How to Enjoy the Holidays When You Struggle with Food

Let me start this with the proclamation that I LOVE food. I love coming up with a menu and inviting people over — adding my name to a spreadsheet of what I’ll bring to a potluck is riveting. Searching Pinterest (and The Everygirl!) for a recipe gets me so excited. I look forward to gathering around the table, munching on whatever finger food we have, and catching up with friends or family.

However, my thought process around food wasn’t always this positive, and every Christmas, I get anxious for the multiple food-related gatherings I’ll attend. For those who struggle with disordered eating, are in recovery, or have a negative relationship with food, holiday events that revolve around a buffet table are less than ideal. Along with the actual physical presence of food, it is always a topic of discussion.

If food-related gatherings at the holidays are stressful for you, you’re not alone. Here, I’m giving you the rundown on how I’ve changed my mindset and started loving these events for what they are: quality time with loved ones.


Remind your family and friends of etiquette

Every year, I remind my family that this is a hard time for me and my eating disorder. I let them know that comments such as “I’m going to have to run this all off tomorrow!” or “I didn’t eat all day for this!” are triggering and upsetting to me.

I also remind them to watch how they speak about food like referring to certain foods as “good” or “bad.” Those who have never suffered from disordered eating rarely understand the negativity of giving foods an emotion or quality.

Additionally, I let everyone know that my body and eating habits aren’t up for discussion. I’m talking a “you’ve lost/gained weight!” comment from my uncle I haven’t seen in months, a “there is too much/not enough food on your plate!” from my grandma, and a “are you sure you want a second helping?” from a friend. While these comments are almost always good-natured, they are frustrating and irrelevant to someone else’s (or my own) experience at this event. Let these people know that these comments make things more difficult for you, and if they’re supportive, they’ll be more than happy to oblige.


Make your own plate

As nice as it can be, don’t let others decide the size of your plate or what you put on it. If you want to eat a larger helping than what someone else deems appropriate, go ahead, but if you’re not feeling so great that night, you can eat less than others. Starting small can sometimes ease the tension, just as some people might be in a different place and can handle a larger portion. Go with your gut (literally!).


Create your own gatherings that don’t involve a meal

Not every event has to involve a five-course dinner. Ask your friends or family to go ice skating (my personal fave seasonal activity) or see a new movie (there are so many good ones out right now!). Start new traditions that don’t include everyone bringing a dish and sitting around a table of food for hours.


Source: Daeun Kim


Ask friends or family to put away the scale

If you’re traveling somewhere, they might keep a scale in their bathroom. This can be tempting and scary, especially before or after eating a meal. Ask this family to put that scale in a closet or out of view of any of the guests. It can seem weird, but you’ll feel so much more comfortable every time you go to check your makeup to not see that scale. (Another attempt from me here to get everyone to throw out their scales!!).


Start non-food related conversations

It can be easy to sit around the table only talking about and focusing on what you’re eating. Instead, try to start conversations about what you’re grateful for, your favorite holiday movies, what you’re excited for in 2019, or a cool article you read recently.


Dress for comfort

Here at The Everygirl, we obviously love fashion — the holiday party outfits are basically the best part! While finding the cutest, most Instagrammable outfit is obviously on the agenda, make sure it’s comfortable and something you feel confident in. You can’t deny that when you look the part, you feel it. Having some confidence in yourself can change the entire outlook of the day and make you feel better about going into a tough situation.

Also, as a beauty lover, I can’t help but spend hours in front of the mirror before an event. While that’s insanity for some people, it calms me down, and I feel like a million bucks all night.


Source: Brooke Lark


Practice compassion with yourself

This is stressful! If you aren’t able to talk to everyone at the party or be entertaining, don’t put yourself down. Allow yourself some time on your own to process your thoughts and be there for yourself. Take some time to sit down away from the kitchen or talk with a close friend or family member who will get your mind off of it. There’s no need to push yourself to do something that will make this experience harder for you.


Indulge in self-care

My issues with food have always stemmed from a place of perfectionism, and this is a common trait. I always give myself time for self-care before and after events with food that make me uncomfortable. Beforehand, maybe I’ll spend a long time doing my makeup (something that relaxes me!) or write in a journal. After, I might go for a walk or watch an episode of a funny show on Netflix (I recommend Grace and Frankie always!).


Let us know — how do you cope with food gatherings during the holidays? Do you have any tricks for shifting the focus from food to quality time at these events?

  • MeaganDut

    Whenever I go home for Christmas, where basically all events are afternoon/evening, I arrange to go to the gym/spin class in the morning with someone I want to catch up with. This is especially great if it’s -30C and a walk/snow shoe isn’t practical!

  • I tend to simply avoid gatherings that are focused on food. I don’t really go to family holiday parties anymore, because I can’t eat half of what they bring/serve and as they’re really not willing to compromise (or be nice about saying no to compromise) I have decided simply not to attend.

    That used to make me feel horrible, but I also know that I need to look out for myself and my health. That’s way more important than hurting the feelings of an aunt you rarely see who’s offended you don’t want to touch her sausage stuffing.

    Just my take.

  • Katerinabeth

    Great point. (I saw a tweet recently on this, except it was in regards to drinking. I think that’s equally important to stress. This time of year can be brutal for folks who struggle with alcohol, given that everywhere you go people are pushing drinks on you and don’t always take “no thanks” as an answer). In general I think people need to be more cautious with what they say to others, particularly around the holidays.

  • Sophia Castano

    I loved this. I feel like as well meaning as it is, a lot of my body dysmorphia comes from comments like the ones you described. It’s so much easier for me not to value myself on my appearance when no one else is.

  • Devinne Stevens

    THANK YOU for this! I’ve finally gotten to a point where I feel like I’ve conquered my binge eating disorder and have begun Intuitive Eating. While I feel like I do pretty well most of the time, the holidays will be a challenge. I appreciate this guide!

  • Ashieee

    I still struggle with an eating disorder, especially around this time of year, but fortunately, I’m usually celebrating Christmas with just my parents and sister, so they already understand where I’m coming from. One thing that helps me enjoy the holidays is by sticking with an exercise routine. I love going for a run or walk outside to clear my head and it helps boost my mood so I’m not stressed about food all day.

  • Ana Bleaje

    It’s really comforting to read such a post, since I’ve been struggling with an eating disorder for some time. It’s been pretty tough, my family agreed to not talk about it anymore even though it’s hard for them seeing what I go through. But every hint to eating or not eating enough or not eating a certain food shoots my anxiety levels over the moon. Things are not the same with my husband’s family. They are convinced I’m on a diet and that not eating is just a mood, so they insist on me eating and they put food in front of me and it goes on and on until my husband starts fighting with them, so you can imagine how I feel. I did everything mentioned in this article: I explained my situation, they know about my condition and the investigations I went through, I asked them not to put pressure or talk about food, I tried to give myself small rewards or “me time” after one of these gatherings, but unfortunately nothing worked and it’s always a huge effort on my part to go to their house. The final solution is skipping events altogether, but I still have birthdays or Christmas, which can’t really be skipped. My husband is very supportive, but I can’t keep him away from his family. So he goes and I stay at home, at least most of the times. I’m doing my best for tomorrow we have the Christmas dinner there, hopefully it will be uneventful. I hope all of us have safe holidays and get through the hard(er) times with a smile on our faces. All the best to all of you!