(Holiday Eating Tips – originally published on The Womens Project as Food vs. Joy.)
Wouldn’t you agree that the holidays bring up just as much stress as they do joy? As Christmas music starts to play, twinkling lights begin to go up, and cloying scents of cinnamon and pine waft through department stores, our nostalgic childhood memories are summoned by familiar feelings of joyous anticipation and comfort.
It feels wonderful.
Until it doesn’t.
Crowds, hyper-materialistic consumerism, and weight gain, oh my!
We might be pretty good at controlling our experience around mobs of crazed shoppers, but what about all the amazing food?? I mean, we HAVE to eat to stay alive, right? While we can avoid Black Friday for sanity’s sake, we cannot forgo sustenance.
It’s not so easy to eliminate the things we need to survive (read: fudge), especially when it’s available around every corner at work. And all those holiday parties we have to to go to? The fatiguing self-restraint is just as real as all the laughter and merriment. How can we successfully approach this dilemma and not tax our willpower muscle while fully immersing ourselves in the holiday joy that is FOOD?
Food vs. Joy
One way is it to think about it in an entirely different way. Remember when food and joy were on the same team when you were a kid? Becoming child-like in our experiences during the holidays (and forever after) requires a whole new perspective on eating and happiness.
Before we dig in, let’s take stock of all the articles you’ve probably read on holiday eating tips during the November and December months…
According to most advice out there, we’re instructed to classify all food we observe as friend or foe and strictly adhere to eating moderate amounts of that which is deemed acceptable.
Honestly, that’s a lot of work. At the end of the day after dealing with all the overwhelming demands and stresses that fly at me constantly, I welcome the respite that is good food. The last thing I want to do is inventory mental piles of good and bad and follow an imaginary directive so I can keep from getting fat.
Instead how about we take a few steps back and examine the connection between food and happiness and become team players with our experience, not victims.
Joy is Captain, Food is MVP
Think about this for a second: everything you want, dream about, and work hard for is because you believe that you will feel good in the having of it.
We dream about happy holidays filled with laughter and love. We work hard to look fantastic (especially in that cocktail attire). We strive for good health. We also like to eat really tasty memory-evoking holiday goodness.
We do this all in order to FEEL GOOD.
This is our ultimate goal yet the methods we employ are believed to be at odds. Are you starting to see the conundrum here? Yeah, this contradictory tension is what causes much of our misery.
This probably isn’t anything new to you. You may, in fact, be thinking: “Tell me something I DON’T know.” Ok. I will.
The moment you get food, joy, and feeling good all on the same team, it ALL works out. Meaning you can feel lighthearted and joyful while looking fantastic, and being free to eat what your heart desires. All at once, all the time. Really, truly.
How do we make that happen?
Recognize how much you demonize food.
Before we can Kumbaya with food and joy, we first have to recognize how much context we hold around all of it. Start by noticing your inclinations and aversions around what you see and what you’re offered. What are your thought processes when you’re grocery shopping, looking at a menu, or staring at a gorgeous display of a feast at a party? Becoming friends with food (all food) means first recognizing how you judge, fear, and avoid it.
It doesn’t matter how demonic you believe it might be, yes, even deep-fried panettone french toast. The secret here is to drop all judgement about it. Essentially, what we’re doing here is dropping unnecessary resistance. Resistance is opposition. When we push against something we keep that something we’re opposing very alive in our experience… and in a very taxing way.
I’m sure you know what I mean. Forbid yourself to eat cheese, or drink wine, or eat chocolate for a week and see how that goes.
Stop demonizing food and instead observe it objectively to eliminate resistance to it. Hold all food – whether it’s a Big Mac, a Slurpee, or a cup of chia seeds – in your awareness without a story about it. Just see it as food.
Now, removing resistance doesn’t mean you’re going to end up gorging yourself on all of it. It will be just the opposite. Because…
You become present.
Our bodies know so much more than we give it credit. I believe that because a majority of our senses are held above our shoulders, we believe that that is where all our mind power is. But then where do the statements: I have a gut feeling.. my heart aches… my chest is heavy with sadness… my head tells me one thing, my heart another… come from?
In other words, my body may be telling me one thing while my mind is saying something totally different. If I’m not in tune with my body, I will override my subtle impulses and favor that which I intellectually derive. What this looks like is eating salad too many consecutive days, and bypassing things like, say, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which would truly nourish my body and soul.
The slow build-up of denial in the guise of good health leads to an eventual backlash when my will is weak and my urges strong. I’ll binge on something I have a resistance-filled, love/hate relationship with and then beat myself up. The fleeting joy is lost to overpowering guilt. Guilt I’m falsely thinking comes from choosing incorrectly with a binge. But this guilt has little to do with the binge and everything to do with my perpetual lack of presence and inattention to a deeper communication.
Had I been present more often through the week and heeded the subtle urges and inclinations below my mental processes, I would not of rubber-banded into a place of guilt and shame. And moreover, the steady fulfillment and satisfaction from being attuned with my impulses guide me in a way of fulfilling exactly what I need, in every moment, on purpose. Being attuned means being present.
And that’s the key – PRESENCE. We absolutely need mindfulness to make this work. To heed my impulses might mean I eat that gooey chocolate croissant at breakfast, and that I’m craving an avocado with kale and apple slices for lunch. I mindfully and respectfully follow these inclinations. Come dinner time at the holiday party, my senses are satiated and my mental state is calm. As I peer at the yummy goodness my host is generously offering, I have no internal push/pull going on. As such, there is no fear of deprivation or overindulgence. In truth, I know I can have any of this any time I want, not just this party, because I HOLD NO RESISTANCE. Without that resistance, I’m more in tune if I really, truly want any of it or not. And so I’ll mindfully follow my urges and know when I’m comfortably full.
With this stance, JOY is the team captain and food is MVP.
Because the fact is – our deepest intention is to feel good on all levels… to be healthy, look and feel incredible, and live a wonderful long life. So allow yourself to TRUST the pure communication from your body and soul and recognize that your mindful presence, sans resistance, will guide you effortlessly through the myriad of holiday indulgences.
Trust that all parts of you are in alignment with your deepest intention and let your impulses guide you to radiant health and happiness. Experience, once again, the magic of being teammates with food, joy, and the holidays.
(Article also related: The Reason You Hate Feeling Fat)
Amy Eliza Wong is a life coach, writer, and speaker in the Sacramento, CA area committed to helping people figure out what makes them tick so they can finally live with joy and real purpose. Learn more about working with her.