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Why You Crave Comfort Foods Over the Holidays… and How to Fight Back

By Karen Donaldson November 20, 2017 Health and Fitness

When it comes to weight loss, the holiday season usually spells disaster. Many of my clients share with me that between all the stress and all the sugar they would prefer to just fast forward to the month of March!

Trying to avoid the treats and goodies that are everywhere, while dealing with family, money, time stressors, and outside factors, can be overwhelming. And it’s not about willpower!

If you need a refresher on how carbs can hijack your brain chemistry and raise your serotonin and dopamine levels, visit my website and I’ll send you a video that explains exactly how this works.

Actually, there is a reason why you are craving all that sugar and those comfort foods. We may say that we can’t resist the cookies and candy and mashed potatoes and pie because we just love those foods, but often there’s much more to the story.

I surveyed my clients and friends to find out what stressors affected them the most, and the top four responses were family, money, time, and food, in that order. Let’s explore each of these issues.


If your family-get-togethers are less like a Hallmark movie and more like A Bad Mom’s Christmas, no wonder you feel stressed. Time doesn’t heal all wounds and the family dynamics that bothered you growing up can often multiply over the years.

Whether it’s worry about Uncle Bob offending all the guests or a turf war with your siblings, families can bring out the worst in people. It wouldn’t be unusual to find yourself seeking solace in an extra-large bottle of holiday cheer.

Several clients have shared that even just thinking about the constant arguing and bickering that happens when everyone gets together stresses them out.

When you put a room full of relatives together it’s not always magical. In fact, all those family relationships just might be the reason you spend the evening standing next to the hors d’oeuvre table, inhaling chips. Or it could be the reason why you graze your way through the day.

Another stressful family-related factor can be missing loved ones who either didn’t come to the family gathering or have departed this Earth. The holidays can trigger feelings of loss, sadness and loneliness at a time when we are “supposed to be happy.”

My father died on Christmas several years ago, and it’s still a bit of a struggle to be cheery first thing that morning.

Money and Shopping

You might be worried about spending too much on gifts or maybe spending money that you don’t have.

A client recently shared that she spends way too much on presents because she feels like she has to. She is the grandma who lives out of town, and she feels left out of the family, so she buys the grandkids lots of stuff. She also doesn’t get along well with her daughter-in-law and feels like if she buys her nice things the woman might like her better.

Many people share similar feelings in our sessions, and they confess that they spend too much because deep down they hope it will make others like them more. This kind of thinking can be bad enough if you have lots of money, but even worse if you don’t.

Another client goes into debt each year and tries to hide it from her husband. And yet another works extra jobs just to pay for Christmas stuff. An additional stressor is that most of these people end up eating fast-food or late at night because they’re too busy or too tired to prepare healthy meals.


We are busy enough on any given day. Yet the holidays demand so much extra time for shopping, decorating, traveling, sending out cards, fixing meals – and for lots of people, prepping holiday treats. It can be truly overwhelming and exhausting.

If you can identify yourself in this description, you might find yourself reaching for extra sugar and caffeine just to get through the day or to stay up late into the night to get everything done.

And if this isn’t you, because you’ve decided to simplify things around the holidays, you might find yourself feeling a bit lost or guilty because you’re not doing all the running around everyone else does.

I know that I often get ‘that look’ when I tell people we keep the holidays simple. It’s that look that says there must be something wrong with us.

I’m mostly okay with this, but sometimes I start doubting myself. That’s when I’m in danger of ending up in front of the TV with a big bowl of popcorn or a bag of chips.

Holiday overeating can be expressed in many ways. You might look for treats and sweets or maybe you just can’t resist extra helpings of mashed potatoes, stuffing or rolls. Whatever your drug of choice, there is a better way to keep your calm!


Food is our number four stressor. We have so many emotional attachments to food! Many people equate food with happiness and subconsciously try to recreate those happy memories by overindulging. In fact, this happens all year round.

Our subconscious minds equate food with love. You eat a chocolate chip cookie and feel grandma’s love. A bowl of ice cream reminds you of good times with your friends and you feel supported. Buttered popcorn brings back warm memories of hanging out with your dad.

When you’re trying to use ‘willpower’ to overcome cravings, it’s important to remember that it’s not about the food! Many people have learned how to tranquilize and numb painful emotions with food and that’s how they get through the season – and life.

If you find yourself eating when you’re not physically hungry, or you’re parked in front of the pantry because you “just need something,” you might be ‘using’ food to calm down feelings of sadness, loneliness, boredom, overwhelm, anger or anxiety.

Whatever the reasons behind your holiday cravings and emotional eating, there is a better way! Join me on Tuesday, December 5th for my Curbing Your Holiday Cravings Workshop. I’ll teach you some powerful techniques that will help you resist treats and goodies – without willpower!

These are the same techniques that I used to overcome my food cravings and permanently lose over 30 pounds – that I’ve kept off for 6 years! They’re also the tools that I’ve shared with thousands of clients to help them curb their cravings.

You can participate from the comfort of your own home, and if you have to miss the class I’ll send you the recording.

How do you curb holiday food cravings? Are there some foods that you find very hard to resist? Do you have any emotional connections to food that make it hard to resist temptation? Have you found efficient ways to battle your food cravings? Please share your experiences below.

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The Author

Karen Donaldson helps women stop their cravings and emotional eating so they can lose the weight and keep it off. She is a Registered Dietitian, EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Certified Weight Loss Coach, Emotion Code Certified Practitioner and a Weight Loss Mindset Expert. Learn more at

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