Healing Holiday Meals

Healing Holiday Meals

Overcome holiday angst around the dining room table with these 4 tips.


By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, CDN

The signs are just about everywhere…from the broadcast media to all the stores. Our biggest annual holiday season is fast approaching. And along with the holidays come family…and with family gatherings come feelings. So how do we handle the holiday season knowing that its venues provide the perfect atmosphere for family quarrels…especially the dinner table? Don't fall prey to this annual recipe for family angst and dilemma! Recognize that this season you don’t have to stuff down your childhood insecurities or your families' faux pas with extra large portions of cranberry sauce, potato latkes or gingerbread cookies. Nor do you need to numb yourself and/or try to gain control by denying yourself the enjoyment of those decadent dishes that are surely memorable components of your families’ holiday celebrations.

Separate Food and Feelings
First and perhaps most important…recognize that food and feelings are not one or the same. Then craft a plan to make the holiday season about the friends and family members you adore. Limit sharing meals with those you tend to feel uncomfortable around. Of course, we all know that this is not always possible. If you must dine with relatives who comment on your food choices…or the brother who gets all of your mom's attention…take a deep breath! Maybe even two or three deep breaths!

Be Mindful of Yourself
Really…take a deep breath and center yourself before and after this mountain of a meal. Use a mindful mediation, four-square breathing or a form of guided imagery to separate your meal from your fears, your holiday chaos and, of course, the anxieties leading up to this family time. Realize that this is simply just another meal. The difference is the company…and just what being with these people conjures up for you. Knowing that the situation is loaded with feelings, perhaps you might want to excuse yourself and get up during the meal. Taking this “breather” gives you time to check in with yourself. Just ask yourself whether you’re eating to calm your nerves; eating to avoid talking; or perhaps not eating anything at all? Is your response emotional, behavioral or physical?

Eat for Physical Reasons
Rather than deprive yourself of this delicious meal, make a personal pact to eat the holiday meal because you need the fuel and this particular fuel tastes really good. And there’s no need to skip lunch or even earlier meals. Doing so will just set you up for overeating at dinner. Instead, prepare to go to the feast feeling neutral so that you’ll get hungry in time for the entrée. Then use a hunger fullness scale and consider noting your food intake, emotions and behaviors in a log. You must give yourself permission to eat the meal without guilt in order to diffuse the emotional aspects.

Plan for Support and Self Care
Knowing that meals can be immensely challenging even during non-holiday times…and now recognizing that they may be twice as challenging with all the emotional family triggers just waiting to be pulled…be sure to create a support system for yourself. Make a date to meet your friends just before or immediately after a specific holiday meal. If you can’t be with your support system members any time on that day, make a self-care card. Produce a card to carry in your wallet that lists self-care options designed specifically to help you through rough times such as these. Instead of using food to numb your feelings, try distracting yourself by knitting, playing music, or drawing. You may also want to clearly acknowledge your feelings through tears, talking or journaling. The options available to you are endless. Most important…recognize that you have a choice. You surely can opt to use food to slake your emotions…either by withholding it or by overeating it. But the other choice—obviously, the more reasonable choice—is to take good care of yourself by using some or all of the non-destructive tools offered here. Just remember: You are worthy! You need and deserve to eat!

Eat for fuel and enjoy yourself at the same time. It is the holiday season—a joyous time of year that can, and should, be filled with positive food experiences—especially when you know how to separate the meals from your feelings.

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.