If holiday feasting brings you anxiety, know that you aren’t alone and there is hope to have peace with food. For many women, the increase in availability of sugar and carbohydrate heavy foods brings on an obsession, constantly worrying about losing control and overeating, leading to weight gain and other health complications.
The root of anxiety around food is the belief that you can’t be trusted to make supportive food choices for yourself. You don’t trust your body to crave foods that are healthy, and you don’t trust your mind to be able to say no consistently.
This lack of body trust comes from years of external messaging that your body is not right, and not to be trusted, and perhaps your own personal experience of not being able to trust yourself to eat moderately.
And yet, there are good reasons your body may be craving sugar or you don’t feel able to control yourself around a plate of cookies. And once you address the unhelpful beliefs you hold and physiological imbalances within your body you can achieve peace with food.
Emotional eating, where you use foods to either numb uncomfortable emotions or as a primary source of feeling pleasure in your life, can make it impossible to avoid tempting foods when emotions are high.
Additionally, the holidays are often a time of high-emotion. Many women over 60 report eating out of nostalgia, stress, grief and anxiety at this time. If you believe emotional eating is an issue for you, download my free Emotional Eating Roadmap to understand the exact steps to healing.
Dieting or avoiding specific foods (we’ll call them “forbidden foods”) causes a chemical reaction in your brain that makes those foods that much more desirable.
Oftentimes women will tell me they feel like food brings out their rebellious side, when in actuality that’s a normal consequence of feeling restricted. The neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps you feel pleasure and reward, is secreted when you think about forbidden foods, which increases your motivation to eat them.
Having a strong biological pull to eat something that you have deemed off limits is certainly enough to give anyone anxiety!
Furthermore, if you are suffering from elevated levels of stress (whether that be mental stress or stress on your body), or a history of trauma that activates your nervous system, you can have an imbalance in the stress hormone cortisol which leads to strong food cravings.
Not surprisingly, the American Psychological Association reports that women are more likely to report an increase in stress during the holiday season as the burden of celebration often falls to women. Additionally, us ladies are more likely to use unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress (like eating!) and struggle to relax.
#1: Reduce Stress by Getting Intentional About What You Want Out of the Holidays
Whether you are worried about your busy social calendar or feeling lonely, think in advance about the parts of holiday celebration that are important to you. Prioritizing the people, events and foods that you care about most will allow you to say no to or set boundaries around traditions that aren’t meaningful to you.
To illustrate, think about going into a holiday feast feeling like you shouldn’t eat much of anything. Thanks to dopamine, you can end up with a piled-high plate full of everything, even things you don’t much care for.
Now, imagine you’ve given yourself permission to enjoy the heck out of the dish you’re most excited about. You might even have more than one serving! And yet, you will likely choose moderate portions of everything else, end up eating less overall, and really enjoy the day.
#2: Get Help to Heal Emotional Eating
If you are using food to avoid feeling emotions or to feel pleasure, peace with holiday eating, or any other time of year, will only come after addressing the emotional root of your eating.
#3: Recognize You Are Not to Blame for Your Eating Struggles, and Practice Self-Compassion
One common complaint I hear from women over 60 is sadness about how they have “let themselves go.” There is a belief that you are in control of your weight, your eating habits, your wrinkles and fat tissue… and so being anything less than what culture defines as perfect is a personal failure.
Pish posh! (You’ll have to excuse my British appropriation here, I’ve been watching a lot of Bake Off lately…)
I hope you can see now from this article that there are many other forces at work resulting in your relationship with food, cravings, and your appearance.
Rather than indulging the inner self-critic (which usually ends up in more eating because you eat to soothe the self-harm), consider treating yourself like you would a good friend.
While women often fear being nice will result in more eating, in my experience helping over 70 women heal their eating struggles in the Stress Less Weight Mastery, self-compassion leads to a healthy relationship with food.
#4: Calm Your Nervous System by Eating Regularly and Practicing Self-Care
While you may think skipping meals before a big feast is a good idea, it actually causes an increase in the appetite hormone ghrelin, making it hard to feel in control when food finally arrives.
Eating regularly, especially protein and fiber, can help balance your blood sugar. Blood sugar imbalances can activate your nervous system, causing you to feel more anxious (and hungry!).
Practicing self-care for stress management is another tip to calm your nervous system. Moving your body, journaling, and doing activities you enjoy are all good options.
Do you feel anxious about holiday eating? What has worked in the past to help you feel peace with food? Do you recognize any specific triggers to your eating anxiety, like emotions, events or people?