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Why Holiday Feasting Didn’t Scare Me This Year

Last week I survived, not one Christmas, not two, but no fewer than three Christmases. All of them were hosted at my parents’ house, where I’ve been staying over winter break, and I am exhausted!

My cousin’s daughter was exhausted too!

We had Christmas day with my brother and his wife, my dad’s extended family on Wednesday, and various members of my mom’s extended family were here from midday on Thursday all the way through midday on Saturday. Most of the time that wasn’t spent with family visiting was spent cleaning up after them or preparing for the next group to roll in.

Several times we unloaded the presents from under the tree–and then re-loaded with a new batch from different family members!

Despite the exhaustion, it was really nice to get to see so many people that I only get to see a few times a year now. Many of them I hadn’t seen at all since last Christmas or even longer!

Grandma x 2

Of course, with all this celebrating and socializing, there were lots of special meals: the kind of party meals that come with appetizers, lots of bottles of wine, a fancy main course, and desserts. As soon as we’d put away the leftovers from one meal, there was another meal to shop and cook for, plus more relatives showing up with still more platters of cookies, bottles of wine, and pretty wrapped packages of chocolates.

Sugar cookies and M&Ms

At risk of sounding like all I think about is food, I’d like to talk about how I “dealt with” having all this food around. Of course, the important part of the week was the people, not what we ate, but the focus of this blog is helping people have a healthy relationship with food in order that they can focus on the truly important things.

A lot of awesome bloggers I follow have written eloquently about how you don’t need to feel anxious or guilty about holiday eating, and they’re 100% correct. You don’t need to feel guilty about eating more than usual during the holiday season, deny yourself special treats, or go on a diet as soon as the New Year hits.

That said: it occurred to me this holiday, more than any holiday ever before, that I really don’t feel that I overindulged or ate too much this holiday season.

My brother and his wife made delicious gluten-free German Christmas cookies filled with homemade raspberry jam. Mm-mm

Sure, I ate somewhat differently than I normally do. Maybe a few more desserts in place of healthier snacks or richer meals in place of lighter ones. But in all honesty, I didn’t eat very much more the last two weeks of December than I do the other 50 weeks of the year, not because I didn’t avail myself of the Christmas goodies, but because I eat a lot–or at least, much more than I used to–year-round.

Sometimes I’m half-kidding when I say this. “I deal with eating a lot at the holidays by just eating a lot all the time, so Christmas doesn’t seem so much in comparison.” Ha, ha. But funny as it sounds to say it in a culture where we’re so afraid of eating a lot, it’s true.

Let me give you an example. 

At a holiday dinner last week, I ate a couple appetizers as the guests started to arrive in the afternoon, dinner when it was served, and a dessert a few hours after dinner. If I had eaten like this when I was an undergraduate and had disordered eating, I would have considered this a lot of food and felt very guilty and anxious about it. And it is true that this would have been much more than I would have eaten on an ordinary day.

Gluten-free vegetarian lasagna, spinach salad, and veggies

Now, however, I eat much more from day to day than I did then. Most days, I eat a mid-afternoon snack, supper, and another snack before bed. So when I ate this holiday meal last week, with appetizers, a main course, and dessert, the timing of when I ate was less spaced-out than it would be on a regular day, and the food probably more indulgent than I eat every day, but I’m not freaking out…because it’s really not that much more than I normally eat…because I eat a lot all the time.

Similarly, some days last week I ate a significantly bigger meal than normal. And although I then wasn’t as hungry and therefore didn’t eat as much later in the day, I didn’t freak out or tell myself to go on a diet…because I know I eat a lot all the time.

Finally, I ate freely and enjoyed foods I like, but I didn’t gorge myself or eat until I felt sick. In fact, I said ‘no’ to some foods that looked delicious, simply because I was full and didn’t have room then. This wasn’t self-denial; I know I will allow myself to enjoy these foods, and other foods I enjoy, whenever I do want them…because I eat a lot all the time.

Low-FODMAP cheesy hashbrown casserole to serve alongside the Christmas ham…and not a scrap leftover!

All this is not to say that it’s terrible to eat more than usual at a special occasion. Of course, it’s normal and totally okay to eat more one day or one week than you do a different day or a different week!

The gang…or rather, one of several gangs we fed, entertained, and thoroughly gifted this week.

Rather, I’m saying that I’ve been surprised to notice that, when I allow myself to eat freely and enough throughout the year, the holidays loom on the calendar less like a daunting week of horrifying gluttony and more like a pleasant opportunity to take a break from work, spend time with family, and, yes, enjoy a few special meals and treats.

Now that I’ve written this post, I’m not quite sure if it’s a Week in Review (as I originally intended it) or a Thinking Out Loud. I guess it’s kind of a little bit of both.

Looking for more thoughts about dealing with food-related anxiety over the holidays? Check out these posts!

When Planned Eating Helps, and When It Doesn’t

Food Obsession Around the Holidays

Did you get to enjoy time with family this holiday season?

Have you ever felt with anxiety at the prospect of holiday feasting? 

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  1. Great post! I used to feel that anxiety after the holidays if I felt like I had been eating too much over the holidays. Now, I enjoy the food while not going too overboard.

    1. Joyce says:

      Glad you’ve been able to feel freed from that anxiety, Heather! The holidays are such a wonderful time, and there’s no reason to let anxiety bring them down.

  2. I’m glad you were able to enjoy the food of the holidays but most importantly the company because you weren’t focused solely on the food. Great job. You’ve come a long way with your eating not just around holidays but all the time. Kudos to you!

    Happy New Year.

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks, Meghan! Happy New Year to you, too!

  3. Diane Wahto says:

    Good company and good food. Since I’ve been going to TOPS, I can’t eat as much as once did. Not that I don’t eat what I want to, but I just got out of the habit. Even so, I can hardly resist the food that is right there for the taking when holidays roll around.

    I hope you have a happy New Year and a great semester. As always, I enjoyed our talk.

  4. Cora says:

    I really felt this too, this holiday. There was still that anxiety that – out of the pure ASSUMPTION that just because its the holidays and the meals are different – I would be eating more than I usually do. Its crazy how my mind just fabricates something like this before it even happens… when in reality, like you said, I don’t think I ended up eating much more at the end of the day than I would have on my own. Richer things and bigger meals, but I also snacked less than I do on my own. Although its been taking a long time, I know I’m eating much more on a standard day to day basis so these days of “holidays” aren’t such a jump away from my new “normal.” And that feels pretty great. Excellent post and I kinda just wanna give you a massive fist pump. Well done m’dear. Keep kicking ass. <3

    1. Joyce says:

      Dawww. Ass kicking: on the agenda. Glad I have a partner in crime. 😉

  5. Evangeline says:

    It’s wonderful when food isn’t the focal point of holidays, but it’s still something that is enjoyed and appreciated with special people around us. That is a major win. I completely agree that allowing yourself to eat freely throughout the year really helps to create a healthy mindset. A mindset that lets you indulge without guilt but also enjoy healthy foods too because you crave them. Of course, it’s trial and error, but seeing that growth over the years is exciting. Super proud of you and thankful for your honest perspective 🙂

  6. Kate says:

    YES- this is so true. I definitely eat more sweets around the holidays, but that’s about it. I think it’s helpful to be logical about our eating, like you’re doing here, rather than freaking out or feeling defeated. Love this.

    1. Joyce says:

      Sometimes I think I’m too logical about my eating. But yes, there’s no need to freak out, either. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  7. Kat says:

    Love this! Holidays used to be so dang stressful for me because of the food, guilt and anxiety but this year I was able to 100% focus on just family. It was such a breath of fresh air and I have so many great memories from this holiday season. I agree that allowing yourself to eat freely throughout the year is really helpful when it comes to the holidays – it’s a great way to prepare oneself mentally!

    1. Joyce says:

      Glad you had a relaxing holiday, Kat!

  8. What a great approach, and I am so glad that it worked for you! I found that I also had a much healthier, less scared and anxious approach to food this year. It has been a long time coming, but I realized that, honestly, the anxiety was useless–I could sit there and be upset about something that I was going to do ANYWAY, or I could just do it anyway!

  9. Alyssa says:

    I have definitely felt anxious before with holiday eating. I am really glad this approach worked for you to ease anxiety. For me, I found that enjoying myself and being present with family was WAY more important than if I had a cookie or not. Great post 🙂

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