5 Ways to Nourish a Healthy Relationship with Food During the Holidays

It is very easy for our eating habits to swing out of balance during the holidays.

This season can cause many people to turn to binge eating for comfort, stimulation, and escape. The holidays are very stressful, and deep emotional processing often accompanies the close of the year. Not to mention, there are sugary treats being offered at every turn!

This tendency to overeat and eat emotionally can create a vicious cycle of weight gain, shame, depression, and more binge eating.

On the flip side, individuals that have struggled with body image, weight, or health complications may feel especially pressured to maintain a strict diet. This may cause avoidance of social gatherings, extreme restriction, or bulimic tendencies.

To avoid these damaging dispositions, it is important to invest in your mental health and be kind to your body during this time. Here are five ways to curb disordered eating habits and maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle throughout the holiday season.

1.  Eat intuitively, but with discernment.

In many cases, extreme dieting can cause more stress than it’s worth. If the strict rules around your eating habits are damaging your relationship to yourself, it may be time to reconsider whether these practices are truly improving your lifestyle.

Food is meant to nourish and sustain you. It gives you the energy that you need to comfortably accomplish your various tasks, from working towards your career goals to caring for your family.

Most of the time, your body will develop undesirable symptoms in response to too much of the wrong foods or not enough of the right foods. As well, your cravings usually provide insight into what nutrients your body is needing. Eating intuitively means listening to these cravings and honoring how your body reacts to what you consume.

Be mindful that certain processed foods can have addictive qualities due to the chemical nature of artificial additives. It is important to educate ourselves and use discernment in the process of intuitive eating. If you’re craving french fries, you may want to opt for a more nutrient dense complex carbohydrate such as sweet potatoes or quinoa. If you’re craving sweets, consider snacking on some fruits instead.

Nonetheless, a healthy diet is not a one-size-fits-all model, which is why eating intuitively is more effective at achieving wholesome nutrition than restrictive diets. Don’t write off the entire Christmas dinner because of your goals around health and nutrition. Lovingly monitor how your body responds to each food and consume in moderation.

2.  Make time for mindful check-ins.

Our disordered eating habits tend to be driven by internal struggles that we are failing to acknowledge and address. That is why regular mental health check-ins are a very important practice to maintain a healthy relationship to food.

The holiday season is a very busy time for most people, so it is easy to sweep our thoughts and feelings under the rug. Making time for a daily journaling practice and weekly counseling session can be very effective at helping us avoid toxic habits like compulsive eating. These practices encourage us to be present, unpack what is being triggered, and put these experiences into perspective. Creating this space and awareness often weakens the control that these patterns have over us. This gives us more freedom to make well-rounded and intentional decisions.

3.  Write a love letter to your body.

One of the best ways to override any negative thought patterns or emotions you might have about your body is by writing yourself a love letter.

Our bodies do so much for us every day. The lungs deliver oxygen to our cells, the liver and kidneys filter out toxins, and white blood cells protect us from pathogens without any effort or interference from our conscious mind. Our hands carry out our will, our legs transport us from one place to another, and our tongues allow us to foster connections with others through our speech.

Regardless of the number on the scale, your proportions, and what you did or didn’t eat today, your body deserves appreciation for all of the hard work it is constantly doing just to keep you alive.

4.  Set boundaries with others.

Social pressure and unwarranted commentary from friends or family can often be the origin and main driver of our unhealthy relationship to food. You may find that your loved ones will try to coerce you into eating foods that you’d rather steer clear of, or shame you into eating less than what you would like.

Regardless, no one knows your body better than you do and these exterior voices should not control the decisions you make around food. Setting boundaries with others is a deeply empowering way to show respect to your body. Sometimes this is expressed as simply ignoring these outside influences, but it can also include directly stating that this kind of commentary is hurtful and unacceptable.

5.  Exercise out of love, not shame.

Unfortunately, bullying yourself during exercise as a form of “motivation” is overly normalized in the fitness industry. It is very easy to fall into the trap of only exercising because we dislike our body and desire to change it.

It is also common to use exercise as a form of punishment for compromising our dietary restrictions. Instead, try to set positive intentions for your workout. Choose to exercise because you love your body and want to nurture it. Speak kind and encouraging affirmations to yourself as you go through your routine, instead of emphasizing what you want to be different.

Using a number on the scale as a motivator reinforces the mentality that the way you are now is not good enough. The reality is that your body type does not define you or your worth. You are a whole and complex human being that is deserving of love, care, and respect regardless of what your body looks like.

Offer exercise as a loving gesture to yourself so that you can have more energy, elevate your mood, establish better sleeping habits, and reap the many other benefits that exercise has to offer.

Getting Help

Here at Dr. Messina and Associates, our compassionate team of professionals are qualified to help you at our Flower Mound, Texas, and Southlake, Texas, offices. Our Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Counselors specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychological testing, and medication management for a variety of emotional and behavioral health needs. All services are available in-person and online (telehealth). If you or a loved one are seeking help with mental health, we are here to help.

Dr. Michael Messina

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