Christmas can bring food anxiety for many.
This is despite the cheerful atmosphere, the calming warm lights and the decide to get together to share what many consider one of the most important family dinners of the year.
In the context of this article, when I talk about food anxiety at the Christmas table, I refer to:
- The fear of losing control and eat until your body feels very uncomfortable,
- The worry of gaining weight,
- The chance of being seen, monitored, or judged for eating specific foods by the ones sitting with you at the table,
- You coming to that table with very high expectations on how you’d like yourself to be eating or not eating.
So here is an article with 5 tips on how to handle food anxiety at Christmas.
These tips are created specifically around the fears I (and many other women I’ve worked with) happened to experience any time of the year, but with heightened intensity during the festive season.
1. Arrive to Christmas day as rested as you can.
Feeling tired, exhausted, overloaded can increase the sensation of hunger. It might also make you feel negative about your body or overly critical about the food you are going to choose at the Christmas table.
What you want to aim for is creating a relaxed state for both your mind and your body on the days leading to Christmas.
Creating a calm state can look like:
- Sleeping enough during the night,
- Taking naps during the day if you are off work for the holidays,
- Practicing short moments of meditation/deep breathing on the days before Christmas,
- Reducing your sensory overload by taking a break from social media, news, crowded places like shopping centres,
- Increasing the creative space by spending a few hours doing something that stimulates your creativity and brings you to a state of flow (which, by the way, could be as simple as taking a piece of paper and drawing or doodling something Christmassy with your kids!).
Really anything that works for you to promote rest and clearing the mental space.
2. Don’t put your body in “starving” mode before Christmas dinner.
As you prepare to sit at the dinner table, remember that for your body it’s easier to recognise you’re full if you are rested and calm (remember tip #1) but also if you begin to eat when you are comfortably hungry, not when you are literally starving or feeling super ravenous.
When you restrict your food in anticipation for what you are going to eat on the big day, what you are doing is basically putting your body into a state of great deprivation (very true, especially if your body went through several diets in the past).
Your body will sniff ‘famine’ and will act accordingly. How? By increasing your hunger so as to prepare to deal with that ‘famine’, which we both know it’s (thank God) not a real one.
Just the body doesn’t know that and will ask you to eat even more. If you are interested to know more about this, that’s known as The Last supper syndrome, have a look at this article.
3. Don’t set rules on what you are going to eat.
This used to be an oldie but goldie for me.
Before Christmas dinner, I liked fantasising on how many slices of this and serving of that I would stick to. To be good and don’t screw everything up.
“I’m only going to only eat a tiny portion of just two starters, otherwise I’ll get to the lasagna (main course at many Italian tables at Christmas) already too full and then I need to leave space for a bit of Panettone, so I’ll just skip whatever second course will be there.”
Beware of these thoughts in your mind in anticipation of the Christmas dinner. If you notice them, you’re already doing yourself a favour, and I’ll tell you why.
Any kind of rule or condition you put to the amount or type of food you want to eat can backfire.
Seriously, it can push you right back to that deprivation, ‘famine’ mindset which fuels food binges. Go back an read #2 now, if needed.
But don’t underestimate the power of getting to that dinner table with no expectations regarding what you are going to eat, and just enjoying each course you feel like eating.
Which brings us to the next point.
4. Expect to eat more than usual.
If I were to make a list of one of the mail fears people have at Christmas, #1 would probably be: gaining weight.
And how can I blame you given the thin-centric culture we live in?
It might be a surprise though for you to hear this.
Even those we consider ‘normal eaters’, which means people who normally don’t engage in any sort of dieting and have a higher ability to tune in with hunger and fullness body cues, normally gain a bit of weight at Christmas. According to this study on average they gain one pound during the holidays.
The difference with those dealing with food anxiety is that ‘normal eaters’ don’t make it a big deal and don’t feel guilty for gaining a bit of weight. Because they consider normal eating more than usual at Christmas.
Don’t be fooled by the next section on tv, or the influencer on Instagram, telling you how to survive Christmas without affecting your waistline. You should know by now, after reading many of my email that it’s just diet-culture crap.
Do yourself a favour this Christmas and see if you can enjoy the food in front of you even if that means eating ‘more than usual’.
5. Do not plan in advance any exercise session for the day or the week after.
Now, that same Instagram influencer who gave you their recommendations as to how stay slim at Christmas, might be there to remind you how to make it up and supposedly help you go back on track right after Christmas with his next program.
We now again, this is diet-culture crap.
Exercise for the desire to move your body, feel alive, get some energy. Not because you have to compensate for the food you just had, by over-exercising and exhausting yourself physically and mentally, right after Christmas.
Why not taking it easy instead and allow yourself to chill-out and fully savour your food without thinking about calories ingested and how to burn them?
Read again tip #1, if needed. Straight back to the starting point. Because it’s useful to remember how tiredness and exhaustion might be counterproductive when you are working to keep bingeing at bay.
What can you do now to prepare to deal with food anxiety at the Christmas table?
Take some time to anticipate the major difficulties you could encounter on Christmas day. What applies to you might be very different to what applies to me or anyone else.
A. Take pen and paper and start listing the ones that first come to your mind:
Then think in advance how you are going to apply the tips above to your expected difficulties.
B. Ask yourself:
If this difficulty (__________) arises, how am I going to overcome it to be able to enjoy the Christmas day/week to the fullest?
It’ll be less likely for you to feel completely out of control and experience high food anxiety at the Christmas table, if you take these preparatory steps and you decide what to do when those feelings arise.
Here’s to a worry-free and joyful Christmas dinner this year!