We are deep in this very unusual holiday season. I find that so often over the holidays we are feeding a lot of things other than ourselves. We are trying to feed our soul and our inner knowing, but we are not doing it in the correct way. 

Why is it hard to manage our hunger over the holiday? 

I have consistently heard people talk about feeling scared, confused, and upset about food over this time of year. I call the time between Halloween and New Years as the Holiday Trifecta. It is the time where we are focused on food and often it is food we do not have (or allow ourselves at other times of the year).

We have a lot that comes at us and a lot of expectations this time of year. Expectations that can get to be a little too much for us. It is interesting that food often shows up as difficult over the holidays. We think we are supposed to be a happy time and not experience any “negative emotions.” We wonder why we are upset when it is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song says. In truth, it is not always that wonderful time of the year for lots of different reasons. 

If we tend to emotionally overeat, well now there is even MORE food. And it is a lot of food that we only see once a year. There is often that special food to you (pumpkin spice latte anyone?). You know all those items; I could name a bunch of them. We tend to want it now and often, which makes it hard to check in with our hunger and be mindful about what we eat. 

I remember when I used to work in an office job and there would be food all over starting in October. People bringing in all these items starting with all of Halloween candy and ending with all of the Christmas foods. I remember the lunch break room was filled with holiday food. It was tough to walk by and not eat, all day long. I would walk past it, but for me it was tough because I was thinking about it all day long. 

Now, during the Coronavirus Pandemic, many of us are working from home AND there is a struggle having food in the house. My clients are consistently finding it hard to eating intuitively while working from home. 

Once again there is a lot of this special food around that we only have that once a year and it makes us want to have a lot of it. 


Why is it hard to not overeat at the holidays? 

Each holiday has special foods that we, often, do not allow ourselves the rest of the year. From this perspective we can look at the dieting mindset/diet cycle: 

  • Starting with dieting and that means restricting and then when we restrict, we don’t have what we really want. 
  • We, then, overeat because we want it, we do not want to restrict. 
  • That leads us to feel guilty and feeling upset with ourselves that we’ve done.
  • this which then loses back up to want to restrict. 

This cycle can happen with that holiday special food, because if we say to ourselves, I’m not going to get this again for another 12 or 11 months then we’re going to have it. AND we’re going to have a lot of it because we only get it once a year. 

Pumpkin Spice Latte anyone? 

Starbucks has brilliant marketing; they have special drinks that only come out at the holiday time. There is a whole countdown to the special drink and tempt you by saying it is in short supply, so get it now. It can make you worry that you will miss out and not get it. The temptation is to get the most of it that you can. Noticing this as a sales tactic can help you notice how they are influencing your eating.  

What are the Holiday Hungers? 

The Holiday Hungers (you can hear all about this in my Feed Your Soul with Kim Podcast) are related to the “four hungers” that lead us to eat and overeat. Note, as I prepared to write about the four hungers, I realized there is a fifth hunger that is showing up bigger than ever during this year of the Covid19 Pandemic.  

The Four Hungers are:

  • Head Hunger- that sense of not being able to not think about food.
  • Mouth Hunger- that sensation of your mouth watering wanting the taste.
  • Heart Hunger- the feeling that you really desire the food.
  • Stomach Hunger- the true hunger of your body.

I noticed this year there is another hunger and that is Spiritual Hunger which is the hunger for something bigger than ourselves. 

What hunger have you been responding to?  

The first type of hunger is Head Hunger. Head hunger reminds me when I used to work in an office, and I could not stop thinking about the food in the break room. I was pretty much obsessed with the food and felt compelled to eat it. 

The second type of hunger is Heart Hunger, which is emotional hunger. This type of hunger comes into play with emotional triggers. If you have heart hunger, what is that hunger telling you? Maybe you need to take care of your heart and take care of the emotions. 

The third type of hunger is Mouth Hunger, which is when a food item sounds good. It is that sense that you just want to eat for the taste. Salivating and yearning for the item. It is not connected to physical hunger and it’s possibly connected to more emotions or more of the thought of being hungry but it’s really not hunger.

The fourth type of hunger is tummy or Stomach Hunger. This type of hunger is telling you, I’m physically hungry. It can be confusing when we are not experiencing physical hunger and we are at an event where there are items we don’t usually have, and we want them. Have them. It is ok. I find we can tend to not eat and go to event overly hungry, so we feel ok to eat everything we want. I wonder how that is working for you. You can then go to the edges of being overly hungry which leads us to binge and get overly full. 

Lastly, let’s look at Spiritual Hunger. This is the hunger for something that is bigger than you. It is a hunger for meaning and purpose. 

If you’re hungry eat till your satisfied, it doesn’t have to be too full but eat. You do not want to go to restrict, binge, guilt cycle which can happen this time of year. 

Now we can identify the hunger and then decide what/if we want to eat. There can be the feeling of powerlessness around food this time of year and you might think I am just going to go all in and overeat and I’ll deal with it the first of January (diet!). Pay attention to the thought that you will just overeat and diet at the New Year. That does not work and there is a better way to deal with food. Whenever you put yourself in a position to feel guilty about what you eat, your tendency will be to restrict later. 

We can move into a place of empowerment in our lives and with food. That feeling of empowered is one of the ways that we must heal that heart hunger. Looking at what are those emotional triggers that is leading us to overeat this is the time of year. 

I encourage you to at least recognize the feelings, to notice them and to see what emotions are showing up for you. 

Emotional eating is showing up often during this Coronavirus Pandemic

Emotional triggers can be things like: 

  1. Living in the time of the Coronavirus Pandemic. 
  2. Not being able to see your family.  
  3. Feeling stressed, lonely, and isolated. 
  4. Feeling bored because we cannot go out.  
  5. Feeling we must give up our needs to meet other’s needs. 
  6. Fear of getting sick or others getting sick. 
  7. Being unemployed and concerned about whether we can get another job. 
  8. Fear of not having enough money to buy presents. 

When we have a history of using to satisfy our feelings food becomes our go to when these uncomfortable situations occur.  

What can you do? 

Start recognizing and noticing these feelings. For me, when I notice I want to overeat or I am overeating, as I notice it, I talk to myself and ask myself questions: 

  • What is going on? 
  • What is making me feel uncomfortable? 
  • What would I like to do about it? 

When I feel the worst is when I don’t have a plan to deal with feeling powerless in situations whether it is with food, other people or situations. When I didn’t know how to deal with my emotional triggers then I felt powerless. 

Loneliness can be an emotional trigger. 

For many people feeling lonely leads to overeating. We are faced with unprecedented times, right now and feeling isolated and lonely are increased. 

Sadness can be an emotional trigger. 

We talked about Holiday Blues on the Feed Your Soul with Kim podcast recently. This season brings up memories or thoughts of what we don’t have and that can bring sadness. Many of us are not with the people we want to be with, or this holiday does not look like the way we want it to or the way it should be. Possibly you are not in a relationship and that brings on its own set of lonely and sad feelings. 

What can you do to lessen the Holiday Hungers?

I find insight is good, but we also must have coping skills to help us. I encourage you to find new activities to try out this year. I love to find ones that don’t involve food or money. I love seeing the creativity that arises. 

  1. Be physically active. If you generally go to the gym- do that. I can tend to not go to the gym over the holidays (I am a regular) because I am too busy, but now it is in my schedule as a must do. I know it makes me feel good and it makes me feel good to be active in the way that that that moves my body. The movement is not about working off the calories or the “bad” food. It is about keeping my body in action and move in a way that works for me. 
  2. Put something fun on your calendar. I usually have list of holiday gatherings and events I and my family want to go to. This year those events are cancelled. I generally crave down time at the holidays to have time to reflect on the spiritual ideas that come out this time of year. In other years, I have felt stretched too thin. Well, this year, I get to have that down time and I plan to take advantage of it!
  3. Get a routine together. You need a routine even when we are in a Pandemic! Go to bed on time, eat your regular foods on your regular schedule. The routine can be lost, and we then feel disconnect from ourselves. When I have my routine, I know my needs are being met. This also sets me up for realistic expectations.
  4. Stick to your budget and be realistic about what you can and cannot afford. Spend the amount of money you planned to spend without going into debt. Do you really want a huge credit card bill in January? Really my presence is my present. Meaning being fully conscious and focusing on your time with people can be more valuable than anything else.

Determining your hunger is the first way to determine what you really need. When we eat due to a non-physical hunger, we are not addressing the true meaning of the hunger. I encourage you to take a moment take a deep breath and notice the hunger and ask it what it must tell you or teach you. If it is true physical hunger (stomach hunger) then EAT. If it is one of the other hungers wonder how you might feed it. Engaging with hunger in this way will lead to greater satisfaction. 

Kim McLaughlin, MA is a Counselor, Speaker, Podcaster and Inspirational Coach who specializes in working with people who suffer from binge eating and emotional eating. She is a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. She is the author of the book Feed Your Soul Nourish Your Life! A Six Step System to Peace with Food and the Amazon #1 Best Selling book Discovery Your Inspiration

You can find Kim on her podcast Feed Your Soul with Kim and you can find it on all podcast platforms. 

Determine if you are an Emotional Eater by signing up for the free quiz on her website at www.FeedYourSoulUnlimited.com.

Am I an Emotional Eater?

Sign up to get the Free quiz.