Holidays, Eating and Emotions… Is There a Connection?

author/source: Peg Doyle, M.Ed., CHHC

Ive always said that eating well is key to health and a healthy weight.  But getting to the “eating well” part isnt just about the food.  If it were, many of us would not be struggling with weight issues, especially over the holidays.


Emotions factor into eating in very deep ways.  If you go way back, you may remember the beginnings of connecting food with pleasure…or pain.  Your grandmother made a delicious chocolate cake every time you visited, telling you it was for her special girl.  You ate it and felt loved and appreciated.  A parent or well-meaning adult put a lollipop in your mouth after you fell off your tricycle or skinned your knee.  A school friend didn’t invite you to her birthday party; you felt sad, and your Mom took you for an ice cream cone. These experiences planted the seeds that link emotions to food.

Understanding your emotions is such a vital part of weight management and conscious eating that I incorporate it into all of my nutrition counseling programs. You can read about them here.


Holilday_Eating_Peg_DoyleThanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are right around the corner.  Depending on what’s happening in your life, you may feel intense pressure to conform to the expectations of others when you might really not be feeling the same.  Loss of loved ones, the end of a marriage, unhappiness or fragile emotions in you or your loved ones can make it difficult to identify the best ways to care for yourself.

Two years ago just before the holidays my brother was very ill and needed full-time care.  Before long, he was in hospice.  I spent as much time as I could with him, trying to lift him up.  He wasn’t able to speak so it was a one-way conversation. I was never sure if being positive was helpful to him as he couldn’t tell me what he wanted to talk about.  Feeling drained on my way home from these visits, I often had a strong urge to stop for an ice cream cone, even though it was November.  I did stop some days, but mostly I knew what I needed was someone to talk with about losing my brother.  I had to work really hard to reach out for comfort but when I did I knew it wasn’t ice cream I needed - it was comfort.

Emotions can be sorely tested over the holidays for these and other reasons.  With the presence of food just about everywhere you go, it’s easy to temporarily soothe yourself by eating.  In the end, this can compound your angst or sorrow because you feel undisciplined and may gain some unwanted weight.  That’s why you need to tune into those early associations with food and how you cope with sadness or loneliness today.

3 Tips for Overcoming Emotional Eating

1. Get in touch with your physical body.  Recognize the true physical feeling of hunger. This is very important.  You need to know what hunger feels like so you can eat when you are hungry and pass up food when you are not.

2. This is critical - you need to know how you feel about things.  If you have been an emotional eater for a long time, you have been anesthetizing yourself with food.  When you do that, it is very easy to get out of touch with your authentic emotions. You zone out.  So the next time something upsets you, check in with yourself. Don’t wait until you are at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Do you feel angry?  Hurt?  Disappointed?  Lonely?  When you connect with that feeling you will have a chance to resolve it in a way that doesnt involve food.

Peg_Doyle_Breakfast_Lunch_Dinner3. Build some solid self-care techniques into each day.  Have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Get to bed early enough to give you a good night’s sleep.  Get outdoors and breathe fresh air, if only for a few minutes. In doing so, you will feel connected with something more than your worries.

We all have the potential to be a healthy weight.  Tapping into the emotional aspects of eating is a sure way to put you on a path to healthy eating. When the holidays are over you’ll be glad you did.


Have you found yourself eating to ease your stress, anger, boredom or loneliness over past holidays?  What do you think is a workable solution for you?  Please join the conversation.


Peg Doyle is a holistic nutritionist and lifestyle specialist in Westwood MA. She can be reached at [email protected]


Other articles by Peg:  

No Time for Breakfast? Make Time?

Do As the European Women Do

My Body Pledge of Allegiance