By Laurel Flagg, Wellspace Functional Nutritionist + Health Coach
The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year as we spend time with loved ones, take a break from our work, destress, and meditate on things and people that we are grateful for. However for those of us who experience stress or the occasional anxiety around food, the holidays can be a stressful time. With so many temptations to overeat or indulge in holiday sweets, , there can be a deep and true sense of feeling out of control of our normal day-to-day eating. Although our first reaction may be to put more rules in place in an attempt to gain more control, I encourage you to take a step back and allow yourself to relax into meaningful, practical, and helpful steps to have a healthier relationship to food during the holiday season. These steps will help you let go and enjoy the moment, while finding greater emotional balance with each and every bite of food. With an open heart and mind, try out one or a few of these steps so you spend less time worrying about food and more time focused on the important people in your life this holiday season.
#1 Give Alertness to Hunger and Thirst Cues
This is a great step to follow each and every day, and it is a great way to check in with yourself during holiday eating. When food is always around and the cooking is nonstop (plus don’t get me started on the delicious smells), it can be very easy to overindulge. Of course it’s okay to splurge a little more during the holiday season (and I highly encourage you to), but equally check in with your thirst and hunger cues to make sure you are truly hungry when you do eat. This way you’ll also keep your blood sugar levels stabilized and your hunger cues optimized. The physical crash and burn during the holidays is real, my friends, so be gentle on your body by paying attention to what it truly needs. This will help us feel more energized and mood supported throughout the day with less room for guilt or regrets later down the road. A little hunger self-reflection a couple times a day can support our health in a number of ways this holiday season.
*And don’t forget to stay hydrated with water (not alcohol, wink wink)!
#2 Practice Eating Mindfully and Settle into Positive Affirmations
Mindful eating has been quite the nutrition buzz lately, and righteously so. Mindful eating is the practice of taking a pause while eating a meal to acknowledge each bite with gratitude and appreciation for it. It is about slowing down, chewing our food appropriately, and giving ourselves time to check in with ourselves before indulging in another bite. For myself, this has always been my biggest challenge in my health journey because I grew up with four brothers and if I wanted any food, I had to fight for it and eat fast! So if this resonates with you, I feel for you!
During the holiday season, it’s easy to take bite after bite without checking in with how we feel or how fast we may be eating. It may derail us from listening to hunger cues (ahem, step 1) or result in overeating and not feeling so great afterwards. The gentle act of slowing down and becoming more mindful can support physical and emotional eating by allowing ourselves to be more present with the food in front of us. As we eat each bite, we can do a physical check-in to see how full we are so that we feel satisfied rather than stuffed. Emotionally, let us also direct focus to our self-talk. For individuals with more stress around food, I encourage you to pay attention to the words that elicit negative feelings around food. With that awareness, you can begin to change your perspective to view your food as nourishing and healing. It is with this gentle change in perspective that begins the truest transformation of having a healthy relationship to food.
Repeat after me, food is love…
#3 Eat Normally Before a Big Holiday Meal
The big day is here and it can be tempting to refrain from eating for the entire day leading up to the meal, but maintaining normalcy with your eating habits will support blood sugar balance and help prevent overeating. Restriction from eating may increase our propensity to spiral and overindulge. When we give ourselves permission to eat like we normally would throughout the day, we will have the emotional capacity and mental clarity to be more present with our larger holiday meal and we will conclude the meal with less guilt and a greater sense of satisfaction and gratitude.
#4 Have Fun Trying New Foods and Relax into the Moment
For those of us that experience stress around trying new foods and sticking to our health rules, bending the rules to enjoy more holiday indulgent foods can be anxiety and stress provoking. When working with clients that have a hard time going outside of their food “rulebook” (as I like to call it) I encourage them to relax into the moment and reflect on the shift in perspective toward positive affirmations around food. Rules create a lot of stressful do’s and don’ts of eating. However, breathing into the moment and giving ourselves permission to enjoy the moment will create a biological response in the body that promotes a “rest and digest” state rather than “flight or fight”. A body in fight or flight is stressed regardless of whether the person eats healthy or unhealthy foods. Therefore, give yourself permission to try new foods and relax into the moment to promote a healthy mental and emotional response to your holiday eating. I can promise you that a stress-free body and mind will be far more supportive to your health this holiday season than ongoing inner turmoil.
#5 Focus Less on Food and More on Your Values
Why does a family or group of friends come together during the holiday season? Of course, there is delicious and indulgent food, but more importantly this can be a time to give thanks and celebrate the love around us and within our lives. Find your deeper meaning as you enjoy this time with your loved ones and share a beautiful meal with one another. When we give ourselves permission to find the deeper meanings within these shared experiences, we can recognize that the food we eat is an expression of love and gratitude. And when we focus on that love, everything else will begin to fall into place.
Laurel takes a holistic and whole foods approach to help individuals realize their health potential under the philosophy that food is medicine. If you’re interested in working with Laurel, contact us at email@example.com or 415-632-1010. Wishing you all a joyful holiday season – we are wholeheartedly grateful for you!