How I enjoy comfort food during the holidays without (too much) food guilt.

I used to have an eating disorder and I’m a Health Coach now, so it’s complicated…

Bethany Wood
Nov 25 · 15 min read
Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

First, I have to tell you part of my story. I want you to understand that being able to enjoy comfort foods or food in social settings wasn’t always easy or free of shame for me. I used to have an eating disorder, so I haven’t always been comfortable enjoying foods during the holidays, or foods at any other social gatherings for that matter. So let’s take a quick trip down the uncomfortable parts of my memory lane…

(I also want to throw out a quick disclaimer. The opinions I’m expressing here are all from my personal experiences, both as someone who struggled with Bulimia, and now as a health coach who has worked with a variety of clients on the topics of comfort food and emotional eating. Some of my experiences, parts of my story, and some of my opinions about comfort food may be triggering for those of you with an active eating disorder or a disordered eating past. Please know that writing about these things comes from a place of deep intention to provide solidarity to what you are going through or have gone through. I know how much it hurts. I always love to hear from readers, so if this resonates with you, please reach out.)

It seemed that at least according to my peers and diet culture at the time, being thin was something to strive for. And if you were thin, it was important not to loose that status.

The only problem was that my body was finally starting to look like a woman’s body and get a few curves by my senior year. While I celebrated this in many ways because boobs always seemed like a good thing and I wasn’t sure mine were ever going to come…I also started to notice that it wasn’t quite as easy to eat whatever I wanted and as much of it as I wanted.

By my senior year of high school, I had started to correlate my self-worth and self-identity with my body image. I feared that if I lost the image of being thin, it would mean I had failed in some way.

I started experimenting with calorie restriction and intentionally throwing up food. By the start of my freshman year of college in 2003, I was in the downward spiral toward a full on eating disorder. I ran cross-country my first year in college and there was a lot of pressure to stay thin.

You can read more about my story, my health journey, and why I’m a Health Coach on my website…but for the moment, I’m going to fast forward to my life now.

It has taken years of self discovery, healing, and figuring out the self-love stuff to get to where I am now. And where I am now is not perfect and never will be.

Ok…so now that you understand more about my history with food, lets talk about comfort food, emotional eating, and food morality. First, we have to unpack those terms.

The term comfort food is often negatively associated with overeating and emotional eating in our current diet culture, which loves to emphasis an ideology of food morality.

As a health coach, it’s always a challenge to balance the desire to have my clients and myself eat in the most nutritious way possible to take care of our bodies, … with the desire to provide freedom around food for my clients, and myself. It’s not an easy tug of war, and I’m not here to convince you that it is.

Having a lot of nutrition knowledge around food and a passion for wanting the food industry to have more integrity, also makes it difficult sometimes for me to not judge others (or myself) for eating certain foods. This is why I am a huge advocate for nutrition education so that people can make the best choices for themselves and their unique bodies…but it’s also why I have chosen to focus my health coaching on helping people dig deeper, down to the root issues. I help my clients rewrite their personal stories around food and the way they relate to their bodies.

Even though comfort food and emotional eating often get twisted together and lumped into a negative category…I like to think of them in a different light.

I don’t believe that comfort food in and of itself is a negative thing. In fact, I think there are a lot of beautiful memories, traditions, and elements of beauty wrapped up into the foods we find comforting and that we associate with celebratory events like the holidays.

I also don’t think that eating as a way to seek emotional comfort from food can simply be broken down into a “good or bad” thing either. I think it depends on the intention behind it, and I have come to realize that seeking emotional comfort from food is a very normal human thing. Now, just because something is a normal human thing to do, doesn’t make it the most sustainable choice for your life.

So why the heck did I say that I don’t think comfort food and eating for emotional comfort are necessarily negative? Because I believe it’s the intention behind them that matters.

Let me give you an example of what emotionally eating comfort foods looks like WITHOUT intention, that directly relates to the holidays.

Let’s say that all throughout the holidays at work, your break room is overflowing with the following: Christmas candy, store bought goodies with epic marketing that make you feel like you DO need that treat right now, an endless supply of all things pumpkin or peppermint flavored, and even Susie’s homemade spice cake that she made from her grandmother’s recipe.

Exhausting…am I right?

I get it. I have done every single one of these things at some point in my life. And sometimes, I still fall into some of these obsessive habits. Who doesn’t? I mean really…who doesn’t at least partially dread/really look forward to the plethora of holiday goodies that are about to parade through their lives during the months of November and December? Hmm….probably my husband. Because he’s just weird/awesome like that, doesn’t obsess about food, and has the will power of a wise sage when it comes to not eating things that aren’t beneficial to him. BUT…I’m not like that. I still struggle with the obsessive thoughts around food sometimes.

So how did I get to the point where I can enjoy holiday comfort food without (too much) food guilt?

I say “too much”…because as I said, I’m not perfect. The struggle with food guilt doesn’t end when you gain freedom and healing from an eating disorder. However, I’m very intentional about working to keep it from a full shame spiral and to keep it in check. I practice food mindfulness techniques, intentional and intuitive eating, and I try to really be present to the memories and the positive emotional experience that I get from eating my favorite holiday comfort foods. Basically, I strive to truly SAVOR the moment.

They are comfort foods, right? Hell yes…so if I’m choosing to eat them, then I’m going to wring out all that delicious comfort from every single bite. Otherwise, it’s not worth it to me.

I also try to pause and ask myself questions before I reach for that holiday goodie…I try to figure out what the root of my craving is first. This way, if the root of my craving is actually because I’m over tired, I’m dehydrated, I’m stressed out, I’m upset, I’m bored…then that pause gives me a chance to make a different choice for myself in that moment. It gives me the chance to figure out if there might be a primary food that would satisfy my craving more deeply than the secondary food I’m reaching for. (Learn more about primary and secondary foods here.)

So what does this look like in practice? Let me give you an example of what it looks like to enjoy comfort food WITH intention during the holidays.

Those treats in the office break room? How about taking the time to pause before you dig in, and ask yourself why you feel you need or want that thing right now. Is it because you’re bored, stressed, or tired? Maybe a quick walk around the office, some fresh air outside, or a cup of your favorite tea will do the trick and actually make you genuinely feel better.

Don’t agonize, don’t beat yourself up, don’t force your body to run an extra mile just for that one slice of cake…just enjoy it and let it just be a slice of cake, not a slice of guilt.

What about your family’s favorite holiday treat that your grandma or your mom is legendary for? It has copious amounts of butter, lard, sugar, crisco, gluten, and all the other things in it that you have heard are “bad” foods. Shouldn’t you avoid it this year, or at least try to make a healthier version of it? Sure! If that’s what you want to do. Or Don’t. It’s an individual choice and either way, it should be a choice you’re at peace with.

So, do I always succeed at being a zen level food mindfulness sage and listening to my body? Nope. I’m not perfect, remember?

But I make these practices part of my life on a daily basis. I meditate on them, I read more about them, I write about them, I coach about them. And when I have a moment of food guilt…or I impulsively shovel something into my mouth from the break room at work during a stressful moment, I give myself grace. I remember that just because I’m a health coach, doesn’t mean I need to be perfect. I remember that what matters is that I’m on a lifelong journey of taking better care of my body, of loving her more deeply. I remember that just because I was impulsive in this moment, doesn’t mean my next moment needs to be that way. I remember that I can start fresh with every single moment, every single meal that I sit down to. And the biggest thing I do?

I let it go and MOVE on with my day. Because there are too many beautiful moments in this life that I don’t want to miss out on, because I was in my head, obsessing about something I ate or didn’t eat.

This is just my story. Write your own new story around comfort food and holiday traditions…but don’t forget that a good relationship with food and with your body comes from a place of self-love and intention.

Enjoy your holidays! XO

Try these steps to be more mindful and intentional with comfort food during the holidays:

  1. Ask yourself WHY you want to eat that particular food.


Your guide to living a SUGAR FREE low-carb lifestyle.

Bethany Wood

Written by

Helping people transform their relationship with food & their bodies. ,IG & Twitter: bethanywood.healthcoach & @BHealthcoach


Your guide to living a SUGAR FREE low-carb lifestyle.

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