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Thanksgiving dinner with American-African family preparing dinner

10 Tips to Manage Emotional Eating Triggers Over the Holidays

By Karen Williams, LIMHP November 30, 2018 Posted in: Nutrition, Wellness

For many, the holidays are a signal to eat with abandon, sort of like "vacation eating." Holiday eating and vacation eating are defined, by me, as eating as if there's no tomorrow. This could mean eating fat and calorie-laden foods as if they don't really count. Or, eating beyond fullness or lots and lots of foods that might typically be seen as off limits. We convince ourselves that, because grandma's cookies or the offices party treats happen only once per year, we should load up. Then we convince ourselves that we'll start changing this naughty behavior after the holidays are over.

Many gain weight over the holidays because of the over-abundance of yummy treats, the emotional connection or possibly even disconnection to loved ones, and just the sheer madness of the season itself. It's an emotionally difficult time of year for many, and food can be used or misused as a way to cope. Sometimes we use food to fill up the areas of our lives that feel empty. In short, we are pulled in a million different directions this time of year, and it's easy to get off track, and stop paying attention to quality and quantity of our food choices.

We Can Plan for Emotional Eating Triggers

What can we realistically do about this? There's good news and bad here. I'll start with the bad news: The yummy treats and the emotions attached to them are going to show up. There's no way around it. But, here's the good news, we can prepare for it! We can mindfully, thoughtfully, and realistically plan for what we know is going to happen. While it's true that sometimes foods show up at home or work unexpectedly, most of us know what events we are going to and can give it some thought ahead of time.

Use these Tricks to Plan Ahead

So what can be done ahead of time to prepare for all of this? Here's a few ideas ...

  1. Eat regular meals. Even if you have a party to go to that evening, stay on track with regular meals that day. Starving yourself during the day, so you can overindulge later that day, will backfire. You can show up to the party ravenous, and good decision-making is out the window.
  2. Check in with your own hunger. Stay in tune with your body's hunger and fullness signals. There's a little trick to remember here: if you're not sure you're hungry, you're probably not. Let your body's innate, God-given wisdom guide you.
  3. Give yourself permission to enjoy the foods you love in reasonable amounts. If you've checked in with your own hunger and you are hungry, it's okay to eat. Food is not the enemy. Moderation is much better than deprivation.
  4. Yes, get plenty of sleep. Sleep replenishes all of our body/brain chemistries. Those who stay on their normal sleep schedule of 7-9 hours tend to do better in stressful, emotion-laden situations. Since the holidays can be pretty stressful and emotional, it really helps to keep a regular sleep schedule. You'll make better choices throughout the day, even at the party!
  5. Get some exercise by walking at lunchtime, taking the steps, or parking further from the door when you're at the store. This can help burn some calories but will also help with mood and decision making.
  6. Quiet time. If possible, before you go the office party or the family event, take a few minutes, maybe just 5 minutes, to quiet your body, mind and spirit. If you can, find a fairly quiet part of your house (sometimes it's the bathroom with the shower on). You can do this in the car on the way to the party, as well. A few moments of quiet, prayer or contemplation can clear that mental chaos that can overcome us this time of year.
  7. Eat for both taste AND texture. Paying attention to both texture and taste can help you slow down and actually enjoy the food you are eating.
  8. Manage alcohol intake. Alcohol puts the decision-making part of the brain to sleep. You need that part of your brain to make wise decisions regarding hunger and fullness.
  9. It's okay to say "no." This might be hard in some situations – sometimes family members can be pretty insistent. Truth is, you might have to practice saying "no thank you" before you go. That way, if you're offered something you don't want or you're not hungry for, you can say, "Thanks, I might get some later" or something noncommittal that keeps you safe.
  10. Practice focusing on family, relationships, time with others, and the real meaning of the season for you and your loved ones.
Karen Williams, LIMHP
Karen Williams, LIMHP

Karen Williams, LIMHP is a Mental Health provider at CHI Health.

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