Holiday Eating – How to Enjoy it and Not be Afraid of It

All over the world, the months of November and December is a festive times. There are trees lit up with colorful lights, holiday music and movies play everywhere, reminding us of our childhood, and, of course the traditional holiday foods. 

December is also a time that we can be socially busier than usual, with the holiday party at work and family gatherings for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza. I have always enjoyed this time of the year as there are so many delicious dishes prepared by friends and family members only once per year. However, the abundance of dinners, brunches, and happy hours can be overwhelming, especially for those that struggle with their relationship to their body and food. What is one to do? How do we enjoy the festivities without thinking about calories, carbohydrates, and fats?

If you have been reading my monthly insight regularly, you are probably aware that I place importance on teaching my clients how to enjoy their life by learning how to develop a new relationship with food.

During the holiday season, clients will share with me that they haven’t eaten much during the day because they are attending two holiday parties later. I also hear clients report restricting due to the lack of knowledge of what’s in a particular dish. Whatever thought you struggle with, it’s important to learn how to plan for a food-packed holiday in a way that is positive and enjoyable. The first boundary I like to suggest to clients is treating the day as any other day. What I mean by this is: do not skip any meal. When you skip meals, you may to arrive at the event extra hungry, setting you up to binge.

Sometimes we are cooking all day and may be sampling what we are bringing to the event. One recommendation that I have is, when your dish is in the oven or on the stove, focus on your self-care and grab something easy to eat. Putting the food on a plate can psychologically help us feel more emotionally fulfilled since we may be extra busy in the kitchen. Secondly, work on abolishing any type of food rule, for example, “I am not eating carbohydrates today since the holiday dinner is all carbohydrates.” As we begin to explore what foods actually appeal to us in the holiday meal (brunch, lunch or dinner), we may find that not all of them are as exciting as we remember.

Next, it’s very important to be conscientious of your hunger level going into the meal. When I begin working with some clients, they may say: “Isn’t it acceptable to binge on Thanksgiving? That’s what everyone does.” This especially feels true because some traditional holiday dishes are made once a year, making us want to indulge in eating as much of it as we can, even to excess. It’s normal to overeat on these holidays; however, going into the meal with the mindset that this is a free-for-all with the last chance to have these delicious options again is disordered thinking and, perhaps, disordered eating. Consider looking through the lens of a Hanukkah brunch: I haven’t had bagels, lox, cream cheese, and jelly donuts in a long time, I am going to work on tasting and savoring each bite. As you do, be aware of your hunger level. Sample all of your favorite dishes but stop when you are comfortably full, not bursting.

Additionally, do not continue eating something simply because it is there and not often available. Maybe some of these foods, all of these foods, or none of these foods are as delicious as we had imagined or recalled them tasting. Sometimes, bakeries, restaurants and people who cook have different ideas how different dishes will taste. We also forget that our palate changes too. If you are not enjoying a food, you don’t have to eat it simply because it is a holiday or it is not always around.

Consider the scenario of walking the buffet line at a holiday party. Before diving in, see what all the options are. After scanning the room, take a plate and assess: what are my emotions going into this? If we are anxious that can make us perceive that we are hungrier than we are. Perhaps delaying for 5-10 min until the emotion settles and then make a plate of what appeals to you. Ask yourself, “How hungry am I? What food would satisfy this hunger?” If the food is being served to you, you have the option to determine if you are enjoying each course and finding satisfaction. If something is not delicious, I would skip it and wait for the next course. Being able to pause multiple times during any of these scenarios is important in allowing you to determine, moment-to-moment, if you are indeed eating because you are hungry.

Working on boundaries is necessary to obtain confidence when eating. Become choosy with your food choices and decide which fullness level is comfortable for you.

I hope you have a tasty and delicious holiday season.

REPRINT BY PERMISSION ROBYN GOLDBERG R.D. To view more about Robyn, and her services, click here.