than others, stop when you want, and eat when others are not. You have permission to enjoy the holiday meal, regardless of your body or health.
These suggestions can help decrease the anxiety you feel in situations like holiday meals, but they will not make everything perfect.
If you'd like a few more suggestions plus a workbook for extra suggestions as well as space to prepare for & work through the experience, sign up here: Enjoy Holiday Meals with Less Guilt Restriction
CHECK OUT THESE OTHER POSTS YOU MIGHT LIKE:
- Why Emotional Eating Isn't Bad
- 5 Tips for Mindful Eating
- Thanksgiving Roasted Veggies
- Sautéed Green Beans
- Leftover Turkey and Quinoa Soup
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