3 signs you have food anxiety + fear of holiday weight gain

Fear of holiday weight gain- group of 5 friends being silly at Christmas, surrounded by food
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The holidays are such a fun time of year, but anxiety over food and holiday weight gain can leave you feeling afraid of parties, food, and treats. For a lot of women, food makes the holidays overwhelming and stressful—especially if you’re struggling with body image, dieting, or fear of gaining weight. Let’s talk about some common signs of holiday food and weight gain anxiety and how to reduce it.

Want to start (and keep!) healthy habits that are based on compassion and not control? Learn more about Wendie’s Habits Before Hustle membership, starting in January 2022. Also, download her free guide now on how to use intuitive eating during the holidays!

3 thoughts that indicate you might struggle with food anxiety and holiday weight gain fears

Fear of holiday weight gain. Young woman with long hair looking out window

“I can always bring my own food to the party”

Listen, many of us have had this thought. Including myself at different times during my life. But just because something’s common doesn’t make it normal or ideal. I see this a lot with women who are into clean eating, who follow keto or a low-carb diet, and also women who are seriously tracking macros and/or calories.

Bringing your own food to a party can seem like a great idea if you follow a strict eating protocol. The reason is simple. It gives you a sense of control. It lets you be in charge of exactly what you consume and how much of it you have. But it’s really important to understand that walking in with your own food isn’t something you’re necessarily doing for your own health. A lot of times the motivation or driver behind trying to control your food (or anything else) is anxiety. With anxiety, feeling like you’re completely in charge of a situation can help you feel like you’re able to cope.

So, is that a bad thing? Not always. We all do things to cope with our fears and worries. But it’s also not how you have to live. You don’t have to bring your own food to a party just to avoid holiday weight gain or make yourself feel comfortable. Instead of living your life like that, it’s worth thinking about how to eliminate your anxiety around food instead of finding ways to control it. It’s possible to go to a party and enjoy food without all of the fear and worry.

OMG, what’s wrong with me? All I can think about is the food table

You’re at a great party. Conversations are happening all around you. But instead of being a part of those conversations and spending time with friends, you struggle with a constant stream of thoughts and questions in your head. What can I eat? Should I eat that? How much should I let myself eat? What will I weigh tomorrow if I eat that? Maybe I should just wait. Or eat nothing. Or eat everything.

You’re not alone if this is what’s on your mind at a holiday get-together. I’ve been there and so have my clients. The reason this happens is usually because you’re restricting food to begin with. Once we start to strictly restrict food or types of foods, we end up in a pattern of fear that can be hard to get out of. Instead of looking at food rationally, we start to think of food in terms of potential negative consequences that are also irrational: If I eat those cookies, then I might wake up fat tomorrow. 

But the thing is: eating healthy most of the time is great. But part of healthy (rather than disordered) eating habits are also allowing yourself to have some treats or food that looks good or is more indulgent than you might usually eat. When you give yourself permission to eat a few treats, you can feel satisfied and still be healthy. Otherwise, with restriction, you end up cultivating fear… and probably bingeing at some point in the future to satisfy your cravings (which isn’t good for you mentally or physically). 

“There’s too much food there. I’ll just stay home”

In our culture, and especially at the holidays, most parties or even social situations have food and alcohol. Avoiding a party because you’re worried about the amount of food there is really about self-trust. It means you’re worried that you’ll eat something… and then completely overdo it. If that’s your concern, you need to look at what you’re allowing yourself to eat at home. Are you not letting yourself have any chocolate or fat, even when you’re really craving it? (It’s better to satisfy your cravings than to deny them.)

Completely restricting certain foods—without any reason, like a food allergy—sets you up for failure. It’s a way of eating that’s not sustainable. There’s a reason behind cravings. Indulging in them when you feel like it allows you to look at food in a healthy way—where no food is “good” or “bad” and you’re not “good” or “bad” for eating it. When you allow yourself some of what you want, you’re less likely to get around a lot of yummy food and feel out of control or panicky. Emotionally, you begin to feel like you can trust yourself around food and have a healthier relationship with it and your body image.

Intuitive eating can help with food anxiety and fear of weight gain. But it’s a process

Fear of holiday weight gain and food- woman at party setting down glass of white wine on table with snacks

Anything that’s intuitive should be easy, right? That’s not always true with intuitive eating. We end up so disconnected from our hunger cues and food through diets and restriction that eating mindfully is very hard. A lot of times, my clients need help addressing body image issues and weight gain fears in order to succeed at intuitive eating.

One of the books I always use with my clients and recommend is Intuitive Eating. The first principle in the book is to reject diet mentality. That’s the idea that to be successful or healthy we have to be “on a diet.” Letting go of that can be a challenge. Many of us are taught that diets are normal from the time we are little. To really let go of diet culture, group and one-on-one coaching is really helpful. I do both with my clients, and also test for nutrient deficiencies when we need to. Intuitive eating can even be healthy for people with health conditions, like diabetes. In fact, as a dietitian and diabetes educator, I’ve had a lot of success with clients following the principles of intuitive eating. What’s really amazing is seeing people not just become healthier physically but also become much more healthy mentally and emotionally too.

Want to work with Wendie or have questions? Reach out to her at wendietaylor.com

Wendie Taylor, RDN, LD, MBA