How can I prevent emotional eating during the holidays?

Cassie Vanderwall
Nutrition & Dietetics

We can prevent emotional eating at any time by identifying what is underneath the urge to eat. This starts with being able to identify the difference between hunger (need to eat) and appetite (desire to eat). Try to eat only when you are truly hunger.

It is also helpful to identify non-food activities that can help you to move past the urge to eat. Try to think of activities that also help to take care of you, such as: going for a walk, taking a bath, reading a book, journaling, or chatting with a friend.

If you are unable to manage your emotional eating, it is best to contact a health professional for further assistance and guidance.

Judith Beck, PhD
Watch out for the following sabotaging thought: "If I'm upset, the only way I can calm down is by eating." Ask yourself what other people without a weight problem do when they're upset. They usually either tolerate the negative feeling (because they know that it will subside even if they do nothing), they correct their unrealistic thinking that led to the distress, they solve the problem they are distressed about, they call a friend, take a walk, soothe themselves in another way (e.g., taking a bath), or they distract themselves.

If you think, "If I'm upset, I deserve to eat," remind yourself that if you use food to feel better, you'll end up feeling worse.  
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

First thing is to know when you are and are not hungry. Eating regularly during the holidays is key. That way you will tend not to pick and graze from home to home. Also if you are eating regularly be aware of how you are feeling as any emotional eating is triggered by anxiety, fear and anger most of the time.

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing

Stress of the holidays and emotional eating are a big concern for many of us. Especially if we know we are stress/emotional eaters. Eating frequently and keeping our metabolism up and our hormone levels that stimulate hunger at bay will help us cope with our hunger but hunger is not the only reason we eat.

Some of us eat when we are stressed, depressed, angry, tired, bored, lonely, frustrated or anxious. Emotional eating can sabotage our weight management efforts. We need to Identify whether we are emotional eaters and get a handle on our tendency to eat in response to emotions. This can be one of the most important factors in achieving long term weight loss success.

Holiday stress can lead to emotional eating to make us feel better.

After our temporary feel better don’t we have guilt about eating and our worsening health/weight gain, so it starts all over again in a vicious cycle. Many of us over the years have developed the habit of using comfort foods to make us feel better. For some of us food has become a coping mechanism to help us deal with stress and for others food has become our weapon to fight the emotional void that may be confused with the hunger feelings when we are in emotional pain. I know for me the stomach area is my emotional center of the body and when I am upset I experience a tightness in my stomach as a response to my stress or unhappiness and overeating seems to release this tension. Pushing food down into the tightened area in my stomach stretches the stomach and gives the allusion of relieve and comfort. For some of you this may even lead to binge eating. Food can also serve as a distraction. Eating comfort foods can help you focus on eating rather than dealing with painful situations. These are the five steps I use to help avoid emotional eating.

  1. Learning to identify your triggers can help you avoid them and create a plan.
  2. Recognizing true hunger can help you eat a healthy snack and avoid that starving empty feeling that may lead to binge eating. Never skip a meal.
  3. Keeping healthy snacks readily available and stopping the stocking of the fridge and pantry with the foods you tend to binge on will help you develop new behaviors when you face those emotional triggers.4. Limit trigger foods and situations.
  4. Developing alternatives to eating is critical to success. Have an alternative list of things to substitute to help you develop new healthier habits.

Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics

Emotions are often heightened during the holidays.

Key steps to prevent emotional eating include:

  • Maintain a food and emotions journal to better identify when emotional eating occurs
  • Create a list of alternative activities for when you start experiencing strong emotions and are not actually physically hungry
  • Have a support system (family, friends, health care team)
  • Learn to understand signs of true physical hunger
  • Enjoy more mindful and conscious eating experiences rather than a distracted meals/snacks
  • Enjoy all foods in moderation
  • Focus on the positive and enjoy time spent with family/friends during the holidays
Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics
Try following these tips to avoid emotional eating throughout the holiday season.
  • Don't go to a party hungry. Eat a light snack before going out.
  • Choose only the foods you really want and keep the portions small.
  • Make a conscious choice to limit high fat items. Fill up on lower calorie, nutrient dense foods such as fruits, veggies, lean meats and whole grain breads.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • When you arrive at a party, avoid rushing to the food. Go enjoy some conversation with friends and family first.
  • Eat slowly and enjoy each mouthful.
  • Hold your glass in the hand that you normally eat with to make finger foods less accessible.
  • Contrast flavors, textures and temperatures for more satisfaction in your eating.
  • Avoid grazing while. Little nibbles can really add up!
  • Be physically active every day. Take a walk after a meal if you can.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.