Mindful Eating Programs and Training

Mindful Eating Programs and Training

Holiday Eating Challenges

Michelle May


For many of the people I work with, the holidays are the most difficult time of year. Recently, we asked about your top holiday eating challenges on our blog, our public Am I Hungry? Facebook page, and by email. Below is a summary of the challenges you shared.

Your most difficult eating challenges during the holidays

As with your eating challenges year-round, your holiday issues fall in numerous areas.

CHALLENGE: The abundance of food

Many people talked about triggers for eating. Tobi mentioned the “increase in events, parties, and celebrations during the holidays” and Martha said simply, “holiday parties and stress.”

On Facebook, Tabitha commented about the “over supply of food, with not much else to do but eat.” Wendy was difficulty with “portion control in an abundance of food.”

For Jan, it’s the shear number of special foods. “I make all of the classics and even if I try just a small bit of everything, there is just too much food. Then there are my favorites, potatoes and stuffing, which are mainly carbs, so ‘not good.’ I tend to eat more than a small bit of these two things. The third problem is dessert. I can just have a small piece, but on top of everything else, it is a lot.”

Jeffrey pointed out that “the Jewish holidays are always around the corner….including our weekly Sabbath celebrations, which can rival most Thanksgiving spreads. The food celebrations (especially if you combine Jewish, Christian, secular, and National holidays) do not ever subside!”

CHALLENGE: Eating “special” foods in a balanced way

The challenge most often mentioned are the “special holiday foods” (as Martha labeled them) and, as Tamara put it, “The wonderful traditional food expected to be eaten by everyone – including me!”

For John, “the abundance of sweets, fats, cheeses, spreads, alcohol, nuts, etc. that my family makes and/or is spread out at parties… are black diamond slippery slopes covered in love and good wishes.”

For Lorine, “food traditions lead to overeating and snacking on leftovers. We make Italian food that I really don’t want to lighten up.”

Dimple struggled with “all the holiday specific dishes, the ones you get once a year. Our Jain and Hindu holidays are coming soon and it’s hard to resist tradition. My strategy is enjoy the traditional dishes and skip the other stuff that’s available all the time.”

CHALLENGE: Abundance of sweets

Gail, David, and Danielle all identified sweets as their biggest challenge during the holidays. Wendy said it’s the “abundance of sweets that wouldn’t normally be around.”

For Judy, “too many foods that have little nutritional value is challenging for me. This is particularly true for me if they are beautifully displayed. That artistic cookie plate is always a challenge for me. So, I try to study it and choose two or three of the most appealing and enjoy EVERY bite!”

CHALLENGE: Perceived scarcity of special foods

Tobi explained it like this: “Yummy food that people make only seasonally, so feel you have to eat it since you can’t have it again for a year:).” 

Debbie said, “I only get to have these foods once a year, so I need to have them now.” Cindy said her challenge is “not being able to stop eating the special homemade treats that are available during the holiday season.”

Darcy shared that “Thanksgiving is filled with some of my favorite foods that I usually only eat once a year: roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. I have binged (when others aren’t around, of course) on leftover pumpkin pie and whipped cream. How do I eat a normal amount of food and still get to all my favorite foods? And what if I want more because I simply love eating them and won’t eat them again soon?”

Judy said, “Comfort foods I don’t normally prepare, like sage stuffing, is a challenge. I have a killer recipe and fortunately, it freezes well, so instead of eating leftovers for a number of days, I freeze the rest in doable portions for later enjoyment. I live by the knowledge that there will be another day to enjoy the special foods and am pretty good about recognizing my fullness factor. I’ve learned a lot over the years with this program and it has served me well.”

Sherry used to struggle with “once or twice a year holiday foods. When these were served, I would have more than my fill because I enjoy the dish and it is soooo… long until the next time I can have it again. This is no longer a challenge for me. Who said certain foods could only be served for Christmas?”

CHALLENGE: Mindless eating

For Cynthia, the challenge is mindless eating. “…due to jamming too much into the schedule, I’m on autopilot when it comes to eating. Eating becomes one more thing that has to be done. I would love to have a quick getting-centered practice to get into the moment, centering on my hunger and enjoying the meal.”

Jeffrey described his challenge this way: “Being socially present and engaged without the temptation of joining in the food frenzy.”

CHALLENGE: Tasting while cooking and baking

Jano struggles with “snacking and tasting while preparing our meals. Of course, this can happen any time of the year, but holidays are worse because of (more) stress.” Similarly, Linda struggles with “cooking for the events I host and overdoing the tasting of what I’ve made” and Jan struggles with “preparing all the foods and tasting excessively.”

In fact, Lorine felt she had to stop “baking and cooking extra dishes for family and to give to others because I nibble and snack too much on them… but I love to cook and I miss doing it.”

CHALLENGE: “Food pushers”

Sherry said, “Food pushers are relentless!!! I can stand strong for a while but not forever. When I do give in and eat something I didn’t want, I get mad at myself and fall back into the emotional eating trap.”

Sharon says she is eleven years post-op Sleeve and is “looking for a gracious way to discourage friends and family from sending holiday gift packages of “unhealthy” foods, (e.g., See’s Candy, Hickory Farms, Knott’s Berry Farm, etc) year after year. I understand the gifts are given with the best of intentions but I live alone and chose to eliminate these foods from my home years ago.”

John says, “It’s as if you don’t ‘just try ONE’ then you are rebuffing their love offering and gift of kindness! What can be said to decline but still conveys appreciation and kindness and good will back to them?”

CHALLENGE: Stress and busyness

Not surprisingly, stress and busyness also play a role in holiday eating. Wendy said, “At Christmas time, I’m so busy meeting deadlines, keeping track of the comings and goings of my adult kids, and other things that I feel so emotionally drained and deprived that I binge on Christmas day.”

Linda shared that one of her holiday eating challenges is being busy, getting off schedule, being hungry, and eating whatever is offered when she arrives for get-togethers at family and friends’ homes. Lorine agrees: “When I am not on a routine schedule, it’s hard to control eating.” 

Cynthia said, “The stress of the holidays in general are triggering for me. Always focused on someone else, rarely on me. Sneaking in some ‘me time’ is challenging – or never happens.” 

For Wendy, “dealing with extended family dysfunction and demands throughout the holidays makes me want to eat sweets to comfort and soothe myself.”

CHALLENGE: Emotional connections to holiday foods

In addition to the abundance of food and the many opportunities to eat, several people talked about the emotional connections to the holidays. Debbie explained, “Traditions are big in my family. The foods remind me of days as a child when my parents were alive.”

Darcy has a similar challenge. “I struggle with all the emotions of Thanksgiving. This holiday is all about family. I remember happy celebrations when my parents were alive and they invited others to our home. I miss that. Now I wait to get an invitation, then go home alone.”

So what do you do about your holiday eating challenges?

Based on what you shared, we are customizing our Fall Level 1 Mindful Eating Support Community program to help you through this abundance of holiday eating triggers and show you how to resolve your toughest holiday eating challenges.

Click here to learn more!

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