As the end of the year finally approaches and the rounds of Christmas parties and office drinks begins, we are faced with a barrage of enticing delicacies everywhere. The holidays and festivities are a time of family meals, constant bbq’s and often accompanied with lots of alcohol too. Whilst this might be fun, the holiday season also brings with it a lot of stress. On the one hand there is the physical stressors of additional things to do and places to be that fill our calendars and unfortunately compromise our sleep and exercise habits, whilst depleting our energy levels. On the other hand, there are the emotional stressors that play into the picture with people often separated from loved ones or experiencing their first Christmas after the passing of a loved one, or perhaps being alone and having no one to be with over the holiday period.

Understanding the connection between how food affects your mood is important and how to distinguish between when we are craving a food and when we are simply emotionally eating is vital to help us enjoy the silly season without parting ways with our healthy habits.

So what is a craving? A craving is desire for a food that is deemed as forbidden or bad, for example ice cream, cake, chocolate, potatoes, even pasta. Cravings are for specific and particular food items and you will go out of your way to have this particular food in order to satisfy your need or desire. When we have a craving, we usually associate the food with a feeling or experience that is positive. For example, a craving for a specific dessert can be associated with a certain family member or occasion that brings up happy memories. Food cravings don’t always lead to overeating.

Emotional eating itself is not as dangerous as the self-loathing and other negative self-talk

Emotional eating is different. Firstly, it is important to remember that everyone eats with emotions. Unless you are void of any emotion whatsoever, you will always eat with an emotion!! Our diet-oriented culture tells us it is bad or wrong to eat emotionally. Emotional eating is when we use food to manage our emotions, to numb out not to just satisfy our physical hunger. Emotional eating itself is not as dangerous as the self-loathing and other negative self-talk that repeated episodes of emotional overeating episodes can bring up.

Shame, body hate, self-loathing doesn’t just peel away the pleasure from your meal. It also reinforces the diet-orientated messages and anxiety around eating and body image that society and social media fuel especially at this time of the year that add to the stressors of an already stressful time.

So as this holiday season approaches and the pressures around balancing healthy eating, socialising, sleeping, and exercising are mounting here are some tips.

Exercise as much as you can and preferably outside if possible. Research has shown that just a couple of minutes in nature will elevate your mood, self-esteem, and motivation. Sunlight exposure is good too for helping you get a good night’s sleep at the end of the day too. Exercise helps boosts those endorphins, burns extra calories, and gets the metabolism going.

Practice gratitude: Notice the things you are grateful for. Keep a diary each night and write down 3 things you are grateful for. Focussing on the positive is another endorphin booster.

Stay hydrated: Drink drink drink water. Dehydration affects serotonin levels, as well as your hunger. Too often we mistake thirst for hunger. Drink enough water throughout the day.

Boundaries: Say no to arrangements or plans that overwhelm you or you are not comfortable with. Listen to your gut. Plan your arrangements. Leave some time for relaxation and timeout. No time for energy crashes this time of the year or for people who sap our soul.

These holidays, instead of checking out, check in. Eat with pleasure, taste your food and enjoy every mouthful. Eat mindfully and enjoy the experience. Surround yourself with the support you need to allow you to have a happy healthy holiday.