Holidays can be overwhelming for a variety of reasons and food is often one of those reasons. Altered eating schedules, foods that you don't encounter every day, food gifts, and numerous parties all contribute to most people feeling chaotic around food at this time of year.
When you've been working to improve your relationship with food, this time of year can give you hope for being able to enjoy food and friends without guilt. However, there is often anxiety about how to interact with loved ones who push food on you or make comments about how you eat or how you look.
As we approach Thanksgiving this week, I thought it might be helpful to share some ideas for how you might navigate food in a positive way this holiday season.
1. Eat regular meals. This is a basic form of self-care (see #2) and will help you stay in tune with your hunger and fullness cues. Often, people decide to skip meals to "save up" for a big feast later in the day but all this does is set you up for being hangry once that feast is served. Then, you're likely to eat so fast that you won't even enjoy the food, will probably eat things you don't even like that much, and will easily overshoot comfortable fullness. Aim to stick to a fairly regular eating schedule leading up to big meals or parties so that you can enter those occasions at a comfortable level of hunger and enjoy the experience more.
2. Maintain self-care. When you aren't practicing self-care, it gets harder to handle stress and react to situations in a way that aligns with your values. At the most basic level, this includes eating regular meals, getting adequate sleep, and moving in way that feels good for your body. This can also include things like scheduling in some quiet time to read a book, doing a creative activity, meeting a friend, or taking yourself out for a hot drink. Whatever it is that helps you recharge and show kindness to yourself.
3. Food is not a moral issue. Salad is not "good", carbs and sugar are not "bad" and you are neither good nor bad based on what you ate. Food is just food. Removing the moral judgment from food is like lifting a weight off of your shoulders as you navigate social situations. When you notice your inner food police judging what you eat, try either turning that thought into something more helpful (like "carbohydrates are delicious, provide satisfaction, and are a source of energy for my body") or just saying something to yourself like "thought, not fact" or "unhelpful thought".
4. The food isn't going anywhere. This is not the last pumpkin pie on earth (if it is, there are bigger problems at hand!) and it is therefore not your last opportunity to eat said pie. The same goes for anything on the table. When you acknowledge this, you are able to eat what sounds good in an amount that leaves you feeling comfortably full and leave the rest, knowing you can always have it again the next time you're hungry if it sounds good. This goes hand in hand with food being made into a moral issue - when we eat a food we deem as "bad", we immediately want to eat ALL of it because we plan to start over and never eat the food again once it's gone. When we have no judgment around food and know we can have it again at any time, we don't feel out of control around it.
5. You can say no. Preparing food for someone is often a way to demonstrate love and care. As such, family members sometimes want to push food on you. However, only you know what and how much your body needs. If you are already full and someone is pushing you to eat something else, you do not have to do so. You can politely decline, saying something like "Gosh, I'm already feeling pretty full and know I wouldn't be able to enjoy that as much if I were uncomfortable. I would love to have some later when I'm hungry again though! If you set it aside for me, I'd love to take it home and enjoy it later!" The same goes for conversations about food or weight. If people make comments about your or their bodies or if they are talking about diets or guilt around food, you can change the subject or simply slip away from the conversation.
6. Think about how you'd like to feel. Before going into an eating situation, think about how you'd like to feel when you're done. Do you want to have a stomach ache and be unable to roll off the couch for the next several hours or would you like to feel comfortable and satisfied, able to enjoy the rest of your day with friends and family? How would you like to feel mentally around food? Would you like to be able to enjoy all of your favorites without guilt and move on or would you like to spend all day trying to avoid certain foods, only to give in and be beating yourself up for the next several hours? Going in with an idea of how you want to engage with food will help you when difficult thoughts or situations come up. At then end of the day, know that it's completely normal to be a little uncomfortable after you eat a holiday meal!
Remember that no one day or week or even a few weeks of eating will make or break your health. You will sometimes get overly hungry, eat when you're not hungry, eat something that wasn't satisfying, or end up uncomfortably full and that is absolutely okay. Work on releasing any judgment that comes up in these situations and reflect on what you'd do differently if the situation came up again.
If you're just beginning to work on improving your relationship with food, this will seem like a lot of thought and effort but it won't always be this way. As you get more comfortable with these things, you'll be able to devote that precious mental energy to what's really important to you rather than spending it stressing out over rolls and pie and cookies.