How to Navigate Holiday Food Anxiety
When you struggle with your relationship with food or have struggled with it in the past, holidays like Thanksgiving can bring up many mixed emotions. The holidays may make us think about joyful gatherings with loved ones and bring up anxiety about all of the food we will be surrounded by and the food talk that will go with it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the upcoming holidays and worried about how to celebrate while honoring your healing relationship with food, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Don't skip meals/restrict in the days or meals before. For many people, restriction leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday is the only way they know how to celebrate. Skipping meals or limiting your intake before a holiday meal sets you up for feeling out of control around all the food at the big meal. When we go into a meal overly hungry, we’re more likely to eat quickly and past the point of comfort. We’re also less likely to enjoy the food because our body is so focused on replenishing its fuel we can’t focus on the flavors, textures, and aromas of the moment.
Utilize leftovers! One of the things that makes Thanksgiving so scary and overwhelming is there are usually at least one or two foods that we enjoy that we don’t typically eat outside of that one day. Food scarcity (whether circumstantial, lack of resources, or self-imposed) creates an increased desire for that food and puts us in the mindset that we need to enjoy it as much as possible when food is available. If you create opportunities to have holiday food that you love outside of that one meal, whether through testing a recipe beforehand or taking home leftovers, it decreases some of the power the scarcity holds.
Be mindful of the eating experience. By doing the first two things, you make it easier to do this one. Going into a meal with pleasant hunger levels and knowing that the foods you enjoy will be available to you again later allows you to be present in the moment. Notice the flavors on your tongue, the plate’s visual appearance, and the sounds and aroma in the room. Food is a way for us to connect and gather together, especially in these times of more distant connection. Maybe you and some loved ones enjoy similar dishes over Zoom or breaking bread outside from a safe distance. When you’re able to be present going into the meal, you get to enjoy more than just the food on your plate.
Practice self-compassion. You might eat more than a typical meal. You might feel a bit uncomfortable. Discomfort after a meal can be triggering after recovery from an eating disorder. It might remind you of past behaviors or bring up some mean body image thoughts. Remember that your body knows what to do with the food you give it, and the discomfort will pass. Have a self-care plan in place before the holiday starts, so you know what skills to use in moments of potential discomfort. For example, after a meal is a great time to catch up with the people you shared food with or video chat with those who couldn’t be present in person.
No matter what happens, remember that no one meal or day has the power to negate all the work you’ve done, healing your relationship with food. If you feel like you slip up or choose that doesn’t feel right, take a deep breath, and make the next right choice.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season, and remember to be kind to yourself,