Does the thought of food and eating during the holiday season conjure feelings of pleasure and satisfaction? Anxiety and guilt? A mix of both?
If you struggle with body image and disordered eating (and even if you don’t!), holiday eating can present many challenges to your emotional wellness.
Just as setting boundaries around your time, resources, and emotional energy is essential to navigating the season’s various events and celebrations, maintaining boundaries around holiday eating is key to promoting your emotional wellness.
The best part? It has nothing to do with dieting.
Read on for 5 ways you can practice holiday eating boundaries this season:
1. Visualize your holiday eating.
This may feel silly at first, but simply taking a few moments to picture yourself in a particular situation ahead of time can have a powerful impact on your actual thoughts and behavior in that situation.
Think of an event or celebration you plan to attend this season. Take time to visualize the scene in as much detail as you can. Then ask yourself:
- What can I expect from this situation? How have I felt around food at this event in the past?
- How do I want to feel this time?
- What will I need to think or do differently in order to create more of the feeling I want in this situation?
2. Grant yourself permission.
Does a certain holiday event fill you with worry or dread? Have you experienced hurtful comments or some other mistreatment at this event in the past?
You have permission to skip it.
If some aspect of a situation (whether it’s the timing, the location, the company, or something else) makes you feel unsafe or out of control around food, give yourself permission to opt out this year.
3. Ditch the diet talk.
It’s an irrefutable law of holiday social gatherings: If a group of people are gathered anywhere near food, it’s only a matter of time before diet talk follows:
“I know I shouldn’t, but these look sinfully delicious…”
“I’m so bad… oh well, the diet starts tomorrow!”
“Yikes, do you know how many carbs are in that?”
“I’m not eating ____ this month. I’m trying to lose _____ pounds before our trip.”
“My New Year’s resolution is always the same: Get this weight off!”
If you struggle with body image or eating concerns, banter like this can be painful and even trigger dangerous behaviors. And even if you tend to enjoy a healthy relationship with your body, these comments still may be irritating and stressful.
So, when you find yourself suddenly surrounded by diet talk?
Know that you have options:
- You can choose not to participate in it.
- You can practice positive self-talk (e.g., “That’s for them, not for me.”)
- You can change the subject.
- You can simply walk away.
4. Honor your hunger (and fullness).
Are you still hungry after your plate is clean?
Are you too stuffed (or just not interested) to try a slice of Auntie’s pie?
Are you eager to pile on the mashed potatoes?
Are you hoping to leave the party without a plate of leftovers?
You’re the ultimate authority on your own body and your holiday eating choices are entirely up to you.
This is not the time to entertain unsolicited advice or input from friends or family. It’s not the time to deny what your body is telling you, or try to wrangle your tastes into submission.
It’s a time to relax, to celebrate, and to enjoy.
So, remember: It’s your call…
- …which foods go on your plate
- …how much of each food you eat
- …whether or not you go back for “seconds” (or “thirds”…)
- …whether or not you comment on your own food choices
- …whether or not you will tolerate others’ comments on your food choices
- …how much fullness you are comfortable with
- …if and when you want to say “no”
5. Focus on the company.
Our minds crave simplicity, and left unchecked we can easily adopt a sort of tunnel vision at holiday gatherings.
Food can be a wonderful part of the festivities. But it’s not the only part.
By focusing on the people around you, you can drain some of the power from holiday eating and food choices. It’s hard to worry too much about the food on your plate (or the comments in the buffet line) when you’re being mindful of the company you’re keeping.
Is there a loved one at the party you rarely see?
Or a friend who’s been going through a challenging time?
Take a moment to pause, feel gratitude for the relationships in your life, and offer one of the greatest gifts you can give at the holidays (or any time of year):
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Ready to connect with a therapist for help with holiday boundary setting?