Navigating Holiday Eating

Blog Headers (1) (2)
Leah Graves Headshot (1)

Leah L. Graves RDN, LDN, hon CEDS-S, FAED

Holiday season is approaching with all the hustle, bustle and social gatherings many of which involve eating. For individuals with disordered eating the holidays are a challenging time of the year. Strategies to assist with making eating-related decisions and manage the anxiety that can accompany them can make a difference in one’s ability to participate in the festivities. Here are some recommendations to assist in navigating holiday eating:

Enjoy festive food favorites. All foods can fit into a balanced eating pattern. In reasonable portions, no specific item can make or break health. Many celebrations include special foods that are only prepared this time of year. Inclusion of these fun foods is essential to balanced eating. Agency to include holiday favorites at meals and snacks, encourages flexibility while meeting the need for nutrition, flavor, and fun.

Embrace Connected Eating. Attuned eaters recognize body sensations indicating the need for fuel along with desires and preferences for specific food selections at any given time. In addition, they utilize knowledge of their  personal nutrition needs to engage in Connected Eating. Connected Eating lives at the intersection of the awareness of our need for fuel and our intellectual knowledge regarding our nutrition needs. Overreliance on either creates a barrier to a fully attuned eating pattern. Connected Eating supports nutrition self-care during what can be a stressful time of year, the holidays. If you are not in a place where Connected Eating is a reasonable expectation, work with a registered dietitian to consider how to employ eating structure and cope ahead strategies to guide eating during the holidays or other times when Connected Eating may be more challenging. 

Manage exposure to judgmental food and body messages. The ever-present Diet Culture intensifies during the holiday season. Messages bombard us from a variety of sources including television, print media, social media, friends and loved ones. During the holiday season, there is an increase in Diet Culture messaging. Strategies for managing Diet Culture exposure include:

    • Curate what you watch or read making sure to include non-dieting nutrition and body positive messages
    • Take a break from social media  
    • Place non-dieting positive messages in strategic places in your environment
    • Develop a script to shift conversations that become diet centered, such as diet, weight, shape and size, to other affirming topics like connections with others

Engage a Community of Support. The holiday season is quite busy and stressful.  Heightened stress and disordered eating patterns can interfere with the ability to connect with others and to meet one’s needs including nutrition. Since holidays are about connecting, this is a good time to elicit support from others, a Community of Support (COS). Teach your COS how to support you in nourishing your body and spirit and ask how to support them as well. 

Skillfully managing holiday eating challenges leaves energy for self-care, supports attuned eating practices, and encourages presence for seasonal activities. We hope these strategies support you in connecting with yourself and others during this special time of year.

Leah L. Graves RDN, LDN, hon CEDS-S, FAED

Leah Graves is Vice President of Nutrition and Culinary Services for Accanto Health with brands The Emily Program and Veritas Collaborative. She is a founding member and fellow of the Academy for Eating Disorders who has treated individuals with eating disorders for more than 30 years. Leah has presented at the International Conference on Eating Disorders, International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Symposium, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in addition to numerous regional conferences and has written several publications pertaining to nutrition and eating disorders.  She is highly respected within the eating disorders field for her expertise in nutrition therapy, nutrition counseling and clinical supervision.