Mastering Holiday Eating

Mastering Holiday Eating

by Maria Sorbara Mora, MS, CEDRD, C-IAYT


The holiday season can be a joyous time, but for those struggling with eating disorders, the holidays may inspire challenging feelings which can lead to an increase in symptom use as a way to cope. Integrated Eating is a holistic eating program that engages body, mind and soul into the recovery process. Mastery Moments can happen all throughout one’s recovery. Here are some tips from Integrated Eating to help manifest Mastery Moments during the holidays.

Tip #1 Structure Saves The Holi-Day!

Whether you’re off on vacation, home from college, visiting relatives or staying in your own backyard, the holidays are a time of being off schedule and with little structure. For many in recovery, this can be a trigger for symptom use. When outer structure ceases to exist, you must create inner structure. In eating, creating structure may look different for everyone but it is necessary to ensure your body is getting what it needs. When in doubt, go back to the basics of structured eating to build routine: eat within the first hour of waking up, and from there count 3-4 hours to plan your next meal or snack time. This ensures balanced blood sugar, energy maintenance and may help to keep  symptoms at bay. I tell clients to follow “flexible-structure”. Have a plan in place, but allow yourself to go with the flow as necessary. Staying flexible and mindful will help you avoid extremes in your eating behaviors.

Tip #2 Mixing Mindfulness in the Merriment

Social messages and pressures from others and ourselves may contribute to feeling we are in “panic mode” from Thanksgiving until New Years. For many, by the time holiday dinner is on the table individuals may feel exhausted, rushed, irritable, anxious, or overwhelmed. When we are flooded with challenging feelings, it is hard to be mindful, and when we are not mindful, we may engage in symptom use by restricting our intake to control the chaos, bingeing to numb/escape painful feelings, or purging as a way of finding relief from what feels like too much. Mindfulness is a practice of being present in the momentary experience without protesting, judging or changing it. The deep self-awareness that comes from slowing down, checking in with one’s body and using internal cues to inform you of your experience is critical to getting through the holidays successfully. Eating mindfully means using all your senses to eat a meal. Staying present during your meal will not only create safety in eating it may very well support a sense of merriment as you are able to connect to others as well.

Tip #3 Cheers to Instinctive-Based Choices

Intuitive eating practices are necessary to building lasting recovery. Being comfortable calling on cravings provides opportunities to create a trusting relationship to food and one’s body. Instinctive-based choices are food selections made from the body, not the mind. For instance, when presented with hors d'oeuvres are you having an inner dialogue about how many calories the cheese plate has versus the crudites or are you going for the one you want and like? In these moments we need to honor cravings and preferences while being respectful to our body by considering its physiological needs.

During holiday meals, choose a few items you know you like as well as some foods that will provide balanced nourishment for your body. This will mean saying “no” to a few dishes too. Being aware of when you’re getting full and stopping at an appropriate fullness level is an important aspect of holiday eating for those in recovery.  Making body based choices will feel empowering and support a trusting relationship with your body. Cheers to that!

Tip #4 Celebrate Your Mastery Moments

Structure, mindfulness and instinct are the basic skills of Integrated Eating. These important tools will prepare you for eating over the holiday. Mastery Moments are instances where you see these tools play out in action. For example: your plans fall through for New Year’s Eve and you are spending it by yourself. Instead of ordering food to binge on you create a plan for your meal, savoring your meal and stopping when you are full…this is a mastery moment. Recovery is about filling your life with these kinds of experiences in celebration of yourself!