by: Sarah Faigle & Cindy Bulik
The holiday season is upon us. Although the holidays can be festive, for some they can also signal food-and social-related stress and anxiety—sometimes both!
The holidays can have several different effects on people who are challenged by food and eating, as well as those who are challenged by too much social interaction. People who have difficulties with restricting or binge-eating can find the food aspects of the holidays to be overwhelming. People who are natural introverts can find the demands for socializing at the holidays to be both daunting and exhausting. Sometimes, they go hand in hand.
On the food side, for some, the food-related activities around the holidays can ignite restrictive eating behaviors. For others, it can be a trap for binge-eating and purging. For many people in the world who don’t have disordered eating, the holidays are typically times of overindulgence that are then countered by the omni-present New Year’s resolution to diet and exercise, that invariably fails by January 13. To make matters worse, holiday weight gain is always a hot topic on the radio, social media, and television—which can make it hard to escape.
On the social side, all of the holiday-related activities can make you feel like you “should” attend, but if you are introverted, all you might really want to do is curl up in your PJs and watch a holiday movie on Netflix with a friend or alone! Then if you go out and put on a holiday face, you might feel exhausted afterwards and wish you had stayed home!
This column is designed to provide you with some strategies that can be used if any of these reactions are familiar to you.
If you are struggling with questions like, “What foods be available?” “Do I have to eat in front of others?” “Who will be there?” or “Will I have to make small talk?” we will try to give you some strategies to help navigate the holiday season.
Reacquaint yourself with the things that make you feel good and aim to keep them in the schedule.
Activities that seem optional may take a back seat during the busy holiday season but, keeping activities in your schedule that make you feel well can be an important part of making good food and social choices. So, do your best to keep your daily walk with the dog, coffee with a friend, or morning meditation in the schedule.
Consider your holiday schedule before you’re overwhelmed.
Choose which events you really want to go to and say no (without guilt) to those you don’t. Feeling rushed, stressed, or overwhelmed can contribute to less than ideal food choices for anyone.
If you need some down time, or time away from people to regenerate, that is OK and is part of self-care.
If you do not have a busy holiday schedule, schedule something pleasant for yourself.
If you are feeling lonely during the holiday season, make sure you schedule something that helps you feel connected. Volunteer at a food bank or the local animal shelter to help boost your spirits and your sense of connectedness.
Don’t forgo regular meals in anticipation of holiday eating.
Showing up to a party hungry can be a recipe for disaster! Being overly hungry has the potential to lead to overeating, binge-eating, and missing the opportunity for a balanced meal.
Plan accordingly. Eat a balanced snack prior to attending a party. This will free you up to talk and take in the atmosphere without hunger in the back of your mind (and stomach!). It may also help prevent overeating the party fare.
If you know you will feel anxious eating at a party, eat a meal prior to the party. Don’t rely on eating a meal in an environment where you know you won’t be comfortable.
If you think a party will mostly present you with desserts and sweets, then plan to eat enough protein, fruits, and vegetables earlier in the day.
Plan who you might talk with and how long you want to stay.
Before you go, think about who else might be at the event and pick out someone you are comfortable talking with. Make an effort to connect with that person.
There are no rules about how long you have to stay at a party. If you start feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable, it is OK to leave. Others might just think you have a busy social schedule and need to get to the next event!
Don’t rely on thoughtful decision making in the moment.
Emotions, distractions, and the presence of other people can all influence food choices in the moment. Try to predict which foods/dishes may be available at a party and plan what you’ll choose ahead of time. Having a plan may lead to more satisfying, enjoyable eating experiences.
Type your plan on a note in your phone and check it before you go to the party. Planning can help you include your favorite dishes and still feel confident in taking care of your body.
Be prepared for surprises. Even though you may plan carefully, you might still encounter food (or people) surprises. Remember to take a moment, and pause before making your choices. Give your mind the opportunity to reset after the surprise so that you can make wise choices.
And lastly, accept that we eat and socialize differently during the holidays than the rest of the year and it is OK to do so.
Our food intake varies naturally, and our bodies are satisfied when our intake is adequate and variable. Even little babies vary how much they eat on any given day, but it all averages out. Holidays are naturally associated with somewhat more and different types of foods. That is natural and part of our culture. Do your best to focus on enjoying friends, family, and activities you enjoy both with and without food!
Just like food, we tend to socialize more during the holidays—with family, friends, and colleagues. It is important that you titrate your socializing to your own comfort level. Enjoy as much as you can, and given that most people have time off of work or school, focus on self-care and rejuvenation during the holiday period. From all of us at CEED, we wish you a joyous and peaceful holiday season.