How To Stop Emotional Eating at Celebrations and Holidays

Do you struggle with emotional eating when celebrations and holidays hit your schedule?

You do well all week but just know when that gathering hits, the cake is going to be a definite deal-breaker.

You can’t imagine Memorial Day with a burger and beer.

Why do all your best intentions fail when it comes to holidays and celebrations?

Why The Diet Industry’s Answers for Emotionally Eating at Celebrations and Holidays Don’t Work

You can absolutely change those life-long habits but first you have to get real about why they exist in the first place.

As an Obesity Medicine certified Family Physician and certified Life and Weight Loss Coach, I see this all of the time. I mean all of the time. And the diet industry will give you the easy superficial answers:

  • No seconds
  • Fill up on healthy sides first
  • Drink water before your meal

Yeah, yeah. Will those answers help? Probably. Are they the real solution? No. Just no.

Those are the answers given by “naturally thin” people. They come from people who have little to no relationship with food. And that’s why they sound so silly. They don’t pertain to those of us who really struggle with weight, especially emotional eaters.

The real problem for us emotional eaters of the world is that we are too focused on the food itself. We think of the holiday in terms of the food it will bring. And the celebration is just the proverbial icing on the cake.

Play with me for a minute here. What are your answers?

  • Christmas?
  • 4th of July?
  • Wedding?
  • Sunday night?

If you answered anything like this:

  • Christmas – cookies
  • 4th of July – Cookout
  • Wedding – cake
  • Sunday night – dinner

then I want you to consider the importance you are placing on food at those events. And it’s not because you are too physically hungry going into the celebration or holiday itself.

That’s why the answers of naturally thin people sound good but hit nowhere near the real problem for us emotional eaters of the world. And there are a lot of us.

Why You Emotionally Eat at Celebrations and Holidays

If we are being honest with ourselves, emotional eating does not just occur at the holidays or celebrations. But, it definitely flares at these times. And that is especially true if we are on a “diet.”

We can hold it together all week but these special times just ruin the whole plan. And we live in fear that after that day, we will never go back. I have seen it so many times personally and in my weight loss clients.

We think it is because we just like those foods so much.

We think it is because we will be “missing out” if we can’t eat whatever we want at these celebrations.

And mostly, we think we will feel deprived and sad if we can’t partake in the eating of it.

In our minds, the food suddenly becomes everything. It becomes the sole purpose of the holiday altogether. It becomes the biggest roadblock in our weight loss goals. And that occupies our minds.

So, we go into celebrations and holidays overly focused on our plan, willpower questionable, and ready to make an excuse for our actions. That, my friends, is the perfect set up for failure.

It Comes from Your Brain, Not Your Stomach

When all of the focus is on food and you take that food away, you have created an emotional tug of war in your brain. And it is one you are going to lose either way.

Your brain wants the food reward. It starts by quietly whispering things like:

  • You can have just one
  • It’s a holiday and won’t come again for a year
  • Everyone else is eating it
  • Just one little exception for the holiday
  • If you have one, you will feel better
  • Does it really matter anyway? My scale was (insert blank) this morning…

It’s smart and deceptive. If not rewarded, those thoughts will get louder. And more difficult to resist. When your sole focus is food, the no-brainer of eating is sure to follow.

How to Stop Emotionally Eating at Celebrations and Holidays

How do you really turn this around?

You can see how silly “Drink an extra glass of water” sounds just about now.

Sure, I’ll drink the water and then down the cake. That is changing little to nothing. Because the issue is the correlation between food and celebration or holiday. It is not physical hunger. It’s emotional eating coming from emotional hunger to enjoy the event.

Instead, you need to start the holiday prepared for success with your mind in the right place, not your stomach. Well, your stomach being in the right place is probably helpful, too. You get the point.

Here’s the 3 Simple Steps you need to prepare for success:

Recognize that holidays are tricky times for dieting

Don’t just sweep it under the rug and hope for the best. Preparing your mind for celebrations and holidays starts with recognizing the tricky times for dieting and accepting that.

It’s ok to be a little uncomfortable about it – that’s normal.

You will be around other people who aren’t on this journey with you. That’s ok. This is your journey, not theirs.

They may comment on your eating – who cares? You have a bigger purpose. And when they are commenting on how great you look a few months from now, it will be a good laugh.

You will want the food. That’s to be expected. And it doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong. Your brain is simply going back to it’s old emotional eating reward system. Don’t judge it – just let it be. And know that you are retraining it from years of celebrating with food. That won’t happen in one setting.

Focus on what you do enjoy about the celebration or holiday OUTSIDE of food

When we diet, we tend to become even more obsessed with food. Because we can’t have it anymore, our brains go into rebellion. They come up with sneaky ways to take us back to the comfort zone, the old reward system.

And one of those ways at holidays and celebrations is to remind us how important food is at these events. But, most of your enjoyment actually does not come from the food. And when you shift the focus to the other things that you enjoy, the pull of your “diet” becomes much less important.

Let’s take a look at Memorial Day. I want you to ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I enjoy Memorial Day?
  • How will that be the same without addictive foods?
  • What will I need to focus on instead in order to decrease the deprivation feeling I am worried about having?

Starting with these simple questions takes away those “what ifs” and places the emphasis on what is important. For example, I look forward to Memorial Day as it is typically our first trip to the lake for the summer. So many great memories there! It is about time with family, relaxation, and watching my kids have the same simple memories that I did as a kid. There truly is little about food there.

Set yourself up for success

Your celebration is only minimally impacted by your change in diet. Think about that for a minute. It has minimal impact on the celebration.

When you go into holidays or celebrations prepared and recognize that minimal impact food itself has on your goals and experiences, it will change everything for you.

The focus on food becomes less important.

Your goals become easier to maintain because you are less focused on food.

You will choose to be present for the company and not anxious about what you can’t have.

You will set yourself up for success.

It is that easy. And, if you feel so inclined, have the water first. I really don’t care.

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