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Mindful Eating During The Holidays

This time of year used to be especially tough.

As a recovering emotional eater, being faced with the sequential temptation of Halloween candy, Thanksgiving feasts, and Christmas parties felt like being an alcoholic trapped in a bar… for three months.

Sometimes I’d give in and eat as much junk as I wanted, using the excuse that “everybody gains weight during the holidays.”

Sometimes I’d have a few bites and then stop, which sounds normal until I’d turn into a werewolf and want to devour the whole table.

Sometimes when I was alone I’d chew sweets over the trash and then spit them out, which was totally gross (for starters) but it also made me feel like a junkie.

Sometimes I’d eat carrots and watch, fuming, as others enjoyed “the good stuff” and – at my lowest point in college – I tried to make myself throw up.

When it didn’t work, I actually got mad.

“Great”, I thought. “I can’t even be a bulimic properly.”

I recognize that I keep writing that I’m done writing about this topic, but then I keep getting emails like this one.

I have been dealing with food addiction and the sometimes chronic emotional issues associated with that for almost five years. The progress I’ve done through structured mindfulness practice is incredible, but something keeps asking inside of me if I could ever go beyond the addiction and eat like a normal person again.

I’ve received about a dozen of these from very successful executive women in the past few months who are otherwise excelling in their careers.

Accountants.

Attorneys.

Business owners.

Mostly moms. A couple college students.

And while I wouldn’t classify any of them as “overweight”, they do have one thing in common.

They are stressed out of their minds.

The pressure of work coupled with the pressure of pretending they have it all together has them binge eating, usually at night.

As a point of distinction, I’m not talking about a cookie here and there.

I’m talking about the helpless feeling of out-of-control eating patterns, even though….

…you want to stop.

…you know you need to stop.

…you’re fully aware of the damage you’re doing to your physical and emotional health.

If this sounds all-too-familiar, you should know by now that it’s not about the food. It’s about running from something painful by numbing it with something “pleasurable.”

Like all addictions, it’s about the escape.

From overwhelm.

From fear.

From feeling inadequate.

From unmet expectations.

From reality.

What bothers me the most – and why I feel compelled to write about this again – is that the women I speak with seem to think their issue is willpower.

So they keep food journals and wonder why they can’t stop thinking about food.

That’s like me telling you not to think about Beyonce.

Beyonce.

Beyonce.

Beyonce.

Beyonce.

Beyonce.

Did you think about Beyonce?

Of course you did.

Because that’s how our minds work.

Food journals force you to think about food – and that’s why they suck for addictions.

So forget the journal and focus on the void you’re trying to fill.

If it’s the stress of your job, what needs to shift? The hours you work, the amount you delegate, the committees you’ve joined?

If it’s the stress of your kids, what needs to shift? More time with them in the mornings, getting a housecleaner so you’re available on the weekends, finding a tutor for the homework you can’t do?

If it’s the stress of your relationship, what needs to shift? Better calendar communication, carving out a date night, or perhaps even ending it altogether?

The point here is that the problem with food isn’t the whole problem. It’s a coping mechanism used to deal with something greater you’re not facing yet.

And so as you think about grabbing that Reese’s Cup or those leftover Peanut M&M’s today (and throughout the holiday season) be mindful of WHAT you’re putting in your body and WHY you’re eating it in the first place.

Ask yourself, “Am I nourishing or numbing here?” and commit to making the right choice in the moment.

You’ll fall down of course – we all do – but I’m here to tell you from experience that the more you get up and get back on track, the easier it becomes over time.

And that’s when the true healing begins.

Not because you need the journal.

But because you don’t.

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