A Binge Eater's Guide to the Holidays
I've been tipped off that my American friends are sliding their way into the holiday season right now, and as Canadians, we're not far behind them with Black Friday and Cyber Monday now a thing. Let the spending, decorating and eating begin! Or...
On the eating note, I want to give you some quick and easy reminders about... you guessed it... your brain, and food, for the holiday season. I say 'brain' and food, because if you've been following my posts and work, you'll know by now that binge eating isn't a personal fault- it's the way our brains evolved to make sure we have the best chance of survival. However, pair that brain with our modern food landscape, or even the holiday food landscape, plus our culture's obsession with smaller bodies, and things can get a little complicated. So here goes.
1) As common as it seems, and as rational as it sounds to 'save room', please don't skip meals around this time of year. I remember last year at a party, one woman boasted, "I didn't eat all day because I knew there would be so much food here." Don't be her. Skipping meals sets your brain up to consider the fact that there may not be food coming again, and perhaps it should stock up when it finds some (eat everything in sight at the party). It also means that the higher, rational, conscious part of your brain hasn't been fuelled all day, so when nostalgic, hearty, delightful food is in front of you, it will be hard to say no.
Keep your brain and your body fuelled through the days of the holidays so that you'll be able to make rational decisions about food on a case by case basis, reflecting on how hungry you are, what food's coming up, if you really like the food, and so on. Make those choices conscious and connected, not just a result of a susceptible brain that's seeking fuel.
2) Recognize that alcohol limits your ability to access that higher brain. The more you drink, the more you'll eat.
3) Notice when you start punishing yourself, and instead start tuning in. After you've had a few too many bites of something you didn't want to, notice if you start hearing the classic "I've blown it now" thoughts. These are the thoughts that say 'that food is off limits, I've had some now, so I might as well throw in the towel because I won't be having any of these foods again once I 'start fresh' after the holidays'. Notice this attempt to find solid ground, this attempt to bring back some control when it feels lost. When this kind of control and punishment starts, we need to notice that it's just an attempt to ease uncomfortable emotions that we're feeling. And the more you ignore the discomfort of what you're feeling, the further away from yourself you'll get. It's okay to feel disappointed, to regret a choice. It's not a good feeling, but punishing yourself instead of acknowledging yourself simply distances you from you, and from there you're likely to tell yourself you don't care, or some other defeating thought and eat everything that you'd normally try to deny yourself. Stay connected, don't punish yourself.
4) On that note, give yourself permission to eat anything you want, but stay connected to yourself and ask yourself if you really want it. Rich and decedent holiday foods will always sound like a good idea, especially if you have a habit of depriving yourself of these foods in the name of weight loss of other means of control. They're inherently high in reward value for your brain. That means they're an A+ for your brain if it thinks there's some sort of food scarcity or shortage, which is exactly what happens when we try to diet our way out of binge eating- it doesn't work! So, if you've been able to follow #1, which was eating all your meals, consistently, and not limiting food or skipping meals, you'll have the rational capacity to discern what you really want to eat and what you don't. Knowing that most of the foods around you will always sound like a good idea to your brain, you can tune in to other cues your body is giving you, such as hunger and fullness cues, and a true sense of desire, instead of punishing 'I'll just eat is all now and make up for it tomorrow' thoughts. Really check in to see what you want to eat- just ask yourself, is this what I really want? And with that permission to eat anything you really want, your body should guide you to what that is, so long as you have the rational higher brain on your side from #1 and #2.
5) Know which foods are the ones you can never stop. Know which foods stimulate your brain in a way that you lose a sense of control, and ask yourself if you're up for that. The truth is that there will always be foods that make us want to go back for more and more, but part of our awareness and rational decision making should be in knowing which foods those are, so we're not once again surprised that we can't stop. Modern foods are made to hijack our brains, so remind yourself ahead of time which foods those are for you, and make that awareness part of your decisions. If nacho chips dipped in a 7-layer dip topped with cheese (ahem, true story) really grabs your attention, remind yourself that that's always the case and ask yourself if you're okay with overeating that food.
6) Ultimately, you want to respect your survival instincts and have compassion if you overeat or feel out of control. As a binge eater, it's likely your brain has been getting the message that there's not enough fuel, and food is in short supply (compensating for binge eating with restriction is what keeps most people stuck in the binge eating cycle). When this is the case, your brain will hyper focus on these holiday foods, or any palatable, stimulating, high reward foods, for that matter. That's nothing personal, it's your brain's way of looking out for you and helping you survive. Respect that, have compassion for yourself if you get caught in that, and remind yourself that it's not you, it's a normal brain acting the way it should.
Happy Holiday Season everyone!
If you'd like to get a head start on navigating your way through this season with support, please reach out. It's completely possible to not binge eat or over-eat during the holidays, but it does take some time to get there. These next 5 weeks before the New Year could be what makes 2019 the year you no longer binge eat. If that sounds good to you, book a free discovery call and let's connect.