4 Steps to Anxiety-Free Eating this Holiday Season

Holidays are a time of kindness, of giving, of gratitude, of sharing with friends and family. But let’s face it, they’re also a time of great stress. Take all the expectations we have for having the best holidays ever: the perfect gifts, the perfect outfit, the perfect meal, the most satisfying family gatherings and the pressure is on. When we’re stressed about the holiday rush, who is there to greet us? All those cookie trays and eggnog. And the worry about how much weight we are putting on may drive us back for another serving. How do you avoid holiday stress from literally weighing on us? Armed with a few powerful strategies, we can combat those fears and really enjoy ourselves.

Pause and Relabel: Our first reaction to stress is that unreliable, exaggerating voice of worry which says things like, “you’re going to ruin your waistline if you eat.” “If you eat at all, you’re over eating!” Remember, that voice is our built in alarm system — all it knows to say is bad news or the worst case scenario. If we listen to it, either we’ll be miserable depriving ourselves, or, when we don’t, we’ll be miserable thinking that we’re ruining our diets and our figures. Neither option helps and may make us feel like turning off the alarm altogether, eating recklessly and regretting later. Alternative? When you hear that extreme voice, stamp it! Relabel it! It’s the Grinch, It’s the Alarmist, It’s Your Critical Mother-in-Law. Downgrade the message and get real.

Get Specific: What’s really the problem that’s setting off the worry alarms? You know what you need to do: it’s not that eating anything and everything is the problem, likely there are certain high risk foods that you should either avoid or have in moderation, or even in small amounts. Identify your weak spots: is it a certain food, or is it return trips to the buffet table? Once you identify the problem, you’re ready for step three.

Optimize: Options in how to think of your situation: If, ” I’m going to ruin my progress over the holidays” is your starting thought — look at it from different angles: “I am afraid that I’m going to ruin my progress, but I have choices.” “I don’t have control over what’s served, but I do have control over what I choose to eat.” “I can still have a great time even if I am watching my food choices.”

Options of how you want to handle your situation: do you want to give yourself splurge tickets a few days of the holidays and then try to stick with sensible eating the other days? Do you want to work on portion control at gatherings? Do you want to eat healthy at home first and then make good selections at the party?

Create a panel in your head of other trusted voices you want to call on instead of the relentless mantra of the Grinch: “No Carbs! No Carbs!”  Who is your dieting guru? Call on that person in your head and ask him or her to “weigh in” on your choices. Chances are they will have much more realistic advice than the Grinch.

Mobilize: Now you’re ready to choose your plan and take action, but be reasonable with yourself. Give yourself credit for the days that you meet your goal, and give yourself some slack about the days you don’t. Link up with a buddy who is also working on healthy eating during the holidays and check in by text each day, exchange supportive messages. Make sure you have plenty of healthy recipes and food choices at home so that you don’t feel deprived by what you didn’t eat at a family gathering.

You don’t have to surrender to your anxiety, use it as a helpful signal in moderation that you need to make the plan — but the details are yours. Happy holidays!!

Copyright Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety (DaCapo, 2012). This blog post also appears on Care2.com.

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