A Word on Holiday Eating

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Eating is so much to us, and yet, we’d prefer to pretend it’s just physical “fuel.” There couldn’t be a better time to prove this concept inadequate than during the holiday season. The holidays prove that food is emotional, social, a source of joy and pleasure, cultural, nostalgic, and even spiritual.


At this time of year, I hear comments from clients, friends, and acquaintances who cling to the idea that food is strictly physical nutrition (and that this knowledge will guide their holiday eating choices). When we view food as fuel, we’re able to likin the body to a machine and our mind to that of a robot. Robots and machines operate according to programming commands and they’re control of their actions. They’re not, well, human.  

In practice, rooting yourself in robot-like expectations leads to phrases like this:

·     “I need to get my sh*t together” 

·     “I'm just going to survive the month of December”

·     “Food has consequences” 

·     "I won't give in to temptations” 

·     "I just need to control my cravings"

All of the above are real phrases I’ve heard from clients during conversations on holiday eating. Let’s take the first quote, for example. You're either working out "6x per week and eating 'super clean' " (one of my client's standards for herself), or you "need to get your sh*t together," because you've had a busy couple months at work and you may have cut your workouts from 6 to 3x per week and fed McDonalds to your 3 year old on a handful of occasions (how my client reflected upon herself departing from her standard). 

When I begin coaching with my clients, they often have an all or nothing, good or bad, and on-track or off-track mindset when it comes to eating. This dichotomy leads to only two options, of course. Option one includes impeccably high standards with zero wiggle room. Option two includes binging on whatever you've deprived yourself of and usually doesn't make you feel very good (mentally, physically, and otherwise). For obvious reasons, these two, narrow paths battle it out every holiday season.

There is a boomerang experience between deprivation and over-indulgence. When we take a robot-like approach to holiday eating (and eating anytime for that matter) we throw the boomerang. With my clients, we take time to create new language around food. We opt out of extreme, black or white language and instead speak in dynamic shades of grey. I have yet to coach a client who has been successful long-term with extreme measures. 

Grey is good. US culture often favors absolutes (get the facts! get the numbers!), but grey offers creativity, forgiveness, compassion, strategy, non-judgement, and open-mindedness. I'll take all of the above over 'survival mode,' "consequences," control, non-forgiveness, suppressing cravings, etc. Why? Because humans don't operate in absolutes, or as robots. This is likely why long-term success doesn't follow extreme-based "solutions" (like juice cleanses, calorie restrictions followed by "cheat days", binge eating, etc.).

When we view food as the dynamic entity that it is (not just physical nutrition), we opt out of a reductionist mindset. We open ourselves to the joy of food, to its uniting force, to its ability to recall memories, to its seasonal magic, to its capacity to elicit emotion. When we view food in a whole sense, we make holiday eating choices based in our genuine humanness.

For example, we’re able to enjoy our favorite foods of the holidays without guilt, or the belief that we’d better “earn” our treats with intense work outs. We tell ourselves we have the right to enjoy and savor this special holiday meal/treat/etc. Likewise, we don’t have a need to view holiday foods and treats as temptations that we may need to binge on because they “only come once a year.” And, we’re not “out of control and better just eat poorly until January,” because we had one rich meal. You get to enjoy the pleasures of holiday eating and stay connected to your health goals and what helps you to feel good. 

As we continue to navigate a month in which you may delight in holiday eating, I invite you to be mindful of your language. How you describe your eating/food relationship speaks volumes to your potential success in feeling your best. And this goes for self-talk, as well as talk with others. Comments from family and friends that place expectations on eating more, on eating less, on trying theirdessert, on shaming themselves based on what they may have ate and expecting you to join the self-shaming party are all liable to happen, and yet, are not worth engaging if they take you away from cultivating a positive relationship with food. Trust that compassion (and compassionate language) breeds your success. 

I get that the holidays are stressful for a variety of reasons, including food. Know that you’re not alone in navigating these challenges and that developing a joy-based relationship with food takes time and practice (and that it’s so, so worth it). For those celebrating, I wish you happy, joy-filled, and delicious holiday eating.

Be well,

Nellie