By Anna Marie Trotman, Director of Integrative Services/Integrative Nutrition Coach at The Birth Center

The other day I had lunch with a friend who I’ve known since elementary school. Catching up was fun, however, the discussion soon turned to our food choices. We talked about food and health and some of the barriers to staying with a healthy diet. The subject of sugar came up along with the love/hate relationship we both have with sweets. We agreed that stress was a factor in triggering the desire to delve into a sugary delight.  

The Holidays and Your Triggers

Not everyone experiences a Hallmark Holiday spending time with friends, family, co-workers and everyone else in between can be triggers to overeating and drinking.  Idyllic scenes of families sitting at the table giving thanks, talking, laughing, cleaning up together, playing football in the backyard may be how you want to spend your holidays. Then there are cranky Uncle Harry and opinionated Aunt Mary fighting about nothing at all, and you begin to lose it as the day slowly goes south. In addition the kids are fussy and you’re getting more and more stressed, and by the time it’s all over, you want to sit down and either have a stiff drink and/or binge on the pecan pie. “Just eat the whole thing,” the voice in your head says, and you do!

Even if things don’t go so south, you may have concerns about over indulging. Let’s begin by looking at some triggers. See if you relate to any of these or add your own.  

  • Stress, fatigue, self-imposed expectations, and perfectionism.
  • Stressful family dynamics.
  • The sheer presence, abundance, and variety of food.
  • Special holiday foods and the thought that they are here for a short time.
  • Nostalgia, memories, and associations (both positive and negative).

What makes these triggers even more challenging is that they interact with one another, magnifying their effect.

There is Hope

In Chapter 4 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating: A Mindful Eating Program for Healing Your Relationship with Food and Your Body by Michelle May, M.D. and Kari Anderson, DBH, LPC, the authors give us some strategies for coping with our triggers.  Let’s look at a couple to help get you through the next few weeks and beyond. Enroll a friend so you can support one another and commit to following through with some of the recommendations below. 

Reduce Your Triggers

One of the ways to handle certain triggers is to reduce your exposure to that person, place, or event that sets you off.  For example, don’t invite Uncle Harry and Aunt Mary to dinner, (others might appreciate that) tell them you are having a small gathering and if they would like to join you for dessert later, you would love to have them. If the office kitchen is filled with sweets, try to only go in at lunch. However, it may be impossible to eliminate every conceivable trigger, especially during the holidays. 

Rethink: There’s a saying, “Change your thinking, change your life.” It is possible to reprogram your mind so you don’t have to live in fear of encountering a trigger. Find an anchor when your thoughts are wavering. Whether you are religious, have a spiritual connection with a higher power, or have someone who grounds you, hold onto it. The purpose of an anchor is to ground you when your mind and/or external factors weigh you down. It’s about having faith and trust in that one thing or power when everything seems to go dark.

Stressful Family Dynamics

All the “togetherness” we experience during the holidays can be a bit much at times. The stress of family arguing and the anxiety of not being “good enough,” adds to stressful family situations. If you feel like you are being judged by others and not measuring up, old memories and inner conflict can be stirred up.

Rethink: Tell yourself that you don’t need to be with everyone all the time. Carve out a little time for solitude to relax with some hot tea and a good book. Create new memories and traditions; it’s your responsibility to have the kind of experience that creates peace and harmony for you and your family. 


In this strategy, turn a trigger for overeating into a trigger for self-care. By practicing good self-care you create a buffer between you and the inevitable stress. Carve out enough time to rest and sleep, include physical activity. Be selective about the number of things you do during the holidays and say “NO” more often. 

Rethink: When food is everywhere, there’s no urgency to eat every time you see it. Text your accountability partner or do something to distract yourself. Turn to your anchor or connect with people you care about and do activities that are meaningful.

Stay Mentally Healthy

It is not necessary, or possible, to create the picture-perfect holiday and you’ll wear yourself out trying. Focus on a few holiday traditions and invite your family and friends to focus on traditions that are important to them.  

If being around your parents during the holidays stirs up a lot of old hurt or if you fall apart with trying to implement some of the coping skills above, it might be time to schedule an appointment with a counselor to work through some of these issues.

Have a wonderful holiday season and relax, it will all turn out fine if you’re mindful of what your triggers are and have some strategies to get through the next few weeks.