Holidays bring an abundance of family time and celebrations, which may or may not be a good thing for you. And so much delicious food. If you’re like me, you’ve probably eaten All The Things because they’re just so yummy. And it’s the holidays, so we’re allowed to indulge, right? Maybe family stress makes you want to drown your sorrows in just one more cookie/scoop of mashed potatoes/glass of wine.
Now that the New Year is upon us, those jeans that mostly fit in early December are stuffed in the back of the closet, filed under “for when I lose the weight”. You look in the mirror and think, “This is it. This is the year I will get myself together and eat well, work out and be healthier. I can do it! Say goodbye to the Mummy Tummy.”
And as you pass that container of cookies sitting on the counter, you think, “One more won’t hurt. It’s been a long day with the kids.” followed by, “Geez, woman, don’t you have any self control? What is wrong with you anyway?”
Most of us are guilty of eating our feelings at least some of the time. And then totally beating ourselves up for it afterwards. We fall into this cycle of believing the media’s lie of what women’s bodies “should” look like, feeling bad about ourselves, and then hoping a chocolate chip cookie will cheer us up while wallowing in self-hatred for eating said cookie.
Mamas, if that’s you even a little bit, know that food is not the enemy. You CAN change your relationship with food. Here are five ways to get started:
1. Acknowledge food for its intended purpose
What is food actually for? Nourishment. Fuelling our bodies. Providing us the energy we need to get through the day. And sometimes, for celebration. When we look at food as fuel rather than foe, we can start to think differently about what we’re eating.
For many, food is also for celebration. We gather, we share a meal, we enjoy the richness of good company and delightful flavours. Those are moments, and tastes, worth savouring.
2. Notice your hunger/satiety cues
As moms, we can get so distracted by all the things going on around us that we forget to slow down and notice what our bodies are telling us. We scarf down our meals in between “I need a spoon!”, “Can you get me the ketchup?”, and “I spilled my drink!” and rarely do we have a moment to think about how much we’ve eaten. Or we get to 1pm and realize that all we’ve had is some coffee and the Cheerios the toddler didn’t eat for breakfast.
On more than one occasion, I’ve noticed myself eating lunch at noon with my kids because that’s what you’re supposed to do, and then realizing part way through that I wasn’t actually hungry at all, likely due to my late breakfast and too-frequent snacking all morning. Had I slowed down and noticed my body, I might have decided to delay my lunch or snack on a couple of veggies while my kids ate.
In her book, Eating in the Light of the Moon, Dr. Anita Johnston teaches how to notice your hunger and satiety cues. Not only is it important to notice when you’re hungry, but also when you’re not. How many of us grew up with “You can’t leave the table until you’ve finished all your food”? It’s ok to stop when you feel sated. And it’s definitely ok to nourish your body when it’s needed.
3. Feel your feelings
It’s a common joke-truth among women that we eat our feelings. We don’t like how we feel, so we use a bit of sugar or alcohol to stimulate dopamine production, then we temporarily feel better (sort of). Because of the spikes in hormones and blood sugar levels, it doesn’t take long for the surge to crash, and cue the bad feelings we were trying to numb.
So the next time you’re staring into the pantry looking for something to numb yourself, try taking a moment to reflect on what you’re actually feeling. Are you sad? Lonely? Bored? Did you just have a fight with your partner? Did your mom say something that made you feel like you’re 5 years old again? Have the kids been at each other all day? Did you yell again after you promised yourself the last time would be the last time? Find the feeling, name it, and then release it. Then go drink a glass of water.
4. Plan your meals
I know, I know. Easier said than done. You don’t have the mental or creative energy for that. There’s too many other things to think about on a Sunday night. I get it. Really, I do. And I also know how relieved I feel when all I have to do is look at the little white board stuck to the side of my fridge to know what to make for dinner.
If I have a plan, I’m much less likely to give up and order pizza, and much more likely to make something healthy and enjoyable. And WAY more likely to feel good about what I’m eating. Whenever I drag my feet on making a meal plan, I tell myself this: Future you will thank current you for doing this now. Side benefits: leftovers make for decent lunches, and you’ll save money on groceries by knowing exactly what you’ll need for the week. Planning can help ditch frustration with food.
4. Go easy on yourself
Are you going to get it right every time? Nope. Should you try something different anyway? Yep. If what you’re doing now isn’t working, then what have you got to lose? How many times do you put something off, or don’t ever get around to it because you’re sure you won’t do it right? I am SO guilty of this. I frequently need to remind myself of this: Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction*.
Each day is made up of a million small choices. Sometimes you’ll make the choice you’re happy with; sometimes you won’t. And that’s ok. You are still ok. You are not a failure because you didn’t make the “right” choice. You will have another opportunity to choose differently. Show yourself some compassion.
Give yourself permission to enjoy that chocolate chip cookie. Have a celebratory glass of wine. Food is not the enemy.
So the next time you find yourself feeling tempted to stuff your face, drink a glass of water and ask yourself the following questions:
Is this food going to help my body?
Am I actually hungry?
What am I feeling right now?
How else can I deal with these feelings?
Can I give myself permission to enjoy a taste of this food?
Not sure what to make of the feelings that you’re having? Find out more about how counselling can help you.
* This quote is generally attributed to Harry S. Truman