How to Handle Emotional Eating Over the Holidays

How to Handle Emotional Eating Over the Holidays

If you find yourself feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed as the holidays draw near, you aren’t alone. ‘Tis the season for sugar cookies and stress!

For many people, this stress manifests itself as emotional eating, overeating, or a preoccupation with how we will make healthy choices amidst the sea of peppermint bark and spinach dip. All of these manifestations of stress take us out of the present moment and into our heads. That is not how we want you to remember your holiday season.

There are a few big reasons we turn to emotional eating over the holidays (and it has nothing to do with your “willpower” or “discipline”).  

First, special treats are more readily available: Your dad’s famous gingerbread, Aunt Carol’s homemade Chex mix, and basically every seasonal product at Trader Joe’s seem to be calling your name. These may be treats that hold significant meaning or memories, or maybe you don’t often allow yourself to consume such delicious things on a regular basis.

Another reason we turn to emotional eating is because we are stressed and tired! When we’re stressed, our bodies will seek out ways to minimize that stress. In fact, Harvard Medical School explains how “fat- and sugar-filled foods” actually inhibit activity in the parts of our brains that produce stress. Amazing, right?! On a biological level, it makes sense that we turn to food. However, using emotional eating as our only coping skill often leads to us feeling overstuffed, uncomfortable, ashamed, or like there is something wrong with us.

Nobody wants to feel that way! Here are five ways you can minimize emotional eating so you can feel healthy, energized, comfortable, and engaged this holiday season.

  1. Be curious

If you are finding yourself reaching for the tin of shortbread over and over again, don’t judge yourself. Just be curious. Is it because you’re hungry after skipping breakfast? Is it because you are feeling bored? Anxious? Unsatisfied? Once you identify what you’re feeling, ask yourself what you’re really needing in that moment. If you’re feeling bored, you might choose to engage a family member in an interesting conversation, or suggest a fun game for the family to play. Acknowledging your feelings and underlying needs is the ultimate form of self-care!

  1. Clear the calendar

Set yourself up for success by saying “no” to some commitments to make more time for self-care. Can you skip out on your office holiday party early and treat yourself to a bubble bath? Can you put off laundry for a day or two and get to bed an hour earlier? Schedule self-care on your calendar, even if it’s just ten or fifteen minutes. Every little bit makes a difference!

  1. Love your body

With emotional eating often comes body image issues. Give your body the love it deserves by wearing clothes that you feel great in, giving it food that is nourishing, and moving in ways that don’t feel like punishment (sledding, anyone?). (If you need a little more help on learning to love yourself, check out our article on improving self-esteem.)

  1. Make it a year-round habit

If you go into the holidays with the intention of starting a strict diet on January 1st, you are setting yourself up for overeating or even binging (here are some apps that help you keep your resolutions). Remind yourself that you can eat gingerbread and mashed potatoes anytime you want. If December rolls into January and you find yourself craving some holiday treats, you can still have them (and probably at a discounted price – score)!

  1. Be gentle.

There will likely be times where you go overboard with eating. That’s okay! Sometimes, we do use emotional eating as a coping mechanism, it just shouldn’t be the only one in our toolbox. Other times, we make the conscious decision to overeat because we are enjoying the meal so much and want to keep tasting the delicious flavors. If you end up overeating or feeling uncomfortable after your meals, treat yourself with kindness. Do something loving for yourself that will help you feel better. Drinking some water, going for a walk, stretching, or taking a nap are all ideas of ways to show yourself some love and compassion.


Ultimately, you want your holiday memories to be happy, fun, and peaceful. If you find yourself feeling unable to escape the stress and overwhelm of the holidays, reach out for some extra support. At Estes Therapy, we are committed to helping our clients live their most fulfilling and exciting lives, even through seasons of stress. We are here to help.

Want to learn more about eating disorders? Read about how people develop eating disorders in this article. 


Happy holidays!

Carly Goldstein-Schu


Article by Carly Goldstein-Schu, LMFT #118712

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