How to Find Peace and Joy with Food This Holiday Season

The holidays are here! This time of year means different things for each of us. Some people look forward to and revel in them, others not so much. One point of concern for many is managing the abundance of food this time of year. The following few tips can help.

1. Avoid the “Last Supper” Mentality

The pressure to avoid all the forbidden foods that are everywhere this time of year leaves us vulnerable to the Holiday Binge-New Year’s Repent Cycle. You know this cycle, right? We spend much of the year in diet mentality either restricting food or feeling like we should, then the holidays roll around with all of their special foods, treats, and sweets, leading to feelings of guilt for many of us and the feeling of needing to atone for our “sins” just in time for the New Year’s diets to roll out.

Although we tend to blame ourselves and our lack of willpower for this cycle, it is our society’s collective plan to diet and get back on “the plan” come January 1st that actually leads to and encourages increased overeating and bingeing during the holiday season. This is referred to as the “last supper mentality.” The thinking that we must consume all the foods of the season, often in larger amounts than feels good to our bodies, because that new diet or “lifestyle change” is right around the corner.

This all-or-nothing approach to food and eating often leads to mindless eating and a disconnectedness with our bodies that can leave us feeling overstuffed, guilty and ashamed, and enjoying the holiday foods less. Then when January comes around the multibillion-dollar diet and fitness industry is ready and waiting to promise us just the solution we need to solve our problems with food and our bodies.

Simply becoming aware of this cycle and the trap that is created over and over year after year can bring awareness to our falling prey to it. What if you decided to break the cycle and try something new? Keep reading to find out how.

2. Give Yourself the Gift of Permission

Holiday foods come with a lot of hype because we usually only have them once a year. Because they are only available one time a year, this can create a subconscious feeling of deprivation, driving us to think we have to eat every last bite while it lasts. When we are deprived of any food, no matter if it is because it only comes around once a year or on purpose because we are in diet mode, when we are around that particular food we may feel out of control and eat more than we feel like we “should” or “need to.” In response we beat ourselves up, felling guilt and self-blame and a feeling of lacking will power around certain foods. Sound familiar?

The reality is that it is the deprivation of these foods that creates this response, not a failure on our part or lack of willpower. The deprivation heightens the desire. It is just the way our bodies and our minds are wired, it is biology and psychology.

So, what is the antidote? Permission without guilt. Permission, wrapped up in mindfulness is the antidote to feeling out of control with food. When we give ourselves full permission while staying mindful, food loses its control over us. In our diet obsessed world, it may seem scary to offer yourself full permission, but it can be transformative.

You might experiment with giving yourself full permission with certain foods that bring forth that feeling of being out of control. Maybe its cookies or maybe it’s a certain pie you really enjoy. Find a food that challenges you and try to really tune in instead of out.

Ask yourself,

  • What flavors do I taste?
  • What textures do I notice?
  • Is there a point where it doesn’t taste as good as the first couple of bites?
  • What would it be like to know you can have more later or tomorrow?
  • Do “last supper” feelings come up – the thinking that this is your only shot at the food so you better eat as much as you can?

Try to just be curious and notice without judgement. Notice how tuning in rather than tuning out changes the experience of eating.

“Your health status is much more about what you do between New Year and Christmas, than it is about what you do between Thanksgiving and New Year!”

3. Notice How You Feel

Aside from the abundance of delicious food, this time of year can bring up all sorts of emotions, both the warm fuzzy ones and the more challenging. For those of us who typically turn to food in response to emotions, this can be a particularly challenging part of the holidays.

Emotions, both positive and negative, are part of this season. For many of us food is a coping mechanism and a way that we have developed to deal with our feelings. We naturally and understandably gravitate towards food to both celebrate and cope. Instead of demonizing that fact and wishing we could will it away, a better approach is to acknowledge and accept that it is just a normal part of relating and coping with emotions and how we feel and can be part of a perfectly healthy relationship with food.

When uncomfortable emotions come up, we often would rather stuff them than acknowledge them, both literally with food, and figuratively by ignoring them and having the “suck it up and move on” mentality. The practice of becoming more aware of and acknowledging feelings/emotions versus stuffing them though is one of the most honoring things you can do for yourself.

Can you, again with curiosity and without judgement, begin to become aware of when you are using food to soothe an emotion? You might not change the behavior, but even just awareness can go a long way.

When we become aware, we can then mindfully explore different ways to respond. Food is just one way to cope, there are so many others. When we pause and take a breath we give ourselves the opportunity to see what we might really need in that moment.

4. Remember to Nourish Yourself Regularly

It is a hectic time, so schedules can get thrown off making it easy to skip or delay meals. This can also be intentional if you have a history of dieting and “saving up” calories for holiday gatherings. It is so important to honor your hunger by planning and eating consistently and regularly throughout the day. In a culture that is constantly telling us to eat less and that being hungry is good (I’m eyeing you intermittent fasting) we get the distorted message that eating regularly and nourishing ourselves is a bad thing.

On the contrary, from a health and nutrition perspective, when we eat in a balanced way and nourish ourselves regularly and consistently, we give our bodies the energy and nutrients they need to do all the things that are part of this busy season. Eating consistently also can leave you less vulnerable to the inevitable response to extreme hunger, which often leads to that out of control feeling with food and eating beyond comfortable fullness.

Consider this all too familiar scenario…

Scenario #1: You have a holiday party in the evening and you know there will be lots of rich and tasty foods. So you decide to skip meals during the day or eat “light” in preparation. By the time you arrive to the party you are famished and feel like you could eat a horse. So that is precisely what you do. Leaving you feeling stuffed, uncomfortable, and feeling like you’ve failed.

I offer another alternative…

Scenario #2: You have that same holiday party that evening. You wake up and eat a normal, balanced breakfast with some carbs, protein, and fat – think eggs, toast and fruit or oatmeal with nuts and berries. Then three to four hours later you have a balanced, filling, and satisfying lunch. You might even need a snack in the mid afternoon. Then you arrive to the party and you are able to enjoy the foods from a fed and nourished state, rather than starving and out of control.

When we skip meals and “save up” we set ourselves up to eat beyond what our body needs, and in response to feel overstuffed and full of guilt. Give it a try. Try listening in to your body and your hunger and responding with feeding yourself on a regular and consistent basis and notice how it makes you feel.

Wrap Up

Ok, let’s recap. Four things you can focus on find more peace and joy with food this holiday season are:

  1. Avoid the “Last Supper” Mentality
  2. Give Yourself the Gift of Permission
  3. Notice How You Feel
  4. Remember to Nourish Yourself Regularly

Your health status is much more about what you do between New Year and Christmas, than it is about what you do between Thanksgiving and New Year! It is possible to allow food to be a part of the season and something to enjoy, not stress over. I hope these tips and strategies will help you approach the holidays from a kinder and more gentle place to help you find more peace and joy during this season.