Let's face it, we love to indulge over the festive period and for many of us it can be a huge mental load of anxiety, frustration, stress and upset, usually those of us who are pretty rigid and restrictive with our food on a regular day on our 'prescribed diets' and we are scared of other foods being around us that aren't in our plan, foods we fear due to our cravings and lack of control around our preferred sweet/savoury goodies.
But ditching the diet over Xmas and practicing a more intuitive approach to food could help you relieve those anxious and stressful feelings during the holidays, and maybe even enjoy it a little more than usual?
Consider these six tips for a more intuitive approach over the holiday season, so you feel more relaxed and at peace around the additional, more extravagant foods and alcohol...
Christmas time used to plague me with fear, even the fact most gyms closed near us over this time period would send me into a panic, reduced abilities to stay active and my fear about my control around food. For us it would be Christmas eve night takeaway, Christmas day food all day with my family, boxing day leftovers and more family gatherings and also new years Eve. Not a huge amount of days in total, nonetheless it would stress me out really bad.
Everything I would view, I would be categorising it to be good or bad foods and off course the 'bad' was the more dominant at this time. I would be known to drive to a gym further away purely so I felt I could train through Xmas and burn off the bad foods I had consumed, delaying other family events to satisfy my own issues/needs around this. Usually by Xmas day evening i was in full 'F**k it mode" and would just eat everything I could to get the cravings out of my system and know I would be starting fresh on New Years Day..."Time to knuckle down back to the plan", the more crap I ate now, the less I would want or need it come January time.
What wasn't so obvious then, was that whilst obsessing about these foods, thinking about my protein intake, the chocolate I was consuming and needing to 'go burn off' and try to stop myself eating all the sweet goods in sight, that is made mentally want the food more by having these thoughts plaguing me constantly! Even more so as I knew than January 1st , meant no more treats and back to clean living.
The food itself is not the problem as it is short period of time for many in the grand scheme of things. It is in fact our beliefs and attitudes about the food itself and our approach the rest of the year.
Are you a calorie tracker, macro counter, points whizz, or avoid certain food groups? Avoiding or labelling food as either 'good' or 'bad', ensured your food is measured/weighed/portioned within an inch of its life? Me too!! You aren't alone, many of us live our lives like this, in fact, post my eating disorders, this has been then how I have lived my life as a bodybuilder compensating one issue for a new one!
But what happens with these approaches...we try to be good, ALL the time in most instances, as soon as we have these restrictions and rules placed upon us, we feel deprived and in need of that we can't now have. Your brain goes into scarcity mode and wants more of it in order to 'survive' as our reptilian brain isn't that great with rational thinking ha ha!
So; these more social times of year arrive and so after months/a year of restriction and rules, this period of temptation can leave us feeling out of control and having no trust within ourselves to eat like a human being rather than human doing without going overboard with what we consume.
However - you can have a Christmas - New Year period where:
You can actually select the food you do want and enjoy it
You can listen to what your body might really want
You don’t dread getting “back on the wagon” again come Jan 1st
You don't binge in the build up of the impending restriction of Jan 1st!
Consider some of these top tips to implement a more mindful eating during the holiday season and help you stop feeling like a crazy food obsessed mo'fo throughout this month of December:
1. STEP 1 - Do not commit yourself to a diet, not now, not in January!
Ok, here is the thing, when we build the mindset that "diet starts again Monday" or "well Xmas was a complete mess, I need to go really clean and strict in January" — this is a large part of the reason why you end up feeling out of control throughout the holidays.
These thoughts alone, regardless if it is a conscious choice or a subconscious thought that you may not be fully aware of but have toyed with the idea of needing to restrict come Jan - your body still knows something is coming!
Any sniff of restriction that the reptilian brain gets (don't forget it doesn't do logic - just emotional survival) - this could trigger your deprivation streak and survival mode will kick in, even if you are surrounded by food at that moment...so you rationally know you are not going to starve in that moment. But this then creates our behaviours around this said food.
This underlying focus be it consciously or not, is the reason why you will feel the need to fill your boats and raid that Xmas buffet, why you carry on eating Celebrations even when you are stuffed from your Christmas dinner and why each time you pass the buffet you 'just pick up' another handful of snacks.
2. You are allowed to eat - give yourself Permission
The more you tell your brain not to want or do something, the more it will want to do it. The brain does not know how NOT to do something. So if you think you can outwill yourself with epic motivation to not think about eating that cake or an extra couple of Yorkshire puddings - you will think about it more, crave it even more and overeat more than what you had potentially even though you would. This will make you feel you have no control over or around these foods.
Eating one particular food/drink, sweet/savoury/alcoholic or creamy will not suddenly make you 'Unhealthy'. And if you stick to always eating the foods you pedestal to be 'healthy' instead of allowing yourself to eat what you fancy and actually enjoy will improve your satisfaction.
What do you label 'unhealthy' or 'bad'? Where has this belief come from?
Ask yourself 'What do I actually really fancy right now, food labels aside?'
Be more intentional with your choices, stop judging yourself for wanting that Baileys hot chocolate with cream on top! (It's not like you do it often and there is space for us to try a variety of foods).
When you do eat, be considerate and mindful instead of wolfing it down without a breathe, enjoy the tastes and flavours - and this isn't intended to be all WooWoo, we honestly do not spend enough time slowing down and appreciating the tastes and sensations food brings us. For some people we do eat like it's the end of the bloody world!
This process takes time, it is a new behaviour that takes practice so be kind to yourself on this one. But you don't have to wait for the Xmas for this one - start this TIP.2 now!!
3. Listen to your body
For some of us - this time of year can be stressful, juggling family commitments, family politics, financials, gift buying, lockdown/Covid this time around too plus many other factors. With this additional stress in mind, it can be much harder to acknowledge or even listen to your internal cues. I advise you try to listen yo when you are truly hungry (not to the point where you REALLY feel starving hunger as this is then an obvious physical sign you need to eat and my then binge) , acknowledge with your more mindful eating strategy, when you are really full, satisfied and also note how you body feels after eating each meal/type of food.
Where are you on the hunger scale? What do you fancy? Don't forget to give yourself permission to each what you believe you have the desire to eat. When you do eat it - please give it attention, focus on this food and mindful eat it, not shove it down your face hole. Throughout eating a meal - check in with yourself intermittently, ask yourself on the fullness scale where you are sitting 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and at the end of your meal. If you feel satiated 1/2 way through, then stop. You do not have to finish due to your beliefs that you have to clean your plate (often stemming from our parents). Did you enjoy the food you ate and did it make you feel satisfied or live to expectation?
Check out a hunger scale here for you to consider
4. Be consistent with your meals
I know I have done it, I will starve all day so i can save my 'calories' for a big meal! Then when I can eat, I either really don't enjoy the food due to inhaling it, or when I am inhaling it, fullness hits be quickly and painfully so nothing else can be enjoyed and ruins the rest of the day/evening.
Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, increased cravings, and increased binging.
Now, I eat consistently through the day of the foods I usually have and enjoy. I listen to my hunger cues when I need to shift from the office and eat, nor not in some instances and eat something I know I will enjoy. This applies to all year round, if you do not consistently eat when you do feel hungry, your body and mind begins to lose trust in you feeding it, thus when you do eat, you find you have a lack of control and can not stop, even when full! This scarcity mindset wants you to fill up in case you don't allow yourself to eat again for some time, it wants to survive.
Keep your food diverse, colourful, exciting and satisfying!
5. The 'last supper' mindset
Ha ha, man have I done this more times over in the past than I dread to think! This was every Sunday evening for me! The last supper mentality is the idea that if you’ve eaten a “bad”/"cheat" food or had a “bad/cheat” day, then the day is screwed and you might as well just keep ignoring your body cues, keep eating crap and start clean tomorrow.
This is common throughout the year and also in certain sports where cheat meals or going into prep/post competition are regular, it can for some happen even more often during the holidays.
See tip 1 as this is similar to the Diet starts January mentality, learn when you behaviours and self talk seem very 'All or nothing' and learn to start removing this mentality!
6. Set Boundaries
This time of year, we may see family and friends whom we don't see a lot during the year regularly, we all have that one person usually that can speak out of turn or pass comment on either our weight, how we look, what we are/are not eating, if we chose to drink or not …. I have had it all!!!
Knowing how to deal with comments and situations like this can be a god send to reduce stress, anger or panic. Having boundaries in place for yourself to what you will and will not put up with is healthy self care and good practice.
You will not agree with or please everyone, so don't try to especially if they are that hard work kind of character. Change the subject in a light hearted way, think about how you reply with your tone of voice and intention in your message.
Or if you’re up for something a little more direct and feel able to say something along the lines of “I actually have a hard time hearing about people’s diets / nutrition programs / wellness protocols, because those things have really messed up my own relationship with food and my body, and I’m trying to heal.” Or alter this to any topic you feel you don't wish to be involved in speaking about.
If like me, I like to escape and excuse myself, to get another drink, text a friend or outside for a breather. Even sitting in the loo or a room away from others for a short period to gather your thoughts, self talk through your daily affirmations, do a few minutes of deep breathing exercises to calm and ground yourself, maybe even head for a quick walk around the block, stick in your headphones and listen to anything that makes you feel good - music, podcasts, audible.
Remember, we all have the right to set boundaries
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