5 Ways to Stop Emotional Eating Ruining Your Holidays

5 Ways to Stop Emotional Eating Ruining Your Holidays

Written by Tansy Boggon
Author and Nutritionist
IG: tansy_joyfuleating

The holiday season can be a time of much joy but also commitments, expectations and emotions. We are often out of our regular routine during the holidays and exposed to foods we aren’t throughout the year. 

If, in past years, you have found yourself reaching for food simply because it is there or to push down feelings that bubble up, you may fear overeating or that your eating will spiral out of control. It is not uncommon to fear that emotional eating will ruin your holidays. But it doesn’t have to.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is when our primary reason for eating is our mood rather than physical hunger. Eating for emotional reasons is normal occasionally, such as to comfort, reward or distract ourselves.

However, emotional eating can become a concern if eating is our only or primary way to cope with our emotions. Or our eating feels out of control, and we can’t stop eating when we feel emotional. 

If emotional eating concerns you, below are five ways to stop emotional eating from ruining your holidays.

1: Acknowledge that emotional eating is normal

There is power in diminishing the enormity of emotional eating. When we feel immense guilt and shame for our eating, it can increase the emotional charge and consequently perpetuate more emotional eating, thus keeping us stuck in a vicious cycle.

However, when we recognise that occasional emotional eating is normal or possibly the healthiest, easiest or only way to deal with our emotions (especially as we begin to heal our relationship with food), we can start investigating our eating with gentle curiosity.

As the Carl Jung quote says,​ “What you resist persists”. Acceptance is the first step in transforming your relationship with food.

2: Investigate your emotional eating with curiosity

With an acceptance that you have emotionally eaten and can’t change it in this moment (you can’t change the past, even if only five minutes ago), try to explore with curiosity the reasons for your eating.

Try asking yourself, “Why am I eating? Why am I eating mindlessly or beyond my fullness? What emotion am I feeling right now? Is food what I need?”

You may find it helpful to journal these questions so that it becomes more automatic in the moment to ask yourself why you are eating. 

When you journal these questions, do so as if witnessing your eating and your reasons for eating as an external observer without judgment or placing moral value on your eating.

The intention is to become more aware of the emotions that lead to your eating. So that you can then explore and work with these emotions.

3: Show yourself self-compassion

With a greater awareness of the emotions that lead to what feels like uncontrollable or undesirable eating, you can begin to consider other ways to deal with your emotions without using food.

Not that the occasional emotional eating is a problem. But when you no longer see it as a problem but with curiosity, you can begin to explore what you truly need. 

Notice the emotion you are feeling, such as nervousness, sadness, loneliness or boredom, and then ask yourself, "What do I truly need now if I am not hungry?"

By exploring what you need, you can better equip yourself with tools and strategies to support you when you feel certain emotions. It could be time on your own for a cup of tea in the sun, journaling, doing yoga, taking a bath or engaging in a flow activity that absorbs your full attention so time and thought melt away.

Journaling your emotional reasons for eating and then writing what would help you when you feel these emotions in the future can help break the cycle of destructive emotional eating. The intention is not to force a change your eating behavior but to be more aware, curious and explorative toward how you relate to food.

4: Don’t let diet rules trip you up

It is impossible to embrace the moment with impartial curiosity when our eating is shrouded by food rules that stem from diet culture or our perception of what is healthy or unhealthy—what we should or should not be eating. 

Further, thinking It’s only Christmas once a year, I will control or restrict my diet tomorrow, or in the New Year, do more to perpetuate overeating and out-of-control eating during the holidays. This thinking can cause us to eat in anticipation of future restriction.

Ditching diet mentality [download Free book chapter: Debunk the Diet Myth] and embracing a more intuitive and joyful relationship with food can support us in enjoying food in a balanced way. It can take time. However, identifying your diet rules and exploring how they serve or sabotage you is a great place to start. 

5: Eat mindfully and enjoy your holiday eating

Eating frequent meals and snacks can prevent extreme levels of hunger that may perpetuate emotional eating. However, this strategy can be used as an attempt to control your eating—to eat less or eat healthier. 

Mindful eating is not about trying to control your eating but to honor your hunger and fullness without judgment and bring your full awareness to whatever you choose to eat.

So, whatever you choose to eat this holiday season, enjoy it. Tune into the sensory experience of eating: the sight, smell, taste and sensations of eating.

Savor the moment without guilt and shame.

Guilt and shame do more to take you out of the moment. However, guilt and shame do little to change anything in the moment except diminish the joy you experience.

And the holiday season is a time to embrace joy. 


Written by Tansy Boggon

Tansy is an author and nutritionist specializing in a non-diet and mindful eating approach. She is the author of Joyful Eating: How to Break Free of Diets and Make Peace with Your Body.

You can read more of Tansy’s blogs or find out about her other books at www.joyfuleatingnutrition.com
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