Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?  Not always.  The holiday season is an exciting time of year, but it is also stressful for many.  It’s definitely the busiest time of the year with holiday parties, shopping, decorating, and family gatherings.  Add to that an eating concern, and the holidays can be a time full of anxiety, dread, and avoidance.

The Holiday Season is Busy

Busy schedules and competing demands make it more challenging to cope. So if you have eating concerns you may find yourself more vulnerable to triggers. Don’t panic if you notice an increase in triggers. Remind yourself that this is understandable given the busy season, and focus your efforts on utilizing effective coping skills. Just because you are triggered doesn’t mean you need to give into the urges. This is a time to reinforce your efforts to take good care of yourself.

  • Increase your use of coping skills. Make a gratitude list. Turn out the lights and enjoy the sparkle of a Christmas tree. Remember the reasons you celebrate the holidays and focus on those things.
  • Enlist the support of others. You don’t have to do it all yourself.
  • Structure your time. There’s no need to do more than necessary. Take a look at your schedule and cross out things that don’t fit. You don’t have to make it all fit.
  • Pretty gift bags are a great alternative to elaborately wrapped presents and take a 10th of the time. Look for simple ways to consolidate your efforts, such as online shopping.
  • Challenge perfectionism. We don’t care what Martha Stewart’s mantle looks like.  We care about your sanity.  Martha Stewart is not coming to your home for the holidays. Keep your decorating simple. Focus on décor that brings you joy, and leave the rest in the attic.
  • Remember the basics. If balanced exercise is part of your equation for sanity, make it a priority during the holidays. Make sure you’re getting enough rest and don’t forget to build-in down time to recharge.
  • Take each moment as it comes. You have permission to feel flustered, overwhelmed, and stressed. You don’t have to have it all figured out.
  • Be kind to yourself. Enjoy being present and alive to the vibrant holiday season.

The Holidays Are All About Food

So much of our holiday celebrations are centered around food.  There are wonderful traditional foods, lots of rich desserts, big buffet dinners, all sorts of goodies in the office and on your front porch that it can make intuitive eating more challenging during the holidays.  The key is finding balance between enjoying holiday foods that aren’t typically around other times of the year while also respecting your body’s cues and signals related to hunger-fullness.

  • Give yourself permission to enjoy holiday foods. There’s no need to feel guilty. Savor the richness of homemade fudge.
  • Scan the buffet table before serving yourself and identify the foods you most want to try. Focus on enjoying the foods you’ve selected without feeling deprived that you didn’t sample everything. Eating a little bit of everything can make it harder to recognize hunger-fullness cues.
  • Don’t avoid situations that involve food. If this is your plan for the holidays, you’ll end up avoiding everything.  Instead, make a plan. Before going to a gathering, scale your hunger-fullness, scan the food selections (see above) and determine what looks most appetizing. Scale hunger-fullness again during your meal, and then about 20 minutes after completing your meal. How full are you? Would you really like to try a caramel? Would you enjoy the caramel more now or later? It’s okay to take a caramel for later if you’re full now.
  • Eat what your body wants. Check in with yourself and ask “what would satisfy my body?”
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the food at a gathering, take a deep breath and remind yourself that the holidays are about friends, family, and fun, and focus on ways to connect with others.
  • If you struggle with purge behaviors, create accountability with a loved one. Abide structure of not using the bathroom for 30 minutes after completing a meal. Ask your loved one to give you a tap on the shoulder if he or she notices worrisome signs.
  • Take a step away from the buffet table if you find yourself being tugged by emotional eating cues. This gives you a chance to re-center yourself and check in with hunger-fullness.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find you over-eat. Most of us are tempted to continue eating beyond fullness when surrounded by delicious foods. Eating beyond fullness is not the end of the world. Trust that your body will be just fine.
  • If you struggle to eat enough, ask a loved one to move through the buffet line with you to provide gentle prompts on appropriate serving sizes and balanced meals.
  • Don’t think about what is in the food. When you’re used to controlling food, it can be stressful to be faced with food others have prepared. Instead of refusing to eat, remind yourself that your body knows what to do with the food, and that focusing on appropriate dietary structure and hunger-fullness cues is a better guide than obsessively dissecting the ingredients in the food on your plate.
  • Challenge yourself to actually enjoy holiday treats without guilt.

The Holidays Are About Connecting

One of the greatest things about the holiday season is the opportunity it affords us to reconnect with others. Whether it’s old friends through holiday cards, coworkers at an Ugly Sweater party, or family members at holiday gatherings.  And while these connections are wonderful, they can also be stressful.  A family gathering for the holidays also brings to the surface hidden resentments, old arguments, and tender feelings.  Scanning through friends’ holiday cards can leave you feeling worse about yourself.

  • Give yourself permission to say no. You don’t have to accept every invitation. Decide what’s most important and ensure you have energy for the gatherings that you most value.
  • If you tend to isolate, push yourself to accept invitations, but go prepared. Find one individual to connect with one-on-one, rather than feeling like you need to be in the middle of the action. Better yet, attend with a support person and have a time-out sign you can give to signal you need a break.
  • Take a time out. Leave the chaos for a quieter room. Lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes. Take a few deep breaths on the back porch. It’s okay to take a time out.
  • Limit the number of social gatherings in a week. Make sure you have some down time in between big holiday gatherings where you can watch a favorite holiday movie without any expectation to talk.
  • Be honest with your feelings with your family and allow them to help you. Answer honestly if a loved one asks you how you are doing. There’s no need to pretend. You may be surprised at all the support you have when you are willing to reach out.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Be happy for the success of others, and embrace what is unique about you.  Express gratitude for the gifts of your life and you’ll feel less need to compare yourself to others.
  • Be patient with those who may not understand your concerns. It would be unreasonable to expect everyone to have a clear understanding of you and your concerns.  Decide the relationships where it feels important to create understanding, and focus your efforts there. With everyone else, let go of the frustration and the need to make them understand.

Most importantly, take time to connect with yourself.  What do you want your focus to be this holiday season?  Connect with your values and the meaning you find in the holiday season. Then, be intentional in creating a holiday season that uplifts you and strengthens you for the new year ahead.