Health & Compulsive Eating: How to Get Through the Holidays, Part 1

by Courtney on December 5, 2013

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Happy Holidays! Holidays bring mixed feelings for many people who struggle with eating and weight. Many of us look forward to the holidays in some ways, but simultaneously feel worry (or even dread!) about the possibility of overeating, junk food, and how it will affect our weight. By exploring why we go off the deep end, and what’s behind that behavior, we can prevent a great deal of stress and suffering during the holidays (and any time of year). So, let’s dive in!

Myth #1: You have to attend everything.

Truth: You don’t have to attend everything.

There is often a long list of events you could possibly go to during the holidays: family gatherings, friend gatherings, holiday drinks out, going out to restaurants, office parties, potlucks, and more. There may be events that you don’t really feel like going to, for whatever reason–perhaps you’d rather stay cozy at home, or you actually don’t really love spending time with those that invited you. Or perhaps you’re juice feasting, and just don’t feel like answering lots of questions about your cleansing.

Reality: Your true friends and family who love you will still care about you even if you choose not to attend things, so don’t bother with trying to please others by attending things you know you won’t really enjoy. When we don’t really want to go, that is one of the scenarios that can prompt overeating. I mean, think about it: you don’t really want to be there, so what’s going to make it tolerable? Probably eating. Your soul and your body is better off just saying no.

I know many of us have very firm beliefs about family and the holidays (which may not be true, by the way), but it is also ok to opt out of family gatherings that you don’t want to attend. Family gatherings often lead to people eating a ton in order to suppress their emotions of being around their family, since for most of us there is emotional baggage and long-term bad habits ingrained around them. If you do choose to go to family events, don’t feel bad about limiting the amount of time you’re there. Again — attending events that we don’t really want to attend just ends in stress and overeating. We didn’t listen to ourselves. We decided to not love ourselves by not listening to what we really wanted, and that feels terrible. And then we feel terrible all around and we choose to cover that with eating our feelings (literally).

Myth #2: Tradition must be followed or you are rude/no fun/impolite.

Truth: There is no need to follow traditions that do not inspire you.

Most people’s main traditions are around food, but this applies to other traditions you might have as well. Many families have traditional foods they eat at the holidays. I know in my family, healthy vegan food is definitely not anywhere close to the traditional food! The reality is that many of the food-based traditions are about addiction, especially when they involve overeating and eating junky food. And when people are addicted to holiday traditions, they defend them like an addiction. In some families, it would be considered rude or wierd to not eat the way everyone else is eating. But it is not rude, and it is ok to break out of tradition.

We are allowed to choose our own traditions. We are allowed to eat differently than those around us eat. We are allowed to not take part in an activities we don’t feel drawn to taking part in. Traditions that we take part in which are healthy on all levels will be ones which we will feel joy and passion while we are taking part in them. You’re allowed to throw out ones you don’t want and bring in new ones. You can change your mind year to year. In my family, I’m the only one who doesn’t eat animal products, which were a huge food tradition. There will be no circumstances where I will make an exception to that, and so I either make or bring my own food. And sometimes, it’s not even really traditional food at all. One year I ate raw vegan lettuce wraps with avocado and pate and veggies for Thanksgiving. Once, I even Juice Feasted through all the holidays (Oct thru Dec!) It was still enjoyable for me it the most because I was able to focus on being loving to myself while also enjoying the company of my relatives and loved ones.

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Myth #3: It’s all or nothing when it comes to food and the holidays.

Fact: Focusing on long-term health impact and always coming back to proper nutrition if we get off course is key.

Many of us eat pretty badly during the holidays and then figure we’ll start in the new year to get back on track, which obviously, is a big reason New Years Resolutions are massively popular. But the truth is, your body has no idea that it’s the holidays and that November and December are any different than May and June. The all-or-nothing thinking is very illogical on a physical basis. Your body always takes the hit and it impacts long-term. Instead, remember that November and December are great months to be drinking lots of green juice and eating lots of salads and smoothies and fresh produce. Who cares what you ate last night? Have some green juice this morning. Who cares what you’re going to eat later today? Have a salad now. It is not pointless to have healthy things even if you’re not eating perfectly. Your body would far prefer you some chocolate plus green juice than only chocolate. I’m not justifying junk food and encouraging you to eat crap and then just attempt to balance it out with green juice. But I am saying avoid the all-or-nothing thinking and get some nutrition in!

Myth #4: We won’t fully enjoy the holidays if we don’t overeat/eat when unhealthy festive foods/eat lots at gatherings.

Fact: We can feel love, comfort, and celebration during the holidays no matter what we’re eating and actually have nothing to do with food.

The holidays can expose what we really believe about the feelings of love, comfort, celebration, festivity, etc. We think, “It’s the holidays, the time of year for delicious things” or “It’s time to celebrate. I’m going to really allow myself whatever I want,” but what both of these end up meaning is we eat lots of junk food loaded with sugar and bad fats, and too much of it at that. We think, “This is a time of love and festivity, and I deserve to be relaxed about food” or we don’t even justify and we just think, “Hey it’s the holidays!” = overeating and junk food consumption.

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I am not at all trying to take this in the direction of saying we need to restrict and just eat carrot sticks and lettuce. I am just bringing to light that many of us have skewed definitions of and associations with these feelings of comfort and festivity. And I’ve been there! I said all those things to myself, and the holidays used to be a good 5 weeks or so where I was pretty much constantly eating and feeling horrible, and having massive anxiety as each week progressed and I ate more. But we need to look critically at our associations:

  • Is feeling so full you can’t move without discomfort really enjoyment and celebration?
  • Is loading your body up with junk foods that massively damage your health, really relaxation and comfort?
  • Is eating when you’re not actually hungry and your body doesn’t want it, but for some external reason (someone made it, it looks good, etc.) really fun and festivity?

Closing thoughts: What Holidays Can Be

Let me paint a different picture of what the holidays can become for you, and what they’ve become for me:

You go to some holiday gatherings that your heart feels excited about, and you decline going to ones you’re not interested in. When you decline going, you do exactly what you really wanted to do instead. You don’t dread any gatherings, no matter how much food will be there, and how unique the food will be. You don’t worry about how much junk food might be there. You are not concerned you will overeat and gain weight during the holidays.

You enjoy dressing yourself for holiday events because you are at a healthy weight and feel at peace with your body. If you are bringing food, you bring exactly what you wanted to contribute. You find out ahead of time what the food situation will be. You have no expectations of others to feed you, but you also feel absolutely no guilt about possibly eating differently than them. If there will not be options for you there but you still have a genuine desire to go, you bring your own food, and you enjoy the people and activities. If you’re juice cleansing, you feel at ease with drinking juice and not worrying about what anyone around you thinks about it. And if they do make a big deal of it, you know full well you can always choose to leave the gathering early.

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When you’re at the social gathering, you enjoy it so much more than you used to before you healed compulsive eating. You feel good in your body. You don’t eat more than your body needs, and you don’t feel deprived about that. You are so much more present for everything that goes on. You are not uncomfortably full, you are not thinking about the food, you are fully enjoying yourself. You can fully appreciate the decor, the activities, the conversation. In fact, you enjoy the conversations so much more because you are truly listening and sharing. You feel joy, love, and peace. When you leave the social situation, you feel satisfied but not full. You go to bed feeling so appreciative of such lovely experiences. You wake up and your body feels good and balanced, and you’re looking forward to the coming day. When the new year comes, New Years Resolutions may not necessarily be attractive or necessary, because you’ve showing love to yourself all through the holidays. You experienced true celebration, love, comfort, and festivity, without food providing those feelings. You experience the true sources of joy, total peace, and happiness.

Tell me about your feelings and experiences! What have your food challenges been during the holidays? Has it gotten easier with time, and what have you done to make the holidays more kind to yourself? I’d love to hear from you!

-Courtney

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura K December 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Thanks for this article Courtney! Very timely–and I tried your recipe (sort of yesterday)…I added turnips since I have some from CSA still and lime and ginger and no fruit and it was good! Thanks!

I am struggling more with food this year due to giving up an unhealthy relationship and getting triggered by old memories. Thanks for the tips and especially the encouragement to keep trying/ eating healthy even if I fall off track.

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Courtney December 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Thanks for your comment, Laura! It sounds like a lot is getting triggered for you to heal, and I’m sure it’s taking a lot of courage. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog and the recipe, too. :)

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