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5 Tips for Coping with "Emotional Eating" this Holiday Season

Emotional eating is when a person eats for reasons other than true, physical hunger. Usually emotional eating during the holiday season is a way of coping with holiday stressors such as shopping for gifts, entertaining, excess spending, a hectic schedule of holiday parties and get-togethers and travelling to visit family members and friends. In addition to this, the overabundance of food and treats you normally only get to eat once a year, often leads to overeating, eating foods that may be higher in sugar and/or fat and drinking more alcohol.

Unfortunately, this holiday season, due to COVID-19, emotional eating takes on a whole new meaning. People are emotional eating due to loneliness, feeling isolated, boredom, frustration and depression. Social distancing has taken away the pleasure of planning and preparing for parties and entertaining guests. People are not able to get out and socialize with family, friends and colleagues. Some individuals are not able to go shopping due to store closures or because they are in the higher risk category. A tight budget due to layoffs or business closures may make gift-giving a challenge for some people. Many feel sad just at the thought of spending the holidays alone or things being different this year. The following tips will help you maintain a sense of "normal" this holiday season:

1. Maintain your usual routine

  • Whatever your holiday celebration may be, from Christmas to Hanukkah, try to continue your usual traditions as much as possible.

  • Socialize with family and friends virtually (a phone call or online). It may not be the same as seeing people in person but it will help you feel less isolated and alone.

  • Prepare your home with the usual holiday decor. Even though you may not be entertaining this year, continue to do this for yourself and/or your own family.

  • Still do your holiday baking, put it in cute gift boxes, bags or tins and personally deliver it to friends and family. A brief porch visit will make you and the people you connect with feel better.

  • If you can't go out to the mall, shop online, buy gift cards or make homemade gifts. Better yet, instead of exchanging gifts this year, suggest to family and friends that you all donate to a local charity.

2. Keep yourself busy

  • Use the extra time to write personalized Christmas cards instead of a quick email or text. Include a letter with a 2020 update about you/your family or a recipe for your "famous" holiday treat.

  • Volunteer or call someone who you know might be struggling with being alone.

  • Search the internet for some creative ways to put some extra touches on your gift wrapping this year.

  • Try a new outdoor winter activity such as snowshoeing, skiing or ice skating.

  • Go for a drive to see one of the many exciting magical holiday light displays in the area.

  • Sort through all of your holiday decorations and get rid of the ones you no longer use or need.

  • Start a new hobby such as painting, knitting, calligraphy, woodworking or photography. Learn a new language or how to play an instrument.

  • Stay physically active. Try online fitness videos, do some yoga, put on some music and dance around or download a fitness app such as "ParticipACTION".

3. Stick to your budget

  • If finances are tight, tap into your local charities for help with gifts, groceries and/or meals on Christmas day.

  • Challenge family members to make homemade gifts for each other this year.

  • Streamline your gift list this year to include only immediate family and maybe a couple of close friends.

4. Make the best of Christmas day

  • Plan to do something enjoyable i.e. go tobogganing, play board games, go for a hike, make a snowman or build a snow fort, call friends, snuggle by the fire and watch Christmas movies or read a good book.

  • If you have a place of worship, attend virtually if you can

  • Get dressed up in something special or lounge all day in your pyjamas.

  • Bundle up and go out for a walk, especially if you live alone. Seeing other people out and about and sharing Season's greetings may lift your spirits.

  • Prepare a nice meal with traditional foods for the family members in your household and/or yourself. If the usual turkey is too large for your smaller gathering, cook a small chicken or chicken/turkey pieces instead.

  • Set a festive table, even if it is just for you.

5. Identify your triggers and manage your emotional eating

  • Make sure you are adequately nourishing your body throughout the day and eating three, well-balanced meals and snacks if needed. Eat adequate amounts that fill you up and make you feel satisfied. You are much more likely to overeat or snack on your favorite treats if you are feeling too hungry.

  • Eat mindfully. Slow down and savour the taste, smell, texture and sound of the food you are eating. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues. When you feel satisfied or full, push your plate away.

  • When you have a craving, pause first. Ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are eating because you are stressed, sad, anxious, lonely or bored.

  • If you are truly hungry, you should eat. If you think you are eating for emotional reasons only, distract yourself with something fun like holiday crafts such a making a wreath, flower arrangement, gingerbread house, or a tree decoration. It may be helpful to write in a journal, call a friend, do deep breathing exercises or go for a walk instead.

  • Be kind to yourself. These are unusual circumstances and it is normal to use food to cope with emotions. If you decide to eat the food you are craving, portion it out into a small bowl and give yourself permission to eat something that comforts you and soothes your soul.

It will be a very different year for everyone but remember this is just one out of many. Hopefully these strategies will help you to find peace and joy this holiday season. If you struggle with emotional eating and need support, call Cheryl Corry, Registered Dietitian, to book an appointment or book online.

Happy Holidays!


Please note: Seek professional help from your doctor or a mental health counsellor if you are not able to feel better despite your best efforts. If you are experiencing a crisis related to your mental health and need help to cope, reach out to Crisis Services Canada for your local resources and supports. If your situation is a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

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