For many of us, the process of eating and drinking involves a lot more than food. Eating can be a great way to socialize and share, and also to heighten and delight our senses. But it can also carry some baggage with it. For many of us, the process of eating has evolved from the simple act of nourishing our bodies to a process that carries with it story lines, emotion, and self-identity. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have probably experienced what it feels like to use food to fill a void or soothe a stress, am I right?
Emotional or stress-eating can take away from the joyful and nourishing aspects of eating. It tends to be mindless, compulsive and uncomfortable. For many of us, the holidays are a time rife with opportunities for stress-eating. Our normal routines are disturbed, it’s cold outside, our stress levels are elevated, and we’re surrounded by tempting sugar-laden foods (see our previous post on sugar cravings and stress). One cookie seems to turn into 5 way too easily this time of year!
Here are some tips that I hope will help with holiday stress eating. You can start practicing them now so that they become second nature by the time the holidays roll around!
- Once you start to feel that that you might be eating out of stress, take a second to acknowledge it. Some warning signs may be a feeling of compulsiveness, eating but not feeling hungry, or mindless grabbing. Ask yourself, am I really hungry? If not, acknowledge what’s going on and what might be underlying it without judgement or beating yourself up. Just notice it. Once you notice it and don’t dive straight into an automatic reaction or try to push it away, then you’ve given yourself the space to choose what to do next.
- Slow down. Actually as soon as you’ve done #1, you’ve already slowed down. But you can continue to keep it slow and introduce intention and awareness to your process. Some specific ways to slow down include focusing on your breathing, chewing more, taking sips of water in between bites, and paying attention to what’s happening with all 5 senses as you eat. Read more tips here on mindful eating.
- Shift your focus. Rather than focusing on stopping an unwanted behavior, focus on creating a beautiful one. Find other elements of your meal or your day that have the potential to bring you joy – the company of your loved ones, the smell of the fire in the fireplace, the beauty of the snow outside. Let yourself be curious about the world outside of your food and meals – find something (or someone :)) interesting to get to know better!
- Stay physically active. Exercise boosts your feel-good endorphins, helps you sleep, and can improve your mood. Getting outside for a walk, going for a run, or taking a class at the local gym is a perfect opportunity to take some time for yourself and practice #3 above! Even if you can’t do a full workout, getting in just 15 minutes can do wonders!
- Eat regularly. Even if your travel and meal schedule is thrown out of whack by the holidays, don’t let yourself get to a point of being ravenous. Because when you do sit down to eat, it will be harder for you to gauge the point of having enough. Keep feeding yourself good quality food – stock up on healthy nourishing snacks so that you can stay in control of when you’re eating.
- Be gentle, be generous. Yes, be generous with yourself! Feed yourself yummy, nutritious food that will make you feel good and fuel your day. If you start to recognize the signs of stress eating, be gentle with yourself, as you might be with a crying baby. Offer yourself acknowledgement, love and comfort, and know that you deserve to treat yourself well! You don’t have to deprive yourself of anything, just be sure that you’re intentional about the food you’re enjoying – after all the holidays are about love and enjoyment right?
Do you have any other tips for staying healthy during the holidays? Share them in the comments below!