11/23/2014 05:29 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2015

3 Easy Ways to Avoid the Stress of Holiday Sweets

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The holidays can be stressful for so many reasons: gift shopping, family events, the collection of parties, making memories for the kids, and of course the sugar-filled goodies that tease us from every coworker's desk.

As a child, I overheard the adult conversations about holiday weight gain and their resolutions to rid themselves of it. We have all refused the beautiful dessert or forgone the second spoon of a dish we truly wanted.

The most stressful part of the holidays, for me, used to be the collective mass of food available. At 15, I developed an eating disorder and bought into the lie that skinny was beautiful.

I longed for holiday joy but was faced with dread, self-loathing, and self-distrust. How could I be happy when I was a big fat failure?

When I recovered, I studied the source of what robbed my holiday joy. I realized that we tend to set rules for ourselves instead of listening to our bodies.

Rules like:

"I will only allow myself one cookie."
"I will bake cupcakes with my child, but I won't eat any."
"I'll have just one forkful."
"No thanks, I'm watching my shape."

Many of us share a collective predicament: the focus on our bodies as a measurement of our self-worth. So how do we stop this ridiculous war?

Here's 3 simple things you can do, this holiday season, to bring the magic back into food and peace to your heart and mind.

1) Get Rid of the Rules.
Have you devised certain written or unwritten rules about how/what you're allowed to eat? Throw them in the trash. Seriously. The best thing I ever did for my body was to make no food taboo. The psychology is simple. The more we resist something, the more it persists because we've given it a strong focus. Take the power away from food.

Allow all foods, but pay attention to how your body feels when eating each food. The body is amazing and will tell us what it truly needs, if we let it. Allow foods that you want too, like that delectable cupcake. Then, when you are enjoying that cupcake, actually enjoy it. Use all your senses to appreciate taste, color, and texture. Don't just shove it down your gullet, in the car, hating yourself the whole time. Treat foods like treasures, whether they are body needs or body wants.

2) Get Rid of Naughty/Nice Food Labels.
It's become quite boring to hear people talk about food being on the "good" or "bad" list, as though foods must compete for a "naughty" or "nice" award. Food is food. You are not sinful because you ate a brownie for dinner. Likewise, you are not a saint because you refused the brownie and had a salad instead.

When you notice that you've just put a food on the "naughty" list ask yourself, "Why is this food naughty?"

Often, we crave sweet food when we need more "sweetness" in our lives. Sometimes our eating masks an emotional need. Other times we just wanna eat the cupcake.

If you want to eat the cupcake, at least know why you're eating it. Then eat the darn thing, with love.

3) Get Rid of Being a Grown Up.
When I was a kid, the holidays were full of special moments. Time spent in the kitchen baking cookies with my mom. Dancing to Christmas music while flinging tinsel on the tree. Palm trees glowing with rainbow Christmas lights. As we grow up, some of the sparkle we felt as a kid dims.

Bring the sparkle back.
a) Does your family sit around after meals, watching TV? Suggest an alternative. Build a snow family in the front yard. Take a walk and see who can capture the best photo on their camera or iPhone. Create arts and crafts for the house or mailbox.
b) Tired of the same holiday goodies? Is your body craving a more natural treat? Try out a new recipe. There are numerous people today creating recipes from ingredients your body might process better.
c) Make a secret family recipe and gift it to a neighbor.
d) As a child, what did you love most during the holidays? How can you recreate that sparkle in your life today?

If you find yourself struggling with food stress this holiday season, reach out to a friend, life coach, or therapist. You can have a healthy and happy mind and body this season.

Mele Kalikimaka and joyful holiday wishes to all.


If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.