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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