6 ways to control emotional eating during the holidays

It’s that time again –we’re burning the candle at both ends: trying to finish up our end-of-year work all while preparing for the holidays. Whether it’s shopping, decorating, traveling or navigating family squabbles about where you will be celebrating, while all this turmoil is happening, it’s easy to lose your healthy eating patterns. We’ve asked experts how to curb emotional eating and so you keep walking a healthy line during the holidays.

Have a game plan before arriving at a holiday party

It’s easier to make decisions before arriving starving and anxious to a party.

“Call your host and ask, ‘What are you serving?’ Then, map out your entire culinary game plan – from appetizers to desserts,” recommends Danine Fruge, MD, ABFP, medical director at Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami. “It’s far better to make these decisions at home, when you’re calm and rationale and not experiencing the stress of unhealthy temptations.”

Cut back on booze

We all know family tensions can ramp up over the holidays, and one drink too many can take some of us places we really don’t want to go, says Dr. Fruge. So, keep a close eye on your alcohol intake.

“Drinking less also means you’re less likely to go overboard on the bacon-wrapped smokies and fruitcake,” she adds.

Keep yourself occupied

Summer Yule, a registered dietician in Avon, CT, says to keep a busy box filled with things to do next to the refrigerator to ward off emotional eating.

“Fill this box with whatever you would like. It could be a knitting project that you have neglected to finish, or a book you’ve been meaning to read, thank you notes you’d like to write, a scrapbooking project, or a DVD you’d like to watch,” Yule says. “Instead of mindlessly reaching into the fridge when you aren’t really hungry, grab something to do from the box.”

Not only are you helping to curb mindless eating behaviors with this technique, but you are also getting some things done that you enjoy. “It is a double win,” Yule adds.

Allow a sugar quota

For stress-eaters, the holidays are most likely a trigger.

“Sweets tend to be one of the most consumed foods when emotionally eating,” says Sarah Thacker, a health coach and therapist in New York. “During the holiday season it seems as though we are constantly surrounded by homemade treats, candies, and dessert with most meals, making it difficult to resist.”

According to the American Heart Association, says Thacker, women should have no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day and men no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day.

“When you pay attention to how many grams of sugar are in certain foods, you can make more empowered decisions about what to eat and how to ‘spend’ your sugar grams each day,” she continues. “During the holiday season, you might set it slightly higher than this or make certain days exceptions, but just not every single day.”

Thacker states when you predetermine how much sugar you will take in daily, you are more likely to pay attention to the amount of sugar in foods and more likely to make informed decisions. “This allows to you to feel strong and in control rather than weak, shameful and deprived,” she adds.

Make choices on how you WANT to feel

Thacker says when you make your decisions based on how you want to feel, you are more likely to make an empowered and positive choice in the moment. Start each day with asking yourself “How do I want to feel today?”

Says Thacker: “If you want to feel strong, ask yourself with each decision you make about food, ‘Does this choice support how I want to feel?’ If no, you have an opportunity to make an empowered choice to say ‘no’ to that particular food while choosing to say ‘yes’ to yourself, ‘yes’ to how you want to feel. There is no food that tastes as good as it feels to show up for yourself and making empowered choices.”

Focus on vegetables

At holiday meals (and all throughout the year) aim for at half of your plate to be loaded with vegetables, says Thacker.

“When you do this, you are not only getting in the nutrition you need, vegetables will help to fill you up,” she says. “This plan also leaves less space for the sugary foods–both on your plate and in your belly.”

Furthermore, she says when you are well nourished you tend to have fewer cravings which allows you to resist the second helping of pie.