Emotional eating is totally a “thing,” and if there’s ever a time it happens, it’s the holidays.
What is emotional eating?
For starters, emotional eating is a response to both good and bad emotions—although the bad ones usually get all of the attention.
Some of us are self-proclaimed stress eaters. I’m thinking about the college students cramming their mouths with chips and M&Ms while they’re studying for exams. Power eating popcorn during a suspenseful movie also comes to mind.
Others chomp our way through disappointment, sadness, and loneliness. You pick up the pint of ice cream when you find out your end of year bonus isn’t coming through, or comfort yourself with a pound of holiday fudge because you can’t get home for Christmas.
The holidays are usually filled with mixed emotions: It’s a stressful—but happy—time, after all. Many of us look forward to celebrating the togetherness of the holidays with a stocked fridge and pantry. And when I say stocked, I don’t mean with healthy foods. I mean packed full of all the it’s-only-once-a-year stuff: peppermint park, snowflake cookies, and eggnog.
Emotional eating has nothing to do with hunger, nutrition, or wellness goals. Food is not made up of only vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fiber. It’s also made up of stuff that connects to your feelings.
So, how do you stop emotional eating? And how can you make it through the emotional roller coaster of the holiday season without throwing your goals out the (perfectly trimmed) window? Great question.
Here are my top tips for how to stop emotional eating:
1. Reframe your intentions.
Yes, you could choose to go through the holidays focusing on the guilt for not remembering to buy your colleague a gift, sleep deprivation because you’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to get everything done before your vacation, stress because the holiday cards haven’t arrived . . . and so on and so on.
You could also choose to get through the holidays mindfully. Making the choice to focus on celebrating the company you keep, being in the moment and giving attention to your holiday traditions will keep you from feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and reaching for the soothing arms of that hot cocoa with whipped cream.
For when you do feel stressed (hey, it happens!), keep a warm mug of tea on hand at all times. It will serve many purposes: the heat and smell will soothe and relax you and your feelings, it will hydrate you, and it will serve as a reminder to keep your wellness at the forefront of your mind.
2. Know that YOU are in control.
You do not have to be a victim of the stress, happiness, sadness, and emotional energy-suck of the holidays.
Decide what you are going to bring to Aunt Edna’s holiday potluck (spiced pear and apple crumble, anyone?) so you know you have a healthy snack or alternative on hand.
Have a satisfying and healthy dinner before you head out to the office party so you don’t wind up making puff pastries your meal. Go ahead and make the decision to stick to seltzer with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds instead of champagne.
Also helpful? Keeping a food journal from December 1 to January 1. It will help you see that the “binge” you thought you had was actually just too much brie. It will also help you eat less. Knowing you will have to write it down will make you think twice before going for seconds of the pie.
Ultimately, feeling empowered helps you control your emotions and eating.
3. Triple D yourself.
Use the three Ds when you’re trying to stop emotional eating.
The first D is for delay. Slow yourself down. Don’t head straight for the food. Start with a glass of water, tea, or seltzer and make a conscious decision to slow your intake. Nobody is going to rip your plate out from under you and the appetizer tray will still be there in 15 minutes. Slow down, friend.
The second D is for distract. You should be catching up with friends and family. That is what the holiday season is really about. Distract yourself by talking to your loved ones, checking out the ornaments on the tree, or lending a hand to the host.
The final D is for disarm. Don’t keep unwanted food in the house. Don’t hover over the buffet table. Out of sight, out of mind.
On a similar note, don’t bring sweets and treats home. Keep your home focused on health and wellness by stocking up on winter produce such as grapefruit, clementines, pomegranate and root veggies.
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