The Holidays may be filled with mixed emotions but that doesn't mean you have to be on an emotional eating roller coaster.
2020 has been an interesting year and even if the holidays look a little different this year that doesn't mean the emotions that normally surface this time of year are in isolation (they're probably running even more rampant right now...)!
I believe the 1st step to overcoming emotional eating is awareness. When you are aware of your triggers and are able to identify them as triggers you can choose a new path.
With that let's dive into those emotional holiday triggers! I also think it’s important to recognize that these triggers are there all year round.
A trigger is a reaction that is tied to our conditions of the past. It is your immediate more instinctive reaction that lacks any thought process. I think one of the key steps to overwriting your instinctive reaction is to understand your triggers.
What is it about the holidays that triggers you to eat out of control? And what can you do about them right now?
Here are a few common triggers:
1. Financial stress.
Finances are probably one of the largest stressors for people over the holidays or maybe any time of the year.
Have you set a holiday budget? Can you make Christmas more about the memories and less about buying gifts? Or maybe you make gifts? What does the spirit of Christmas truly mean to you?
2. Last-minute shopping stress or feeling Overwhelmed.
Stressing about last-minute shopping isn’t going to help solve the issue and either will a cinnamon bun from the food court.
When you’re in that anxious state, what would be more helpful than eating? What would help you release tension? Would 5-minute meditation help you approach your holiday tasks with a new calm mindset that allows you to tackle them efficiently?
Or maybe it’s just taking 6 deep breaths that can calm your nervous system. Deep breathing has been shown to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is your stress hormone and can be responsible for those stressful food cravings that you have.
3. Accessibility of sweets and other food.
I have clients tell me all the time that their offices are filled with chocolates, baking, and other treats the whole month of December. And it can be hard to stay away from them.
I get that it can be hard to say no when they’re in your face. But if you bring your own healthy snack or lunch that you truly enjoy, it will be easier to bypass the sugar-filled table. Sugar cravings can also be just as much mentally as they are fighting the physical urge. Having a warm nourishing drink can help to curb the desire to eat sugary foods. You could try a golden turmeric latte or a homemade hot chocolate with pure cacao powder sweetened with honey.
4. Pressure to eat or drink.
Because everyone else is. You’re attending multiple holiday parties and everyone else enjoying themselves and you feel like you need to continue to eat and drink to enjoy the festivities.
You don’t have to do what everyone else does… Check-in with your body if you’re actually hungry. Eat mindfully and slowly when you do eat. And it's okay to say no to something you don’t want to consume. You could also try the save it for later to savour. By saying “Thank you so much, I'm not feeling hungry right now. Would you mind if I saved this for later when I can truly savour it?”
You could also bring your own treats or healthy dish. I do this all the time. Even when a host tells me I don’t need to bring anything. Remind yourself why you choose healthier options. How do specific foods make you feel? How do you want to feel in your body?
5. Restrictive dieting.
In my experience, both professionally and personally, extremely restrictive diets have always backfired. Yes, as a nutrition professional I know scientifically that some foods are better for your health than others, but as a human being, I know that telling yourself that your favourite delicious foods are off-limits only invites deprivation followed by a binge of said food.
I propose something else this season. Eat it. But eat it mindfully. Be fully present as you eat. Smell, chew and savour your food. Your stomach doesn’t have taste buds, so when we inhale our dinner, did we actually fully experience it and enjoy it. Try practicing the 3-2-1 of mindful eating. Take 3 deep breaths to calm your nervous system. Name 2 things you are grateful for to change how you view it and take 1 big whiff of your food. (70% of taste actually comes from your sense of smell.)
6. Family drama.
You don’t have to answer this… but does your family trigger you? What does your family or certain family members do that trigger you? Are there specific comments or actions? Do you know where that is coming from? How can you view this differently? How can you observe the situation from a distance?
I’m just going to point out that how you respond to a situation or a comment is solely your responsibility. And if you have a conversation with your family about something that triggers you, I suggest using ‘I feel’ statements. Telling them that they do this and blaming them for your reaction is not going to help resolve anything. Practice your ‘I feel’ statement beforehand.
Think about Christmas last year or the last family holiday you attended. What triggered you? What happened? How did you feel? What did you do? What did you actually need? What could you do instead, this year?
Shame is my biggest trigger. because is a powerful emotion and is related to 43% of binge eating. Because when we’re in shame, what we need most is the same thing that we believe we are unworthy of. To combat shame is to share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding.
Change how you view it. You deserve to enjoy a deliciously cooked holiday dinner. Food, tradition and family gathering tend to all go hand in hand. Instead of feeling guilty for eating your favourite foods, commit to eating them mindfully. Practice 3.2.1. Focus on chewing each bite. And it may be helpful to have an affirmation - I deserve to enjoy my holiday meal without guilt.
What you do on a daily basis impacts much more and much further than one day or one meal out of the year. I live by 80/20. 80% of the time I choose the healthiest options available to me and the other 20% it's okay to live a little. I think it’s more important to focus on eating foods that make you feel really good.
And guess what? You’re an adult. And you get to decide how much you eat. And you can say ‘no thank you’ when you’re full. People ask me all the time about portion sizes. I can give you general guidelines for what I believe a portion size to be but the real key is learning to listen to your body. When you slow down it’s much easier to witness your fullness cues. Rating your hunger before you begin and partway through your meal can be a good way to start to get back in tune with your body. What are some different ways that you can consciously slow down your meal? - putting the fork down between bites, chewing each bite 20-30x, conversation, or maybe deep breathing.
Acceptance. If you over indulge during the holidays. Accept it and move on. Punishing yourself, feeling guilt or shame, or restricting food for the next three days are not helpful. Because the truth is you are not bad for eating, and even if you overindulged one day, you still need to eat the next. Practice self-kindness when those judgemental thoughts come up.
What to do next...
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