The holidays are such a joyous occasion. For a day or two, you can feel the magic of Christmas as you honor Jesus’ birth with traditions. You spend time with your family, watch your favorite movies, and recreate family dinners.

However, the holidays can feel like a trap for someone who struggles with stress eating. The weeks leading up to Christmas may have been spent with worry about making ends meet, gift-giving, menus, extracurricular events, working overtime, and keeping the family healthy.

Maybe you shrug on Halloween night when the candy comes out and decide that you will not think about eating healthy or losing weight until after the New Year. Who could blame you? Turning down traditional fare is hard, especially when you feel like pulling your hair out as you listen to Jingle Bells for the hundredth time at the grocery store.

But what if you shifted your mindset? What if, instead of giving in to the temptation, you made a promise to yourself? Would you break it?

Keep your promise to yourself.

If you are married, you probably remember taking vows on your wedding day. You vowed to love and honor your spouse. You made this promise in front of witnesses and God. How likely is it that you will break that promise every time you see someone better?

It is a harsh question, but how many times do we do that to ourselves? How often do we worry about developing heart disease, Type II diabetes, and obesity and vow to eat healthily? How often do we turn around and break that vow as soon as the slightest hunger pang hits or our capacity for stress reaches an all-time high?

The Bible says that you are worth more than the sparrows. God knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. Shouldn’t someone so precious in God’s eyes be honored?

So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.Matthew 10:31, NIV

Instead of stress eating this year, promise that you will enjoy the companionship at the table. Promise that you will treat yourself with one or two planned favorites in small portions but that you will not stress eat or binge eat.

Consider making a Plan B. If you feel the overwhelming urge to stress eat, distract yourself: call a friend or pull a family member over for a catch-up session. If you need to walk out of the room or stand on the porch for a few minutes, try that. It is time you start keeping your promises.

Holiday tips to avoid stress eating.

Winning the fight against stress eating takes planning and preparation. You know the holidays are coming, so now is the time to make a list of healthy meals and pull out your good dainty china. Try a few holiday tips below to increase your chances of upholding your promise.

Note: You can make minor tweaks to your routine and make more significant lifestyle changes, but if your thoughts and emotions are out-of-control, the urge to engage in stress eating may win out. If you struggle with stress eating, especially during the holidays, seek professional help. A counselor may teach you a method that sparks a breakthrough for you.

Eat something before the holiday dinner.

Before heading to your family’s holiday dinner, fix yourself a light meal or snack. Include a protein with a healthy fat. For example, a small serving of Greek yogurt topped with sliced strawberries and cashew pieces.

This combination will satiate you so that you will be less ravenous at dinner. Your actions can become uncontrollable when you allow yourself to get too hungry. Take the edge off your hunger before you leave.

Serve yourself like royalty.

The holidays are a great time to bring out all the fancy dishes. If you have dinnerware passed down through the generations in your family, pay close attention to its size. In many instances, the dinner plates were the size of our current salad plates.

Serve your food on one of these smaller, prettier plates. Treat yourself like a guest at the table. We tend to eat more when we eat out of a box, bag, or carton. By using a smaller plate, you are eating a smaller portion.

Slow down.

When you are too hungry, you eat quickly to satisfy the growling coming from your stomach. Yet, it takes at least 20 minutes for the stomach to signal to the brain that it is nearing fullness. By slowing down while you eat, you give your body the chance to appreciate the food.

Drink water between a few bites to make yourself slow down during the meal. Chew slowly and eat one bite at a time. This is not a race. If you are a fast eater, you might be surprised at how soon your stomach signals that it is full. Enjoy other people during dinner instead of only appreciating the food.

Make a list of meals and snacks before shopping.

List the meals and snacks you plan to eat, not including during special holiday dinners. After creating the menu, list the ingredients you need from the store. By planning what you will eat and having the ingredients on hand to prepare, you are less likely to reach for unhealthy foods, even when stressed.

If you think about the foods that you consume while stress eating, it is probably simple carbohydrates, salty foods, or sweet foods. Those quick carbs like donuts and pretzels give us a hit of sugar when we think we need it. By not having those types of foods on hand, we cannot eat them.

Drink your water.

If you become dehydrated, you are more likely to overeat as your body searches for hydration. The holidays are a great time to purchase a large refillable water bottle to carry with you. Try to drink at least 8 to 10 cups of water daily.

You may need more water if you are active or live in a humid climate. Dry heat can dehydrate you too. Be aware of how much better you feel after drinking enough water. Hydration leads to clearer thinking, decreased appetite, and more balanced skin.

Pack your food if you are going to be gone for a few hours.

Stress eating can catch you off guard, and you are more susceptible when hungry. To keep from getting too hungry, eat small portions every three to four hours. This timing gives your stomach time to digest the last meal or snack and prepare for more food.

If you will be gone for a few hours, pack a snack to get you through. Use the same concept of lean protein and healthy fat, but be sure to toss in some fruits or vegetables. A small cooler bag or plastic container should work.

Pause and check your hunger levels.

Anytime you feel the urge to eat while stressed, take a moment to pause and address your hunger level. Have you gone too long without eating and are now starving? Are you not hungry at all, only bored, angry, overwhelmed, or tired? Is the urge to eat coming from an empty stomach or is your brain creating a strong desire for comfort?

These questions force you to confront what is happening. It may be that you are tired or overwhelmed and you want the cookies in the pantry for a quick pick-me-up. Or perhaps, you worked all weekend and now that you are home, you want to dig into the ice cream as a reward. These behaviors fall outside of hunger.

Do you need extra support?

Stress eating and disordered eating can be compulsive behaviors and typically originate from a thought. Once you learn how to identify the negative thought, you have a better chance of changing the compulsive behavior. Contact our counseling center today to set up an appointment with a counselor. We can help you override those thoughts and urges and finally keep your promises to yourself.

“Rolling Dough”, Courtesy of Kari Shea,, CC0 License; “Hot Chocolate”, Courtesy of Katie Azi,, CC0 License; “Sweets”, Courtesy of Ross Sneddon,, CC0 License; “Gingerbread”, Courtesy of Ksenia Yakovleva,, CC0 License


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