Experiences around the holiday season differ from person to person and even from day to day. While many people are able to find great joy in celebrating, there are many stressors that accompany the holiday season. Between coordinating travel, navigating tough familial relationships, missing loved ones, and juggling the preparation, it’s not hard to see why many people get stressed out during this time. However you celebrate this holiday season, one thing that most everyone has in common is the abundance of food to choose from during the season. Food brings people together, but what is less acknowledged is how complicated it can be--whether it is a coping mechanism for stress, a source of unwanted comments, or a stressor on its own.
With Thanksgiving happening this week-- a holiday pretty much dedicated to eating a lot of food-- there is no doubt that the menu has been on your mind. For many, food plays a role in how stress is managed. In response to stressful events, people may turn to either overeating for comfort or undereating for a sense of control. And, of course, those who may be struggling with disordered eating behaviors may find the holidays to be particularly triggering. If you struggle with feeling anxious about your Thanksgiving or holiday meal, or maybe completely avoid it, there are a variety of ways to manage the stress.
Implement Intuitive Eating. Intuitive eating is a method, developed by two registered dieticians, that aims at healing people’s relationship with themselves and with food. There are no concrete rules, other than to listen to your body when it presents you with hunger cues, feelings of satiation, cravings, etc. Intuitive eating focuses on making peace with food and taking care of your body using a holistic approach. Obviously, this is easier said than done, and takes some commitment and effort to implement.
Practice Self-Care. Don’t forget that you need to take time for yourself during the holidays. Whether you are staying put or traveling to see others, make sure that you prioritize some time to doing things that bring you joy. This could include working out, taking a bath, reading a book, or spending time with an animal friend. If you are not able to give your body a break, you are more likely to get caught up in the stress and anxiety of the holidays. In turn, the more stressed out we are the more we may experience anxiety about food or use it to cope.
Set Boundaries. One of the hardest things to do when it comes to spending time with family and friends is setting boundaries. While this takes some time to get used to, setting boundaries can actually be one of the most effective ways to improve relationships with other people, yourself, and food. Practice saying no, diverting the conversation away from an issue, and removing yourself from harmful or uncomfortable situations. A great way to practice is to set a small boundary that you can enforce, implement it, and reevaluate it at a future time. When it comes to food, some family members may make unwanted comments about body weight or food consumption. Take this time to enforce boundaries you’ve set that support your well-being. For example, if you have a family member repeatedly ask if you want more food, you can say something along the lines of, “Thank you for making me this wonderful meal. This food has been delicious, though I’m fully satisfied. Thank you for offering, but I am content right now.” In addition, if people turn their attention to your body and that conversation is not helpful for you, practice redirecting the conversation by turning attention to them, such as, “I’d like to hear about you, how has work been?”
Just remember, that what you decided to eat during the holidays doesn’t determine your eating habits for the rest of the year. It’s valuable to practice some flexibility and self-compassion. More importantly, focus on your relationship with food and yourself. When you start to listen to your body, whether you’re listening for hunger or stress, you open up many opportunities for self-love and care where there once was stress and anxiety.
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