When You Just. Can't. Stop.
The Holidays are around the corner- a magical and nostalgic time, or perhaps awkward and stressful. Food and emotions and socializing. Then New Years Eve, the most powerful 'Fresh Start' anyone could ask for. It's the perfect storm for those struggling with food.
If feeling out of control, unable to stop yourself from overeating at holiday parties, always the one who goes back again and again to the potluck spread or bowl of chocolates sounds familiar to you, then reading this now may offer you some support.
The difference between merrily 'over-indulging' during the holidays, and experiencing a shameful and frustrating feeling of being out of control around food has two layers.
The first is the degree of choices- whole-heartedly wanting to enjoy the offerings, vs. feeling a compulsion to go back for more, and the second is the emotional result- very little to no emotional backlash, vs. feelings of disappointment, pain, depression, anxiety, fear of weight gain, and more.
The reasons for both go back to topics that I've talked about on this blog many times- our physiological response as it relates to dieting and food restriction, and the emotional shame that can happen from overeating which distances us from ourselves and creates more reasons to eat.
If you're heading into the holidays having been working on a weight loss goal, or trying to restrict your food intake, then you could be setting yourself up for bingeing or overeating.
In times of dieting, cutting calories, skipping meals, overexercising or other, the brain naturally intensifies its hunt for high-density foods to re-establish the caloric balance it has been accustomed to. In other words, losing weight or restricting food can make us more focused on pleasurable foods than we would have otherwise been. We speak about these foods as having a 'high food reward value' (Stephen Guyenet), and the holidays are full of them.
Not only does this happen more intensely when we've experienced some restriction or weight loss, it can also happen simply because modern food triggers our lesser evolved brain to want more. It's totally natural, and companies make the big bucks off of this trait. This is how we survived- our ability to find the most pleasurable and highest density foods available to us, and it isn't likely to stop any time soon! If we've been actively restricting these pleasurable foods from ourselves for any other reason then full-on love and respect for the individual needs of our bodies, then allowing yourself 'just one' during the holidays could cascade into many, which could break through the doors of 'self control' and end up in a holiday cookie feast. Again, that's your brain plus modern foods doing what is totally natural- stocking up on foods with high reward value when available.
Now, add in emotions to the above, very natural and normal situations, and we've got a hot-Christmas-mess. With both of the examples above- having been restricting for weight loss, or restricting out of a desire for self-control (instead of the more powerful, self-love version of relating to food through your true intuitive needs and desires), the emotional backlash of overeating causes just as much trouble.
The notion of having eaten 'unhealthy', 'bad', or 'off limit' foods can be equated to having blown-it. And when we feel like we've 'failed', the emotional weight can be heavy.
In times of emotional pain with food, it's common to try to escape it. Some people do this by making a new plan (aka, starting another diet), and other people escape through more food, or eating until they're numb so they don't have to have a direct experience with the negative emotions. Others will thrown in the towel and aim for a fresh start on January 1st. The goal becomes trying not to confront feelings of remorse, a day of depression, a bad mood, shame, or failure.
Ironically though, it's in accepting these negative feelings, and being willing to feel and notice the discomfort as soon as possible, where you'll find an out.
Being willing to acknowledge feeling out of control, being willing to accept the pull of food, being willing to feel guilt, regret, annoyed and frustrated is where you'll have power to create space, step back, and re-choose your rational forward actions.
It's in ignoring these truths that we try to bulldoze our way through until the coast is clear.
Acknowledging and allowing these feelings will start creating cracks in the binge cycle, and start reconnecting you to your own experience instead of distancing you.
Although accepting mistakes and bumps in the road and the discomfort of certain emotions is hard, the only way it's harder is if you do it later instead of now, if you start tomorrow instead of today. Allow yourself the gift of compassion and curiosity this holiday season. Become interested in your own experience. Be willing to re-hash what happened, and learn from it. Be willing to feel discomfort if things don't go perfectly.
Wishing everyone a happy holiday and New Year.
Does your relationship with food feel like something you can't get a handle on? I can help. Connect with me to discuss how I can help you overcome binge eating or overeating in the New Year.