Finding Balance with Holiday Food
For years I struggled with enjoying food over the holidays. When I was vegan, forget about it. The anxiety was too much to bear — and I usually just ended up making my own food because everything my family was eating seemed so “off limits” to me.
(Yes, there were the two Christmases in a row where I refused my mom’s famous Christmas breakfast in exchange for my own minuscule portion of coconut yogurt and hempseed granola… and was starving and miserable for most of the day. #YIKES.)
Even when I stopped being vegan, I had some challenges with the food — I would eat it, but the enjoyment still was not there. There was the part of me that wanted to try everything and enjoy the food and socialize over the meal (you know, all the things people in eating disorder recovery have drilled into their heads).
And then there was the part of me that simply could not enjoy it because there was still so much anxiety. I felt like I had to eat everything that was considered “holiday food” so that I could fully enjoy the holiday. But I also didn’t want to overeat and feel gross, and also didn’t want to eat anything that would make my stomach hurt. (Severely sensitive tummy over here with countless food intolerances.)
OH, and I had my fair share of overeating during the holidays because the anxiety would drive me mad. I wanted to stand up to the eating disorder side of me and say “LOOK, I can eat all this turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and fudgey brownies and ENJOY THEM just like everyone else.”
But then I would feel disgusting and not myself and basically go into the New Year desperate for some balance, and for a chance to really, truly listen to my body.
Ummm, that doesn’t sound fun at all! Does it? No. It really doesn’t.
So, What Do I Do Now?
I have come a long way and I have learned a lot about what works for me and what doesn’t work for me when it comes to enjoying myself over the holidays without feeling like I’ve gone overboard.
This is just my opinion based off of experience, so if you are in eating disorder recovery and find that any of this does NOT sound doable or helpful to you, definitely don’t force yourself to go along with my tips! These are just meant to guide you in a balanced direction once you’ve done some of the hard recovery work to get to this point. 🙂
TIPS & TRICKS FOR HOLIDAY BALANCE //
– LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! — This one is hugely important, because if you can cultivate a true relationship between your mind and your body (specifically, your stomach) then you can eat & enjoy whatever you’d like over the holidays without going overboard or depriving yourself. I’ve found that in order to listen to my body I have to eat slowly, wait until I am truly hungry (and not just eating because everyone else is… so this takes some careful timing and love during the holidays), and always keep in mind how food is going to make me feel once I’ve finished eating it.
My bro & I on Thanksgiving a few years ago. <3
– Avoid or be MINDFUL of trigger foods — This might sound interesting to you, but if you’re in recovery from an eating disorder or any type of disordered eating pattern… trigger foods are a real thing. One of mine is sugar (even natural sugars), and also really salty and saucy foods like Thai food / Chinese food, etc.
Something about those foods that trigger me make me feel like I can never get enough — and like I will never “let” myself have them again, so I’d better eat them all. Even though I so know better than that and know that they are not off limits to me, so I can have them again. It’s an INTERNAL thing that happens in my body… something that I don’t have a lot of control over once it gets going. (Literally a bio-chemical process that goes down, it’s fascinating really.)
So I choose to be mindful of my trigger foods and when I can, I avoid them. This is far different than pure restriction, because I know I can have them if I really want to and if my body is craving them. But for the most part, I stick to NATURAL desserts and healthier versions of those salty comfort foods that I love.
On holidays, I will have a little bit — because I never want to be deprived. But that’s where the mindfulness comes in, and the listening to my body… when I am too full, I stop. Or when I am too hungry, I eat something healthy and THEN go in for the dessert so I don’t go overboard. It’s a balancing act!
– Really get in touch with what the holidays are about, and focus on that when you get nervous about the food — For me, this took a lot of journaling and drawing inward. Most of all, the holidays for me are about tradition with my family, spending quality time with them away from phones, routines and every day life, and really unplugging to remember what life is all about. When I think about all of those things… it makes it hard to get tripped up over the food. It’s just FOOD — it’s just one component of the holidays, and spending time with people we love is the component that tends to matter most.
Get in touch with what that means for you. Meditate on it, repeat a mantra if you like mantras (i.e. “I am enough. I am so enough,” or even just “So Hum,” to connect with your breath), or journal it out until you’ve found what most resonates with you come holiday time.
– Contribute a healthy dish, if your family is eating at home! This is something I’ve found that helps me tremendously. While my family eats out for Thanksgiving because we travel for the holiday, we cook at home for Christmas and Chanukah (yes, double holiday celebrater over here!) so I always contribute my own healthy dishes so that we have balance on our table. That way, I can eat my sister’s delicious pumpkin pie but I can also have a raw vegan peanut butter cup and a yummy roasted veggie salad along with the rich roast beef my mom makes every year.
– Keep checks & balances in mind — This is a tip that Kelly, my gorgeous friend and nutritionist (who will be on my PODCAST this week as a guest, yay!!!) has given me and it helps so much. We can have nights where we really celebrate with food and alcohol if we want to, and then the following week we can focus on light, healthy meals and get some sweaty, powerful workouts in. It’s not about overcompensating to make up for “messing up” but rather about living LIFE to the fullest and then balancing it back out so we can continue to feel our best at all times.
– If you’re starting to question, “Do I really want this, or am I just eating it because everyone else is?” then try to tap back into your body. Listen to your body. It knows the way. And if you’re REALLY confused… just eat the damn thing! It won’t be the end of the world, and sometimes learning that again and again is the best thing we can do for ourselves mentally and physically.
– Remember that exercise is a wonderful way to balance, but don’t take it too far — I had years where I spent the entire Thanksgiving morning running on our hotel treadmill. I’m talking like a 2.5 hour run. Awesome run, but not very balanced on a holiday. One of my fondest holiday memories is going to a yoga studio in Carmel with my brother-in-law… it wasn’t a particularly rigorous class, but it felt incredible to see the town in that very “local” kind of way, and to get my yoga on and spend time with my bro. So, if you are going to exercise… awesome! But make sure it aligns with your goals — to spend time with your family, to feel good in your body, to find balance, and to be kind to yourself, whatever your goals may be.
I hope this helps! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them below & I will absolutely get to them! I hope everyone has a beautiful holiday week with their loved ones… would love to hear your plans! I am heading to Carmel for the weekend with my whole fam + I can’t wait. 🙂
My fam on Thanksgiving a couple of years ago… love these peeps.