5 Ways to Avoid Emotional Eating During the Holidays

Emotional Eating During the Holidays


The holidays are a time of good cheer and much food! But there is one downside. Food choices are often more indulgent than healthy, and people tend to eat less nutritiously as the holiday season approaches. It’s also a time when people eat more than usual and often gain a few pounds that they struggle to take off after the holiday fun is over.

If you’re an emotional eater, the holidays can be extremely challenging. As the holidays get closer, our emotions and feelings start to ramp up, and the stress of holiday preparation can activate cravings. Indulging in those cravings is all the easier, because decadent foods abound, like fruit cakes, Christmas cookies, and other sugary items. Let’s look at some tips for avoiding emotional eating this holiday season.

Express Gratitude

Gratitude is a positive emotion that helps cancel out negative ones or at least helps you keep them in perspective. Why is gratitude effective? If you’re focused on what you’re grateful for, you’re less likely to tap into negative emotions that cause you to overeat or eat unhealthy items. Gratitude also helps counter feelings of sadness and boredom that trigger snacking.

How can you put this into practice? Make a list of things you’re thankful for that aren’t related to food. Be sure to include small things that make you happy, and aspects of your life you can control. Focus on how much you appreciate the people who love and care about you, your health, and your life. That’s what the holidays are about!

Change Your Breathing

How you breathe has a powerful influence on how stressed you feel. When you feel less stressed, you’re less likely to engage in emotional eating. Breathing has a powerful effect on your physiology and mood. Most people breathe too quickly and too shallowly. Break that habit! Instead, practice abdominal breathing where you expand your abdominal region, rather than only expanding your chest with each breath. Here’s how to do it:

Sit in a relaxed position or lie flat.

Place one hand on your belly at the base of your ribs, and the other on your chest.

Breathe in deeply through your nose and feel the hand on your belly rise as you breathe.

Breathe out slowly.

Repeat 5 times.

Abdominal breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the portion of your nervous system responsible for relaxation and digestion. It also dials back your sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” component that makes you feel stressed out and anxious. You should feel your body start to relax if you do the technique correctly. Keep practicing and do it several times per day.

Surround Yourself with Non-Food Treats

Too often, people overemphasize food around the holidays. There’s more to a happy, healthy holiday season than eating enormous meals and indulging in desserts. Go for a long walk on Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas day. Refocus attention on the true meaning of the holidays, rather than on the foods associated with them. Engage in self-care too. Take time away from a hectic holiday schedule to do something you enjoy or practice stress reduction with yoga or meditation. Self-care is just as important at the holidays as other times of the year, if not more so.

Eat Mindfully

Eating mindfully is tuning into the tastes, aromas, and textures of what you eat, rather than eating food without awareness. Emotional eaters can benefit from taking this approach. A study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that participants who practice mindfulness eating reduced their stress levels and depressive symptoms. They were also less likely to overeat or gain weight. It takes practice to develop mindful eating habits. Start by slowing down the pace of your meals and using all your senses, as you enjoy each bite. You’ll enjoy eating more when you adopt a mindfulness approach.

Try to eat when you are truly hungry, rather than when you are bored, anxious, or stressed. Don’t fall out of the habit of keeping a food journal where you document your eating triggers either. It’s easy to get out of the habit when you’re busy but make the time. It’s important to have structure around the holidays too, and not let your healthy lifestyle fall by the wayside.

Reduce Food Temptations

It’s hard to escape indulgent foods around the holidays, but you can limit them. Instead of making unhealthy holiday items, prepare alternatives lower in sugar and fat. When well-meaning people bring holiday cookies, candies, and cakes, give them to someone else who doesn’t have a problem with emotional eating. Don’t leave bowls of candy lying around or put too much emphasis on food. The holidays are about more than Christmas candy canes and fruit cakes.

The combination of holiday stress and the easy availability of unhealthy foods makes this time of year challenging. Try to eliminate the holiday foods you have in your kitchen and serve healthier versions of traditional holiday foods. Everyone will be healthier if you do!

The Bottom Line

It’s easy to get off track around the holidays, especially if you’re an emotional eater. Now you know some strategies that will help you stay on track and still enjoy a fun, festive holiday season.


  • Dalen J, Smith BW, Shelley BM, Sloan AL, Leahigh L, Begay D. Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complement Ther Med. 2010 Dec;18(6):260-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2010.09.008. Epub 2010 Nov 11. PMID: 21130363.
  • “Emotional Eating vs. Mindful Eating – uidaho.edu.” uidaho.edu/-/media/UIdaho-Responsive/Files/human-resources/Benefits/Wellness-365/emotional-eating-vs-mindful-eating-presentation-bci-092020.pdf?la=en&hash=A9F3230230100393BF52AC8FD2089794031BC9BA.
  • “Mindful Eating | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan ….” hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/mindful-eating/.
  • “Depression, emotional eating and long-term weight changes ….” 20 Mar. 2019, https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-019-0791-8.
  • “This Emotion Can Help You Eat Healthier – Greater Good.” 14 Dec. 2018, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/this_emotion_can_help_you_eat_healthier.
  • “Giving thanks can make you happier – Harvard Health.” 14 Aug. 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.

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