Feeling confident around food during the holiday season can be challenging for those who struggle with their relationship with food and their body image. While the Thanksgiving holiday is meant to highlight the harvest and being grateful for the past year, it causes many people anxiety regarding a day centered around food. Similarly, with the Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Christmas celebrations, there are an increased number of events and opportunities where anxiety regarding your food intake may increase. We hope these tips will help you to feel more at ease when you attend holiday parties or events.
1. Set an intention. Start the day with a specific mantra, quote or affirmation to set the tone for your ideal day. Repeating this throughout the day can help ground you when feeling triggered. Some possible affirmations include: I will do my best. Healing is a process that does not require perfection. I can trust my body. I am grateful for my body. I am strong and calm. I will be kind with myself today. My happiness is not related to what I eat / my size. I enjoy savoring food.
2. Ground yourself. You may experience higher symptoms of anxiety today as you anticipate how the day may unfold. Intentionally plan an activity that will help you feel grounded, peaceful, centered and calm. This might include a mindful walk, a relaxing bath, slowly getting ready without rushing, listening to spiritual teacher or soothing music. You may want to journal your worries and fears AND how to address them. Perhaps even write out your best case scenario for the day.
3. Bring your “Tool Box.” Plan to lean on the people, things and activities you know are helpful. Identify a friend or family member you can sit next to or call if you need support that day. You might also bring something to the party or meal with you, such setting your phone alarm to take a bathroom break and a few deep breaths, your journal, an inspiring quote on your phone background, a crystal or a fidget toy.
4. Plan Ahead. Ask yourself what you need to feel successful on this day and plan ahead.
• Get a good night’s rest the day before.
• Stay consistent to your usual eating habits and schedule today. You are not obligated to eat any differently than you normally do. Any significant changes in your food intake before the party or holiday meal may increase the chance that you feel anxious or indecisive about your food choices.
• The foods served at most Thanksgiving and holiday parties are often similar each year. Consider the food that you actually like eating. Which specific foods will give you the flavor, nutrition, and satisfaction you want today? There are no “good” or “bad” foods. Instead, try to listen to your body to tell you what you need and want.
• Have a plan for after the meal. Journal about the lessons you learned today. Celebrate something you did well today. Read an enjoyable book or a favorite movie.
5. Eat Mindfully. Food can be a source of pleasure and enjoyment. When you are eating, see if you can notice what colors, textures and aromas are present. Slow down and try to taste each bite, savoring the different flavors. This can help shift you out of your anxious mind which pushes you into the future or past, and into a state of presence, where you are focused on this specific moment. Give yourself permission to enjoy what you are eating.
6. Set boundaries. Sometimes family members or friends may invite you to eat more/less, or may make hurtful or judgmental comments regarding your weight, body or food intake. If they make a comment to you, this is a reflection on them, rather than on you. You are not obligated to respond. However, you may consider responding with a boundary such as: Please do not comment on my body. I don’t want to talk about that. I’d prefer not to discuss what I’m eating. I’ve decided not to comment on mine or other’s bodies. This topic makes me uncomfortable. No thank you.
7. Practice self compassion. Be kind to yourself! You are doing your best and that is something to be proud of! Remember you can only control your own thoughts, words and actions. Family and the holidays can be stressful and triggering. Regardless of what happens, you can control your response in those moments. You are capable and able to get through this day!
Written by Amelia Hartman, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Jennifer Martin, Licensed Psychologist at Sage Wellness in Gainesville, FL.