Eating your feelings this holiday season?

cheese puffs, orange colour

For many of us, the holiday season can be a stressful one. Many demands, many responsibilities, many parties. There is so much good cheer going around, and so much food. This can be a tough season to navigate when we are trying to honour our bodies, and ourselves.

The tougher part is that most of us haven’t been taught how to adequately rest, stop, and decompress. We’re often taught to go outside ourselves for soothing our complicated feelings, and some of these external behaviours can be positive. Exercise, yoga, deep breathing, calling a friend, walking the dog, journaling… these are all good coping mechanisms.

But in reality, at work or in the middle of a shopping mall, when you are feeling tired and overwhelmed from holiday demands, under pressure to get everything finished before the holidays begin… perhaps that box of chocolates is calling. You know in the short-​term that sugar rush will make you feel awesome, but in the long-​term eating half a box will make you feel sick, and doesn’t always deal with how you are feeling anyway. So, what do you do?

If you prefer to watch a video, watch me talk about this topic!

Step 1: Acknowledge

Be aware that you might be eating because you are feeling unsettled. That could be a small unsettled as in “I’m tired” or a larger unsettled “This is a hard time of year because I’m missing loved ones who are far away, or no longer with me”. Whatever the reason, starting the awareness is important.

Step 2: Ask your body what it is holding for you

This is a neat exercise. Find a quiet corner in a mall, or in the car, or in the bathroom and close your eyes (hopefully not while driving). Breathe. Quiet your mind. Now, quietly ask your body “what’s up? What do you need?”

Hint: the body will deliver to your mind a very quiet, gentle, and simple directive. Common ones are:

  • Sit down
  • I’m thirsty
  • I want to leave
  • I need to sleep
  • I’m hungry
  • I’m sad

Step 3: Use this body awareness to act on your body’s needs

Try to honour what your body suggests. If it’s not possible immediately, find a time to do that in the next few hours. If you want to sit, sit! If you need a break, create one. Whatever feels safest is the thing to choose. Nothing that creates more stress.

Step 4: Have a prepared strategy for your vulnerable places

If you know now that you get anxious at your friend’s house and you tend to overeat at the food table, get a plate, fill it up with nourishing and comforting foods — don’t only choose one option — allow BOTH parts of yourself get what they need. Health and comfort.

Step 5: Pick some quiet moments to reframe your behaviour

If you eat double your typical calories, including foods you know are really only good in small doses, and you don’t exercise, you’re going to gain weight. It’s a simple equation really, energy in must be less than the energy out. Translation — it’s going to happen. Rather than beat yourself up or feel really restricted, accept that those behaviours will lead to unwanted outcomes, and get back on track when you’re back to your regular routine.

Step 6: Actively choose activities that bring you joy and gratitude

When you eat, thank your food and the person that prepared it, even if it was you. It sets up appreciation. Then find things in your day that you love to do! If you like to read, set aside even 5 minutes at bedtime. If you love Christmas movies, pick one everyone likes and spend time together. Building joy will help you to work with your anxiety and overwhelm and connect you to your loving self.

Step 7: Keep physically active

The holidays shift us out of our exercise routine, when it really would be just as nice to go for a walk with a friend or head to your kickboxing class anyway. Try to honour some movement even in small ways. An extra lap at the mall. Another walk with the dog. Running with your kids or grandkids at the park! I promise you’ll feel better.

Remember, you are not alone, and you are awesome. It’s just food, at the end of the day, and we can be grateful for that.

Dr. Aoife ND

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