Turkey, ham, rice pudding, colorful cakes… exciting, delicious, delicious! After a period of fasting and preparation for the feast, you eat, then eat some more and set aside for a little later. It’s great to enjoy good company and good food.
Unless you go too far. And we all do. Along with the holiday celebration comes tummy aches: we get too full, too sugary, and our bodies throw off balance.
The Christmas season exposes us to an unusual number of delights. Everywhere we go there are giveaways of cookies, juices, sodas, and cakes. Combine the plethora of treats with a burst of emotion during the holidays and you have the perfect recipe for emotional eating.
Emotional eating is when we use food as a way of coping with feelings. Have you ever reached for a couple of cookies after a stressful conversation with her mother? Maybe you find yourself in front of a bowl of ice cream every night to help you unwind from your day. Guilty of carrying your plate at a party to help you hide from others and calm your social anxiety?
We all eat emotionally from time to time. There’s no need to feel like something is wrong with you or your coping if you’re eating emotionally. My hope is that you can be aware when you are eating emotionally and eat responsibly.
You heard me right; The therapist is giving credit to the cake as a legitimate form of coping!
How to eat responsibly emotionally?
First, it starts with understanding your emotional state. Get in the habit of checking with yourself before eating. What am I feeling? How strong am I feeling it? Am I hungry or looking to cope with an emotion?
- If you are hungry, feed your hunger first with a healthy meal. Save the emotional eating for later.
- Check with yourself again: “What am I feeling?” Consider alternative ways to deal with that feeling. Maybe try some of them first.
If you decide to use eating as a way of coping, follow these steps:
- Prepare your environment. Make the setting attractive. Consider eating in a nice place where you don’t normally eat (eg, your porch, a table by a window). Maybe add music, turn on the air conditioning and create a lovely setting. Just a minute of your time will be enough.
- Prepare your treat. Choose what you crave (if it’s appropriate for your health) instead of settling for something else. Give out what’s healthy for you. Put it on a nice plate, display it attractively. Save the rest.
- Drink a full glass of water slowly and consciously. Observe your level of emotional distress.
- Slowly eat your treat without distractions. Just pay attention to the calming effects of eating. Allow yourself to feel any emotion that arises.
- For maximum enjoyment, eat in an unusual way.— chopsticks, standing or alternate hand, for example. This keeps your brain alert to the process for maximum attention to the experience.
- Sit for a moment to rest in the feeling of fullness. Give it time to settle. Evaluate how you feel: “Are you feeling better?” Enjoy the feeling of relief, even if only partially.
If you’re still feeling distressed, consider getting involved in another coping skill.
Our appetites alert us to feelings we might otherwise have ignored, and that’s a gift. You don’t need to eat every time you have an uncomfortable emotion. The urge to shove those chips into your mouth will pass whether you digest them or not.
But sometimes emotional eating is an acceptable way to deal with those difficult emotions, if it’s done intentionally.
By intentionally engaging in emotional eating, you’ll be able to more fully enjoy your culinary adventure, allow the experience to calm you down more effectively, and reduce your consumption. Treat emotional eating for what it is: a coping skill that is meant to be savored.
Otherwise, you risk setting off an automatic frenzy for the whole day, or worse, for the entire holiday season.
“If you don’t like it, don’t eat it, and if you like it, savor it.”
Stephanie Patterson, MS, LMFT, is a mental health therapist in Guam. She sees clients in private practice and provides weekly tips for better emotional resilience through her “Therapeutic Moment” YouTube channel. Her website is slofamilycounseling.com. You can reach her at [email protected]