5 Benefits of Holiday Meals

Written By: Fatema Jivanjee-Shakir, LMSW

The holidays can be a difficult time for many, especially those who are struggling with dieting and disordered eating. You may be having negative thoughts about food that push you to avoid social gatherings and holiday meals.

Perhaps you’re afraid of how these meals will lead to weight gain, or maybe you’re on the path to healing your relationship with food and you’re not ready to tackle the challenges that come with navigating recovery during holiday events.

On your journey, I invite you to consider the following healing benefits of participating in holiday meals.*

1. 🫂 Holiday meals allow you to connect with others.

Research demonstrates that eating with others strengthens social bonds, which can improve mental health. 1,2,3

When you are able to shift the focus from fighting hunger, counting calories, or worrying about how much you’re eating, you can tap into a wonderful chance to connect and build community.

2.🏡 Holiday meals can connect you with your heritage.

Many of us celebrate the holidays with unique foods that have been passed down for generations. These foods are part of our heritage and history. Enjoying them can allow us to reconnect with our ancestors, families, and our childhood.

3. 🍲 The scents of holiday foods can decrease feelings of isolation.

The olfactory bulb, which is involved in the sense of smell, is linked to areas in the brain associated with memory and emotional experiences.

When we smell the scents of foods that are associated with positive memories, like social connection and belonging, it can decrease our feelings of loneliness.4,5

4. 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Preparing meals with others fosters belonging.

Research has found that synchronous activities— like cooking together — can release feel-good endorphins in our body and improve our overall mental health.

5.💡Trying new foods supports brain health.

Studies have found that trying new things can support the development of new brain cells.7

It can be scary to try new foods if you struggle with dieting and disordered eating. There can be a sense of safety in the predictability of eating familiar foods. If you are in a place in your journey where trying something new feels outside your window of tolerance, it’s okay to take pause from eating new foods.

But if you’re in a place to try something new, doing so can be helpful for cognitive health.

What are some strategies you use to navigate challenges around food at holiday meals? Drop your ideas in the comments below.

And remember — you’ve got this!

If you are in need of more support, please reach out at fatema@drconason.com. You can book a consultation call with me to begin your journey to healing your relationship with food and your body.

*I recognize that not all (or perhaps, any) of the following may not feel aligned with where you are in your journey. That is totally okay. It doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong. Maybe these reframes are not the right ones for you, and may land as invalidating. If this is the case, I encourage you to work with your therapist to help you understand what therapeutic modalities are better suited to your needs.


1Gregersen, S. C., & Gillath, O. (2020). How food brings us together: The ties between attachment and food behaviors. Appetite151, 104654.

2Herman, C. P., Polivy, J., Pliner, P., & Vartanian, L. R. (2019). Effects of Social Eating. In Social Influences on Eating (pp. 215-227). Springer, Cham.

3Martino, J., Pegg, J., & Frates, E. P. (2017). The connection prescription: using the power of social interactions and the deep desire for connectedness to empower health and wellness. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine11(6), 466-475.

4Reid, C. A., Green, J. D., Wildschut, T., & Sedikides, C. (2015). Scent-evoked nostalgia. Memory23(2), 157-166.

5Troisi, J. D., Gabriel, S., Derrick, J. L., & Geisler, A. (2015). Threatened belonging and preference for comfort food among the securely attached. Appetite90, 58-64.

6Sethi, S. (2019, November 18). Dread the holidays? Feasting together might actually help. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/18/smarter-living/holiday-meals-family-tips.html

7Loh, A. (2021, June 10). Why trying new things can help your brain stay healthy, according to a neurosurgeon. https://www.eatingwell.com/article/7906744/trying-new-things-for-brain-health/

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