How to Have a Stress-Free Holiday Eating Experience

I share a variation of this post on how to have a stress-free holiday eating experience almost every year. I figure it’s worth updating and re-sharing because I know it’s something that’s on some of your minds right now, what with the month of December being a whirlwind of holiday parties, dinners, cookie swaps, etc.

So – how do you enjoy the holidays in a way that embraces the deliciousness of the meals/parties but also leaves you feeling good, both physically and mentally? How can the holiday eating experience be joyful, not stressful?

So many websites and magazine articles tell us how to avoid this and deny ourselves that around the holidays, turning situations that should be fun into stressful internal battles of will. I saw a couple blog posts recently recommending things like “weigh yourself every day!” or “wear your tightest clothes so you will be uncomfortable and won’t eat much!” or “avoid anything with cream!” or “only make/bring food you hate!”

Seriously?! This is the advice being given out now? All things that will make people feel extremely guilty, unhappy in their bodies, and like food is the enemy? That makes me really sad. (See also: Why You Should Throw Away Your Scale)

So – to counteract that advice, here are a few of my tips for enjoying what the holiday season has to offer food and drink wise – without stressing yourself out, feeling guilty, or waking up with sugar or alcohol hangovers.

How to Have a Stress-Free Holiday Eating Experience

1) Place nothing off limits.

Yes. I realize this is counter to most of the advice out there.

But for the mindful and intuitive eating approach to work, you have to truly allow yourself to have whatever you want, and without guilt.

When a food is off limits it becomes MUCH more appealing. And if guilt is involved and you DO end up eating that food, the “screw it, I’ve already had a bite and ruined everything so I’m going to eat the entire party and have a thousand cocktails” mentality appears.

Give yourself permission to get pleasure from food. It’s okay! Food is supposed to be fun, not stressful. Remember?

That said…

2) Don’t ever go to a cocktail party or arrive at a holiday dinner absolutely starving.

I know a lot of people try to “save up” all day before a big holiday meal or cocktail party – eating a super light breakfast and lunch and no snacks to try to cancel out the calories that they’ll be consuming that evening.

Friends: this approach is a terrible idea.

It’s impossible to make sound eating decisions when you’re absolutely ravenous – and potentially even worse, you don’t enjoy the food/drink you’re indulging in because you’re too hungry to eat slowly and pay attention. Going to a holiday party or dinner starved is a sure fire way to end up uncomfortably full.

The day of a holiday party or dinner, I eat normally, but especially focus on high quality foods – lots of veggies, protein, healthy fat, and unprocessed grains. If I know I’m going somewhere where there will be a lot of appetizers but not a full dinner, I make sure to have a little something to eat right beforehand – usually something with veggies and protein to fill me up a little, like a small salad with chicken or beans or some veggies with hummus or guacamole. That way, I can arrive at the party/dinner calm, and then…

3) Assess which indulgences are really worth it and stay checked in while you eat.

When you arrive at a party (or buffet-style dinner), first, do a lap – what’s there? What are your options?

Then, ask yourself whether the food or drink that you’re considering enjoying is something that will be really worth it.

This does not at all mean that guilt should come into the equation or that we should be assessing options based on calories. Rather, are you thinking of eating/drinking whatever it is because you will really enjoy it/it will enhance whatever experience you’re having, or just because it’s there?

Not being completely ravenous per #2 will help a lot with taking time to assess your options and picking only favorites to enjoy.

Too often we indulge not because we really want to but because we’re on autopilot or feeling awkward and just want something to do with our hands. It’s easy to mindlessly eat and drink at holiday gatherings, and simply stopping and checking in goes a long way. I’ve had clients tell me that when they actually started to pay attention to what they were eating or drinking, they realized they didn’t even like it – or that just a few bites was perfect.

Indulging in food is one of life’s greatest pleasures – but make sure what you’re having is actually something you enjoy, and that you’re not just having it just because you’re bored/distracted/uncomfortable.

And by all means – if you find you don’t love something as much as you thought you would, don’t finish it!

4) Stop when you are satisfied, not overfull.

This is another place where being mindful and really checking in with your body is important. You can’t tell if you are satisfied/don’t need any more if you aren’t paying any attention, or if you are eating too quickly, right?

The key here is to eat slowwwwwly. As you are eating (or drinking), take frequent pauses. To help with this, physically set down your silverware, plate, or drink and take a deep breath. Check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Do you want more? Are you just having more because it’s there? Is your stomach starting to get full? Are you thirsty for water vs. another cocktail?

Give your body time to catch up by taking these pauses and checking in with yourself.

If you’re eating something really delicious, it’s even more important to slow down, so that you are fully experiencing it! If you really want more of anything, you can always go back for more, but sit and wait it out to give your body a chance to catch up.

Making sure you have some veggies/salad on your plate will help with feeling satisfied before you are stuffed, too. 🙂

Finally, if you do overindulge – forgive yourself.

There’s no point beating yourself up for something that has already happened. Learn from the experience, and take that knowledge as a reminder to be more mindful next time. You’ve got this!

What are your best tips for a positive and stress-free holiday eating experience?

p.s. If you enjoyed this post, you might also find these helpful:

  • How to Eat Intuitively – A Guide to Mindful Eating
  • How to Get Rid of Sugar Cravings
  • Because Being Healthy Means Not ALWAYS Being Healthy
  • How to Stay Active While Traveling During the Holidays
  • Why You Should Throw Away Your Scale

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