How to Gain Control over Emotional Eating during the Holidays

4929657439_a038df47b7Halloween is over, and thanks to the over-zealous decorators at Macyʼs and other retailers, that means Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. So, we start thinking about holiday shopping, travel plans, and the big one…Food. I decided to Google “holiday eating,” and got link after link to “helpful” websites that listed tips on how to fight emotional eating, how to cook lighter, and how to avoid overindulging during big holiday meals. According to my Google search page, holiday eating is a challenge, a burden, and an activity that when done correctly, is ridden with guilt. These sites say that we need to be ashamed of enjoying holiday foods, and that if we get happy at the prospect of figgy pudding, we are weak. Simultaneously, every photo displays indulgent and extravagant meals that Martha Stewart expects us to prepare this holiday season. You know, the same website that is coaching us to avoid big holiday meals like the plague.

The mixed messages are intense, but one thing is clear throughout: Emotional Eating is the “Dieterʼs Nightmare,” the big hurdle to overcome, the ultimate battle in the war we call The Holiday Season (cue screams.) I think that is totally ridiculous. Emotions are not bad things. Eating is not a bad thing. But put the two words together and it strikes fear into our hearts and stomachs. Letʼs look at what emotional eating really is, and how it might not be such a horrible thing after all.

Emotions are not bad things. Eating is not a bad thing. But put the two words together and it strikes fear into our hearts and stomachs.

Emotional Eating is an attempt to satisfy an emotional need using our taste buds. We use our senses to satisfy needs all the time. We use aromatherapy candles to help calm us down after a hard day, we watch sappy movies to get that cathartic cry going, we listen to music when we want to dance or have fun. The list is endless. But the media tells us our sense of taste is to be ignored and shamed, that if we use it for any emotional need, we are flawed. Letʼs be honest. Food is enjoyable. There. I said it. If it wasn’t Thanksgiving dinner would be sitting around a fire eating freeze-dried Astronaut food, popping multivitamins, and calling it a day. Sure, you can probably survive that way, but do you really want to?

During the holidays, emotions can run high, especially when you have lost a loved one, and sometimes food can be a strong link to memories. If your family is missing Grandma this year, and you make her famous pecan pie recipe as a way to honor her at your holiday meal, is that such a horrible thing? What if you have a piece of that pie? Cardinal sin? Of course not. It’s just one way to bring back a part of Grandma for a few moments, and to know that she would have loved the sight of her famous pie being enjoyed by her family, even in her absence. Honoring Grandma with that low-cal cranberry relish just wouldnʼt cut it.

There is a temptation to use food as the main source of comfort during stressful times, or to use a “successful,” restrictive diet as a source of happiness or control. When stressed, you should focus on what emotional need you are trying to satisfy. Grieving Grandma by eating an entire pecan pie wonʼt fill your long-term need to mourn your grandmother. You need to engage more than just your sense of taste. Talk about her. Share memories of her. Look through old pictures and cry if you need to. Wear one of her crazy hats, her perfume, or a pair of her earrings, so you can have little reminders of her throughout the day. And enjoy the pie that was made in her memory.

Make your new year’s resolution to take care of your emotional needs, not to lose those five pounds.

There is no reason to feel guilty for that. If you do end up having the whole pie, it isnʼt a crime to chastise yourself over. Instead of feeling ashamed and punishing yourself with an unpleasant, early morning at the gym, perhaps your time would be better spent looking at why you ate the entire pie. Start the next day with a goal to take care of your emotional needs first. You need comfort and support, not punishment and deprivation.

This year, instead of researching recipes for the perfect low-carb turkey stuffing, or focusing on utilizing that new gym membership come January 1st, try to go easy on yourself. Make your new year’s resolution to take care of your emotional needs, not to lose those five pounds. It might be a better use of your time. If you really need someone to punish during the holidays (since you wonʼt be beating up on yourself), perhaps you can work on an angry letter to the guy who sets up the Christmas trees at Macyʼs in October.