How to Focus on What Matters During the Holidays (and Keep Yourself Feeling Merry).
Part 4 of 4 of the Holiday Stress Survival Guide
Overeating during the holidays is a shared experience. Everywhere you go seems to be ripe with opportunities to stuff yourself. Cookies, cakes, desserts, and rich meals abound. If you already struggle with overeating, this time of year can feel like a nightmare. Even if overeating is not typically a problem for you, many people gain weight during the holidays and pay with colds, flu and feeling sluggish, and tight clothes in the months following. Read on for some ideas on eating in a way that makes you feel proud of your behavior and connected to your body.
AM I HUNGRY?
During the holidays, our self-care behaviors can be on automatic pilot. There is a lot to pay attention to and noticing how we are feeling or what our body needs may not be on the top of the list or even make it on our radar.
It may seem obvious, but asking yourself the question, “Am I hungry?” can change your relationship with food and the choices you make about eating. Here’s how to practice: Take a breath (or three) and notice where in your body you feel your breath. Now ask yourself the question, “Am I hungry?” and notice what your body tells you. Put on a curious hat here and notice. Does your mind come up with words? Do you notice sensations in your body? What happens when you ask yourself if you are hungry?
Advanced: You can extend this practice and further ask yourself, “How do I know I am hungry (or full)? Where do I feel it in my body?” Try to notice and describe this to yourself.
Extra Credit: While eating, pause now and then to take a breath (or three) and ask yourself these questions again. What do you notice now?
Why this works: Taking a few breaths and moments to notice what your body is feeling in relation to food and nourishment can help you connect in, be aware of what your body needs or wants and give you some intention before eating. Eating is designed to be enjoyable, nourishing and deeply satisfying. It is a basic need we all share. Practicing connecting with your body in a nonjudgmental, curious way before and during a meal, can change what you eat, the quantity, or how you feel about it. Experiment and notice what happens!
I am trying to come up with one person I know who does not have judgments in relation to food. I can’t think of anyone. Our society breeds food and body judgments: good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, fat (bad) vs. thin (good), worthy (thin and fit) vs. unworthy (fat and unfit). We see people on TV commercials celebrating weight loss through packaged food that really doesn’t taste very satisfying. Probably 99% of actresses or actors do not exceed a certain weight limit. We are given the impression that if we just eat “right,” we should be able to look like these characters and the role our genetics play in body shape and size is minimized. We all, to varying degrees, develop a complex about food, size, and worth. Ironically, food is a basic need that must be satisfied to survive. How strange to be taught guilt, shame and judgment about fulfilling a survival need.
Most of these judgments are an intellectual and heady experience that has little to do with the body. While reading labels on food and trying to eat healthily are worthwhile pursuits, it leaves out understanding how the body feels and our ability to respond to the body’s needs. I have clients who thrive while eating mainly a plant-based diet and others whose bodies sing while eating animal products. Others feel great and lose inches and bloat on a high-fat eating plan. Some people have food allergies. Every body is different. Every body has its own, unique experience with food. So, doesn’t it make sense to ask how our body is feeling about eating and respond accordingly?
Rather than think about a “good” food to eat, practice asking your body what it needs. See what your body says and how it feels during and after eating. This is a much more compassionate and nurturing way to feed yourself. This process also gives you information. What does your body want and when? What happens when you give this food to your body? Do different quantities of this food affect how your body feels?
This approach urges you to develop a supportive relationship with your body, kind of like giving yourself the gift of good parenting. This is especially important if you did not receive nurturing parenting or your body has long been deprived of sweet, gentle compassion. When babies are fed, it is a soft, quiet experience, often followed by sleep. Preferably, soothing tones are spoken, and a gentle touch is given. Imagine feeding yourself in this way. Imagine letting go of judgments, giving your body what it wants to eat in the amount that feels right. Checking in and adjusting type or quantity of food as your body calls for it. What a different experience!
In addition to practicing asking yourself if you are hungry, try offering yourself some gentle compassion at your next meal. Maybe place a hand on top of your other hand, as a reminder to bring loving awareness to the experience. Perhaps nourish yourself with a deep breath or words of encouragement such as, “This can be hard. Let’s go slow and see how this feels.” Practice calling up the image of someone you love dearly and while you eat, treat yourself with the love and gentleness you would treat this person. Feed yourself compassion with every bite and see what happens to your relationship with food.
REMEMBER, CHANGE IS A PROCESS
My Zen teacher reminds me often, you cannot force change. All you can do is practice. Keep practicing, every day, until one day it becomes who you are.
Happy Holidays! Wishing you a gentle, loving, compassionate experience with yourself and the food you eat.
Please remember, life is too short just to survive. Use these practices to help you THRIVE!
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If you use any of the practices suggested, please feel free to share your experiences and send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, your comments and feedback help inform future posts.