“Change happens when you understand what you want to change so deeply that there is no reason to do anything but act in your own best interest.” — Geneen Roth
From festive tunes and decor to gift exchanges and gatherings, the holiday season fills me with child-like glee. All throughout, however, I’m cognizant of the fact that many people have near opposite views due to food angst. As someone who’s endured it and now mentors folks in its grasp, I know too well the depth of disordered eating pain. I wish I could multiply and divvy up my joy and inject it into every person suffering. Since I lack that super power, I’ll instead share some useful strategies with hopes that they might find appropriate eyes.
8 Ways to Manage Food-Related Anxiety Through the Holidays
1. Know you’re not alone. Little feels as lonely as fighting inner-food demons amidst gleeful bashes, and little fuels those demons like loneliness. One-third of holiday stress derives from overindulgence, according to Mental Health America. Add to that the fear of being judged or watched and general food-related discomfort and it’s safe to say that you’re far from solitary. Considering how hidden many of these issues are, it’s likely that someone nearby struggles similarly. While you’d never wish your challenges on others, viewing yourself as one of many courageous folks who “get” it can help.
2. Confide in a personal cheerleader. Many of us have at least one person in our court who we can openly confide in during tough times. Share your concerns with that person before stressful events. If you fear mid-feast panic, have a code word or signal ready, along with a plan of action. When you ask your cheerleader a particular question, for example, he or she could ask you to step away to help you with something. If the person is a distance away, keep your phone at the ready for an SOS text or call.
3. Plan ahead food-wise. Keep “safe foods,” foods you’re comfortable with, well-stocked in your kitchen and workplace. Bring dishes you can eat with ease to holiday events, with plenty to share. Avoid arriving to parties and feasts on an empty, rumbling stomach. Eating a balanced snack beforehand can help reduce anxiety physically and emotionally. Balanced snacks, containing complex carbohydrates and protein, help your brain produce and utilize calming brain chemicals and staves off overeating. Have whole grain cereal with low-fat milk, for example, or yogurt topped with fruit. (Neither will make you “fat.”)
4. Get creative. I’m not talking about creative ways of food avoidance or pound shedding, which can fuel anxiety. Invest that energy into something therapeutic. Creativity helps take our minds off of stress, allows us to work through challenging emotions and provides emotional fulfillment. Sing. Write. Bake (if you’re comfortable doing so). Draw. Paint. Dance. I’ve personally found free writing, writing quickly and without judgment, near miraculous. For a useful free-writing exercise, check out Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages.
5. If you’re concerned about overeating or riddled with guilt for doing so, try to cut yourself some slack. Everyone feasts on occasion. One calorie-laden meal or day, or even several, won’t break your wellness or trigger “fatness.” Starving ourselves to make up for overeating by depriving the body of nourishment and making way for the bingeing/starving roller coaster, however, can. Even if you don’t attempt to compensate, guilt and self-loathing aren’t helpful to anyone. If you end up bingeing, forgive yourself and move on by eating, rather than skipping, your next meal.
6. Try not to view foods as “good” or “bad.” Demonizing certain foods makes them more tempting, increases stress and perpetuates negative attitudes and behaviors. All foods provide nutrients. Our bodies need carbohydrates, protein and fat to function and thrive. Many holiday foods, such as turkey, whole grain bread, potatoes, pumpkin and cranberries, are chock-full of vitamins and minerals. Emphasize healthy fare and, if you’re able and interested, allow yourself treats. Eating a modest-sized, rich dessert when you’re desiring it keeps it from turning into a craving, which can facilitate bingeing. Once you’re finished, engage in something non-food related, pronto.
7. Give yourself permission to opt out. If a particular event is too much to manage emotionally, decline. Tell the organizer you’re not feeling well and make tentative plans to catch up with friends and family another time on more comfortable grounds. People who care about you wouldn’t want you to attend a function that feels debilitating. (Would you force a friend who’s deathly afraid of flying onto an airplane?) Opting out when it “in” seems impossible isn’t selfish, but self-nurturing.
8. Focus on others. When the food monster overtakes your brain, it can feel all-consuming. While it’s understandable and not your fault, it’s a highly selfish state. What can you do to brighten another’s day? Seek the good in people and offer compliments. Ask questions about people’s lives with genuine curiosity. Hug loved ones. Send greeting cards. Volunteer. A bit of warmth will help others who may be equally anxious, and give you far more in return.
For more information on eating to quell food-related angst, check out my recent articles:
Love the Skin You’re In: Putting Order Back in Disordered Eating LIVESTRONG.com
Nourish Your Body, Nurture YourSELF: Bolstering Your Self-Esteem with a Healthy Diet LIVESTRONG.com
Food Cravings: Demystifying Intense Desires for Certain Foods LIVESTRONG.com
Foods That Increase Serotonin and Induce Sleep The Nest Magazine
The FulFillment Diet: Pursuing Passion FIRST Bartlett’s Integrated Health Journal
I’d love to hear from you. Have you or a loved one grappled with food stress over the holidays? Any pointers to add? Questions to share? If you’d prefer to share thoughts privately, feel free to write me directly. I’ll also be having a quiet Thanksgiving, so if you’re struggling and feel like chatting, find me on Facebook or Twitter.