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A person in a holiday sweater has an anxious face as cookies, treats, and lattes float around him.

Don’t Beat Yourself up If You Struggle with Healthy Eating During the Holidays 

Fall and winter holidays… For many of us, this is a time when we struggle to stay on track with healthy behaviors, especially eating habits. If this is you, don’t beat yourself up! Remember that there are lots of factors that play into this. And, recognizing these factors working against you during this time can help you to identify them and make a plan ahead of time.

From mid-October to the end of the year, I call this time “The Danger Zone.” Halloween, Thanksgiving and December holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa), and New Years’ start to dominate our calendars and conversations. The busyness and stress begin to build with extra activities and events. Whatever routine you had gets largely tossed aside to make time for these events and preparations. With all that takes place, it’s hard to stay on track.

Why is healthy eating difficult during the holidays?

One of the most difficult parts of the holiday season is the fact that most of these holidays revolve around foods, and generally not healthy ones! Here are factors that play into holiday foods and eating habits:


Many foods are tied to traditions, and many of us have one or more traditional foods on certain holidays, (“it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Nana’s pecan pie”). Traditions are emotional and sentimental, and that’s not all bad. But beware of traditions that are re-occurring during this season that work against your goals. For example, you may be excited about that pumpkin spice latte, but switching to this in place of your regular coffee every day for 3 months may not be the best idea. And, an occasional holiday cookie isn’t going to throw you into a tailspin, but regular cookie-making to keep the sentimental seasonal smell of fresh-baked cookies in your home is a recipe for disaster.

Environmental triggers 

Have you noticed that food is now everywhere!?! And the holiday season kicks this into high gear. We celebrate with food. Many people show love with food. Food is a frequent gift option. If you are not cautious, the constant availability of food in your surroundings sets the stage for mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve had a “snaccident”!

Stress eating

The added tasks of shopping, cooking, wrapping, decorating, and of course, parties, occupy a large part of your calendar this time of year. These tasks are stressful when trying to fit into a usual routine, not to mention the financial stressors that often accompany holiday spending. The constant availability of foods in combination with this stress is enough to make anyone vulnerable to stress and emotional eating during this season.

Social eating

“I made your favorite casserole,” “That’s all you’re eating?!”, “Go on, have another!” We all know that social eating situations make it easy to overeat and make poor choices. But there is also the cultural side when considering volume. Many cultures encourage and anticipate consumption of large quantities of food, and often find it offensive to eat less than expected.

If this is your family, anticipate these comments and prepare yourself. It may be helpful to plan some responses ahead of time, such as, “I’ve had as much as I need for now, but I would love to take some home,” “I’m comfortable now, it is all delicious,” “I’m making efforts not to overdo it this year, I appreciate your understanding.” If all else fails, don’t be afraid to waste food in these circumstances.

Tips to help with healthy eating during the holidays

If you find yourself struggling with holiday eating, don’t beat yourself up. You are not alone. Here are some tips for avoiding these food pitfalls during the holiday season:

  • Be mindful of these factors that impact eating habits and identify which tend to be the most challenging for you. Plan ahead and prepare for those challenges.
  • Do your best to stick to your routine, especially between events. But remember that it’s okay to loosen up slightly and be flexible with your usual non-holiday routine.
  • Practice self-compassion. Perfection is impossible and this season certainly puts that to the test. Beware of all-or-nothing thinking patterns. It’s a slippery slope to throw in the towel once you fall short of perfection.
  • Be open and honest with loved ones about your goals for healthy eating. Establishing an accountability partner is helpful.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.