As we head into the end-of-the-year holidays, you may be strategizing for all the holiday parties, family meals, work engagements, and friend get-togethers. Remember, there are 93 meals in the month of December, so treating yourself to a social event surrounding food will not derail you in the way we think of during the holidays.

1. Don’t deprive yourself, skip meals, or punish yourself with exercise.

The underlying theme of these strategies is shame. These types of behaviors encourage disordered thinking and behavioral patterns surrounding food. If you deprive yourself, your temptation to eat will start a shame cycle—“I shouldn’t eat this. If I do that means X (i.e. I’m out of control, I have no will power, I can’t be trusted)”. The reality is food is tasty, it holds memories for us, and it feeds the part of our brain that regulates pleasure. Don’t skip meals to “make up” for later calories. This will most likely result in eating more food than planned. And lastly, don’t punish yourself with exercise. We have all seen those images with the amount of exercise we need to “earn the treat”. Again, this continues the shame cycle—“only good people who exercise get the treat”. You don’t have to earn treats, you can walk or not, or eat the doughnut or not, but you don’t have to “earn” it.

2. Pace yourself and stay mindful.

The slower you eat the more you can enjoy the food. Mindful eating consists of really savoring the bites you take, tasting the food, and enjoying the process. Sometimes, particularly when we are very hungry, our brain takes a moment to catch up to the fact that we aren’t hungry anymore. This leads to overeating. So take a little bit of everything you want, really taste the food you are eating, and enjoy yourself! Have you ever noticed how easy it is to eat an entire container of anything while you watch TV at night? The same applies with holiday eating. If you are sitting at the snack table chatting with friends, you are more likely to mindlessly eat the snacks, versus if you looked at the snacks, chose what you really liked and wanted, and then mindfully ate those snacks. You will be less likely to overeat and more likely to feel mastery over the situation and feel less shame surrounding eating.

3. Bring a dish.

When you are not sure what your options will be, particularly if you have dietary needs that might leave you with few choices, bring your favorite dish. Being prepared can help you feel more in control of your eating options. Often we can’t choose what food is being prepared or presented. If you bring a dish, you can pick something you know will be filling or satisfying so it can be your main dish, while everything else is merely taste-size portions.

4. Watch the alcohol.

Be careful with alcohol use. After the first glass you are more likely to not make the best food decisions. Be sure to eat first and then drink as alcohol can hit you fast and cloud your judgment, especially on an empty stomach. Alcohol is more likely to cause you to overeat or make different food choices than when you’re sober. Also, alcohol is not calorie-free! It can be loaded with calories and its nutritional facts are usually hard to find, leading to less than well-informed choices. Alcohol might also bring up stronger feelings surrounding family dysfunction, relationship problems, or stress in general. It can increase tension and the holidays are stressful enough sober!

5. Don’t feel you have to be a part of the clean plate club.

Take a little bit of everything, but if you taste it and it’s not what you thought or not all that tasty, don’t finish it. If you’re in a culture or family where it is rude not to take a little bit of everything, including Aunt Betty’s aspic or your grandmother’s ambrosia fruit salad (with marshmallows and mayonnaise), take a little but don’t feel obligated to finish it. Often when we don’t make a big deal about it, no one will even notice. You can offer to clear the table or take your own plate to the sink.

The holidays can be a tough time for many reasons. Don’t make food one of them. Just remember—no shame, be mindful, and have fun. Happy holidays!

Interested in more wellness counseling? Call 407-644-7671 to schedule an appointment with a JFS counselor today! Medicare, Medicaid and almost all commercial insurances are accepted. In addition, we’re one of the few remaining agencies in Central Florida that operates on a sliding fee scale (as low as $55 per session) for those who do not have insurance or have an insurance we do not accept.


Author: Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, LCSW
Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, LCSW is the Clinical Director and a licensed clinical social worker at JFS Orlando. Ashlyn has worked in a variety of settings including outpatient community based mental health, inpatient/admission psychiatric hospital, substance abuse/DUI, dialysis/medical, and in home/office outpatient therapy.