Binge Eating: How to Nourish Yourself This Holiday Season

binge eating. Illustration of female body.

Are you struggling with binge eating disorder? Are you anxious about all of the food coming up this holiday season? If you’re like so many other binge and emotional eaters, your intentions are to be “good” and avoid the holiday treats. But, as years past have proven, when the day comes and the food is right there, you find yourself unable to resist it. The cookies start calling your name, the stuffing looks divine, and next thing you know you’re uncomfortably full and beating yourself up for doing the very thing you told yourself you weren’t going to do. Sound familiar?

We all know restrictive diets don’t work to curb binge eating and overeating (especially this time of year). So, what can you do instead? The following are very specific things you can do to make this holiday season an emotional, nutritional, and physical delight.

Emotional Nourishment this Holiday Season

Diets don’t work in large part because they do not address the emotional reasons why we eat when we’re not hungry. Thus, lasting recovery from binge and emotional eating requires attention to your emotional and psychological well-being as it relates to your relationship with food. This includes understanding the emotions that you are covering up with food and what triggers these particular emotions.

To nurture your emotional health during the holiday season, follow these 3 tips:

1. Prepare for stressors

What do you anticipate will cause you anxiety, distress, or discomfort this holiday season? Take time to write down each stressor you can anticipate. It may help to look at your calendar and see what events you have coming up and who you anticipate seeing. Perhaps you are anxious about attending a work party, having to talk with a certain family member at Thanksgiving dinner, or waking up on Christmas morning all alone.

Once you have identified the specific stressors, develop an action plan for each item in which you list how you can effectively eliminate or minimize this stressor. Be specific about how you can navigate each situation in a way that leaves you feeling more comfortable and confident.

2. Focus on the festivities, not the food

People struggling with binge eating often feel very excited about the food this time of year. However, our best memories rarely include what we ate; rather, we remember who we’re with and how we feel. So, this holiday season, activate your five senses and mindfully focus your attention on the following:

  • The people you are spending time with
  • The activities you are doing
  • The conversations you are engaged in
  • The festive, colorful decorations around you
  • The joyful sounds around you (e.g., music, laughter, conversation)

3. Ask yourself why you’re eating

We eat for many reasons, and when you’re wanting to stop binge and emotional eating it’s important to become aware of why you are choosing to eat something. The three most common reasons we eat are:

  • Hunger
  • Emotions
  • Presence of food

If you’re eating because you’re feeling strong emotions, it’s important to identify what you’re really hungry for. Challenge yourself to write down what you’re feeling, why you’re feeling it, and what you need to feel better. Rather than stuffing the feelings down with food, be open to them and work through them ~ in the long run this feels better than any binge!

If you’re eating because the food is just there, distract yourself with another activity. Leave the room and get yourself busy with something else. If this food is at home, put it out of sight so you are not visually triggered.  

You might also be interested in hearing more about why you binge eat and how to stop:

Nutritional Nourishment this Holiday Season

Another reason diets don’t work is that they only tell you what to eat; they don’t teach you how to nourish your body. Thus, lasting recovery from binge and emotional eating also requires knowledge of the science of nutrition and how food actually works in your body. This knowledge helps you feel empowered in the kitchen, at the table, and at the grocery store.

To nurture your nutritional health during the holiday season, follow these 3 tips:

1. Eat until you’re satisfied

Many of our holiday celebrations center around special foods ~ traditional meals, seasonal desserts, and endless leftovers. While it may be tempting to stuff yourself with all of this food that is seemingly reserved only for this time of year, you also know how uncomfortable you feel when the season comes to an end. To help you stop eating when you’re comfortably satisfied (not full or stuffed), remember these two key things:

You can always have more later. Avoid the “last supper” mentality by giving yourself permission to eat this food again later. If you know this isn’t your last chance, you’re much more likely to stop when you’re satisfied.

You can make this food anytime. Truthfully, all of these seasonal treats can be prepared anytime. Love Thanksgiving stuffing? You can make it in July. Love Grandma’s shortbread cookies? Get the recipe and make a batch in spring. It’s just food and you can enjoy it any time of year.

2. Don’t go hungry

Many binge eaters may avoid eating before a holiday party or gathering for a multitude of reasons (e.g., anticipate eating too much so “saving up” calories, want to look less bloated/thinner). This strategy of starvation is a guaranteed trigger for bingeing and will surely fuel the vicious diet-binge-diet cycle.

Instead, follow your regular meal schedule regardless of what parties or events you may be attending later. For example, if Thanksgiving dinner is scheduled for 4:00, eat as you normally would until then. Avoid skipping meals in anticipation of later meals.

Additionally, always carry snacks with you so that you don’t show up starving, ready to eat anything in sight. Convenient snacks like nuts, fruit, yogurt, and protein bars are a great way to avoid later bingeing on appetizers and treats.

3. Set boundaries with people and their food

A common frustration for people working on recovery from binge and emotional eating is the unwanted influx of food from others. Perhaps Grandma insists you take home one of her homemade pumpkin pies or your boss gifts you with a big tin of chocolate truffles. Maybe you don’t really want this food but you also don’t want to be rude. Here’s how to handle these situations effectively and politely:

  • Get comfortable saying, “No, thank you.” It is ok to say No. Respect your body enough to only fill it with foods you do want and like.
  • Give the food away. Graciously accept the food and then find a new home for it. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, and soup kitchens are all great candidates for enjoying your treats.
  • Throw the food away. Graciously accept the food and then throw it away when you get home. While this may seem rude, remember that you do not need to put food in your body that you do not want or like. Your body is not a trash can, so don’t treat it like one.

Physical Nourishment this Holiday Season

Yet another reason diets don’t work is that when exercise is incorporated, it tends to be intense, rigid, and focused on weight loss/management. As soon as you feel tired after a long day, emotionally overwhelmed, or uncomfortable in your own body, exercise tends to be the first thing to go.

Instead of punitive exercise, take a different approach to exercise called “Intuitive Movement.” This is all about making exercise both effective and enjoyable. Rather than focusing on losing weight, focus on gaining confidence, strength, clarity, and soul-full energy.

To nurture your physical health during the holiday season, follow these 3 tips:

1. Sign up for a holiday walk/run

Many cities host fun holiday walks, runs, and hikes. From Turkey Trots to Jingle Bell Runs, you can have a blast moving with other like-minded folks. Sign up with friends or family, and make it a fun time for all.

2. Gift yourself with an exercise class

Is there a gentle exercise class you’ve always wanted to try? Maybe a yoga class? ‘Tis the season of giving, so give yourself the gift of a class. Many places offer a free first class or week of classes, and many social coupon sites (e.g., Groupon, LivingSocial) offer steep discounts for first-timers. If you’re nervous about going alone, find a friend to sign up with you so you can go together. This changes the dialogue from, “I have to work out” to “I get to have fun with my friend.”

3. Walk around holiday events

When planning holiday activities, think about how you can sneak in extra walking or physical movement. For example, instead of taking the family to a holiday movie, attend a holiday festival and walk around while enjoying the entertainment. And instead of buying all your gifts online, find an arts and crafts show where you can walk around while checking off your gift list. Opportunities for walking are all around us, so keep it in mind when planning activities and you may be pleasantly surprised how active you can be without “exercising.”

Want to know why you binge eat and how to stop? Tune in to this episode:

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