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  • Writer's pictureJacqueline Aston

Does Holiday Stress Have You Eating Differently?

How is your relationship with food and body image around the holidays? Does the stress of family gatherings, buying gifts, and preparing food show up in your eating habits? Does food become the outlet for releasing your stress or trying to control it?

Emotions can feel uncomfortable sometimes for us, so if we find a way to numb them or turn them off through food, it makes sense that we’d want to. It’s probably not helpful to judge yourself for having a challenging relationship with food, at least not in the long run. In fact, recognizing that stress and other emotions may affect your eating behaviors can give you awareness to make changes in the way you relate to food.

Sometimes people restrict their food to try to restrict their emotions. Others binge on food to stuff their emotions, while others purge food to try to purge their emotions. Exercise can also be a form of purging (i.e. purging calories). Feeling uncomfortable emotions can drive us to engage in these behaviors or others. When we have a healthier relationship with our emotions, often we can have a healthier relationship with food.

When we can acknowledge and accept our emotions, we don’t have to spend our energy avoiding them or numbing them through food or other things (T.V., shopping, cleaning, drugs, etc.). Do you accept when you feel anxious about: food around the holidays, bringing your partner home to visit your family, talking about your career/school, or seeing old friends? Do you accept your fears of others judging your appearance? Do you let yourself feel sad or disappointed when you miss family members that are not present for the holidays (for whatever reason?) Whether or not you allow yourself to feel these emotions, the reality is that you do. The choice is to either feel them and let them go or to numb them (with food or other distractions).

Food can be a quick fix to get the problem or emotion to go away. But as you might have noticed, binging, purging, or restricting food is only a temporarily solution. Once you stop binging, the emotion or issue rises again.

Some tips for dealing with uncomfortable emotions:

  • Once you notice and accept your feelings, remind yourself that there is nothing wrong with having feelings—feelings are not dangerous

  • Let go of the judgment that you have towards yourself and others for having emotions (therapy might be especially helpful here to process this)

  • Take deep breaths and slow your mind and body down (move yourself from the sympatric nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system)

  • Eat three meals and some snacks on holidays as if it is a regular day (instead of restricting and eating a huge meal later or grazing all day). Restricting food can set yourself up to binge later because you have been starving

  • Allow yourself to eat a variety of foods to nourish your body

  • If you are having trouble enjoying your food, remind yourself that food might be like taking medicine (you may not like it, but it’s a way to take care of your body)

  • Have some compassion for yourself given the unhelpful messages about food and body image that you might have received growing up from your family or society

  • Mindfully eat your food by noticing its smell, texture, and taste

It can take time and practice to deal with emotions differently than the ones that you are familiar with, even if they are better for you. Therapy can also be a great tool to give you additional support in dealing with your life stressors and emotions.

Remind yourself that your emotions won’t last forever, they come and go, as do the holidays.

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