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Managing Holiday Triggers

The holidays can be a time of year that is looked forward to or strongly dreaded depending on the person. Or, maybe a little of both depending on the situation. The holidays may bring families closer together, but the food that goes with those festivities might invite a feeling of apprehension. Or, maybe the holidays elicit feelings of sadness and loneliness, so food is the primary way to comfort oneself through the season. For many, food may feel like a ‘frenemy’ at this time of year, which means it can invite a mix of emotions ranging from joy and relief to fear and anxiety.


If either of these scenarios resonates with you, the following strategies will help you increase your awareness and better manage your food choices during the holiday season and beyond.



Go in with a plan


Entering a situation that you know is going to be challenging, and then ‘winging it’ with your choices rarely works when the practice of being different is still new. Instead, go into the situation with a flexible plan of action that feels aligned with your goals, but without feeling depriving. The key is to find a middle ground with your food choices.


Example: Your office is having its annual holiday party and you know that there is going be an amazing buffet of delicious foods and desserts, which is anxiety-producing because you are afraid that you are going to over-indulge. What would be your middle ground solution so that you can participate in the food part of the social experience without feeling like you are out of control? Here are a couple strategies:


  • Only take a bite or two (instead of an entire serving) of the dishes that appeal to you, so that you can taste a variety of foods without overeating, and still have room in your belly to use this same approach with dessert.
  • Mindfully eat each bite of food, so that you can slow down and savor each bite of what you are eating.


Note: To quote Bob Wright, our Director of Education here at H3, “Resolve dissolves with alcohol.” Since alcohol tends to dull our senses and heighten our auto-pilot tendencies, going into a party with a plan of how much you want to drink is also wise.



Create an SOS list of non-food ways to comfort yourself.


When the urge to eat strikes and it’s due to painful feelings, such as sadness or loneliness, our rational mind tends to take a time-out and our survival instinct kicks in to find comfort. For some, food can be the primary ‘go-to’ for self-soothing. Shifting this conditioned reaction when upset requires the awareness of first taking the time to acknowledge what you are feeling followed by having other ‘go-to’s’ to better nurture and channel the emotion being felt. This strategy is the difference between self-care and self-medicating. Here are a couple strategies:


Use the acronym HALTBS when the urge to eat strikes, and you know that you are not physically hungry. Check in with how you are feeling…are you:


H – Happy?

A – Angry?

L – Lonely?

T – Tired?

B – Bored?

S – Stressed?


In order to honor our true needs in the moment, we need to be able to identify what is ‘up’ first.


Example: The urge to eat strikes, and you HALTBS and can identify sadness and loneliness. How could you better nurture yourself in the moment instead of going to your temporary false fix of eating? How could you re-direct your attention to a more effective alternative for applying self-care? You could:


  • Call a friend
  • Journal what you are grateful for in your life
  • Go for a walk and listen to a self-help book on audio
  • Play music
  • Start a jigsaw puzzle or craft
  • Knit or crochet
  • Take a hot bubble bath
  • Research local Meet-Up groups (great way to meet people with similar interests in your town)
  • Create art or color
  • Meditate or do some yoga poses


The point here is to try to redirect the momentary food tunnel vision to a non-food form of self-care. This is a strategy that works, but like any new skill it takes time and patience, so expect it to be an ebb and flow process. If you do one (or more) non-food activities and the urge to eat is still present, then at least it’s a conscious choice to eat rather than eating from auto-pilot. This shift in awareness is absolutely progress…and in fact, is often the first step in moving the needle toward the more skillful practice of nurturing ourselves.  


During the holiday season, whether it’s food exposure at social events, or emotional eating or both – creating a plan of action will go a long way in helping you to better manage any vulnerable situations and/or feelings without feeling overwhelmed by them.


If you want additional support during the holidays, or simply have no plans and want to escape to the beautiful island of Hilton Head, please come join us at H3 and enjoy our delicious, yet health-supportive holiday food favorites, move your body in a nourishing way, and share some laughter and camaraderie with other guests and H3 staff.