‘Tis the season to be jolly!
Now is the time to connect with others, to enjoy family and friends, to reestablish old bonds and create new memories, and, of course, to eat…
Everywhere you look, there is food. At work there are candies and cakes that fellow employees leave on your desk. Relatives bring home baked goodies as gestures of love and friendship. People are cooking, eating, and celebrating the joys of togetherness through rituals with food. And it feels endless; from Thanksgiving to Chanukah or Christmas, from New Year’s to Valentine’s day, the parties with festive holiday menus continue with everyone’s favorite desserts and candies galore.
The association between happiness and eating is at its peak during the holidays. There is the belief that regardless of how our lives are, we should be able to join in with the festivities, be happy, feel loved, feel worthy, and become a part of the larger community. More than at any other time of year we feel the disparity between the ideal of how we think our lives should be and how our lives actually are.For many people, rather than experiencing joy and renewal, the holidays are a time of lonely desperation, depression, and hopelessness. We feel at the effect of the world around us; the media, our families, and the food that surrounds the events.
For those who tend to use food as a source of comfort and solace when the pain is too great, the holidays are one continuous nightmare. In discussing how they handle food during the holidays, one woman from my “Healing the Obsession” groups describes it well:
“You just fall into a sense of abandon, eating recklessly, numbing out, yet knowing that inside you’re terrified and hating yourself, knowing that January will come and you’ll have to face the weight gain or the increase in your bingeing and purging. There is a deep sense of desperation and hopelessness that you do your best to ignore which of course increases the amount you eat.”
How do you free yourself from frantic eating and learn to enjoy the season without burying yourself in food? The following are some helpful ideas:
Create a plan and set realistic goals for yourself.
- Your plan should include goals such as only eating at mealtimes, eating only when you are hungry, eating foods you truly enjoy, and stopping when you are full or before you are full.
- Do not attempt to fool yourself into thinking you will be able to “diet”, give up sweets, or only eat “healthy” foods; give yourself permission to eat the foods you truly want rather than the foods you think you should eat.
- Notice that foods you think of as “bad” are the ones you “binge” on; by giving yourself permission to eat those foods you will find that you eat less.
Acknowledge your codependency.
- Pay attention to behaviors that are attempts to please others or that you engage in because of your fear of others’ anger, hurt, or rejection.
- Eating what is given or served to you in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings is a dangerous trap that feeds the cycle of overeating.
- You can express appreciation for food that is given to you without hurting yourself by overeating or bingeing; do not confuse receiving food with receiving love.
Do not skip meals or punish yourself for eating; give yourself permission to eat.
- In planning to overeat at holiday dinners, you might consider skipping meals in order to compensate. What actually happens is that you will wind up eating more at the banquet because you will be overly hungry, because you will want to reward yourself for having not eaten earlier, and because you will not be able to tell when you are full.
- Be sure to allow yourself moderate meals throughout the day, and remind yourself that you can have meals “the day after”. Overeating often occurs because while eating, you tell yourself that you will starve yourself later, that this is the last binge, or that you will go on a diet tomorrow.
- Remind yourself that it is OK to eat, that you can have leftover turkey or pie tomorrow, and make an agreement with yourself that you will not deprive yourself or punish yourself for having eaten.
Do not solicit your family’s opinions about how you look or what you eat.
- The temptation to attempt to gain family members’ approval is strong; even after years of disappointment and hurt you may find yourself engaging in conversations about weight or food. These conversations inevitably lead to feelings of inadequacy, hurt, anger, and rejection. In addition, you may find that family members feel free to comment on your weight or eating habits.
- Take care of yourself. Set clear boundaries regarding your eating behavior and your body. It can be a healthy option to say somethng such as “ What I eat and how I look are not options as topics of conversation”.
Bring your own meaning into the season; create your own personal rituals.
- For many of us, any meaning Christmas, Chanukah, and Thanksgiving might have gets lost in the frenetic whirlwind we call “The Holidays”. Whatever tradition you celebrate, you can use this time or year as an opportunity for spiritual renewal.
- Make a list of what the holidays mean to you and include things that you enjoy doing at this time of year. Spend time meditating, going to church, praying, or engaging in whatever activity you enjoy that brings you closer to your own spirit.
Take care of yourself and get support; don’t try to be strong or handle your feelings alone.
- Along with compulsive eating, feelings of isolation can increase during the holidays. The belief that you should be happy can intensify those feelings.
- Take care of yourself by writing, taking long walks, buying yourself a present that is something you really want, or spending time with people that you trust and feel safe with.
- It is important that you get support for yourself. Getting support might include joining a support group and/or getting some counseling.
It is important to remember that “January” never really arrives; waiting for the perfect time – Monday, tomorrow, New Year’s – is an insidious way to keep the cycle of overeating alive. The problem is not really food; it begins with the inability to say “no” to events that are hurtful and “yes” to what you really want.
Learning to experience your feelings and emotions and developing healthy methods other than eating or hating your body to deal with those feelings can be a long term process. Setting appropriate limits and boundaries, getting your needs met in a healthy way, and discovering what you really want are all part of that healing.
The most valuable gift you can give yourself this holiday season is to decide to deal with your feelings and confront your relationship to food rather than succumb to the pull of compulsive eating. Making a decision to take care of yourself throughout the holidays can be your opportunity to begin the process of healing and discovering your true wants and needs.