Marlena Tanner is a Dietitian and certified CJEA Practitioner with a practice on California's Central Coast. She applies my methods in the treatment of eating disorders. Because holidays are a repeated phenomenon with their own rituals and traditions, each one has memories attached to it. These memories go back to early childhood. Our emotional and instinctual Inner Child is easily triggered during the holidays, especially when comparing today's COVID-19 reality with celebrating past holiday seasons. Marlena has some sage advice about "holiday eating," which can become a problem for anyone.
‘Tis the Season for Holiday Eating
by Marlena Tanner
‘Tis the season for merriment, joy, and yes, holiday eating. In effect, it is also for many the season of guilt. Even those who do not struggle with eating issues can get entangled in guilt-ridden overeating, a loss of control, and body shame. This is then followed by the well-known New Year’s pattern of dieting. Let’s explore our eating over the holidays a little more and dig deeper into what we are really looking for in the food. Perhaps this will raise your awareness just enough to create a new pattern of behavior this holiday season.
It starts around Halloween with candy, followed by Thanksgiving, holiday cookies and finally more Holiday meals. In today’s health-conscious (health-obsessed) culture, this time can be met with dread. Rather than embracing the traditions with excitement, some of us begin to fear that we are doing something terribly wrong by engaging in this season of eating. It’s not black or white. We do not have to give the proverbial middle finger to the diet industry by gorging ourselves, and we do not need to abstain to take some moral high ground. We can partake with intention and mindfulness. We can listen to our bodies and our hearts. Yet, even with the best intentions, we sometimes find ourselves out of control. We find that we can’t always stop eating when we start. Sometimes, it feels bigger than us.
It is useful to remember the most common reason for losing control around food is actually deprivation. Whether it be physical deprivation from inadequate intake (such as dieting) or psychological deprivation from the foods you don’t allow yourself (such as dieting), deprivation almost always leads to a loss or perceived loss of control at some point. Holiday food of course also carries meaning and memories and it’s particularly special because you rarely have it. All of these reasons can make it harder to stop when your body is full.
Emotional eating and overeating isn’t inherently bad and is actually a part of normal eating. We celebrate, we come together, and we share not only food, but feelings. But when our eating hurts us over and over again it’s helpful to get really clear about what the food is providing for us. In these moments, we can utilize Creative Journal Expressive Arts (CJEA) prompts.
Grab some unlined paper or an 11 x 14 sketchbook, a few thick markers in different colors and come join me!
Using your non-dominant hand (NDH) draw out the feeling that is overtaking you in a moment of non-physical hunger. Maybe the cookies keep calling your name even though you are beginning to get a stomachache. Maybe you are in the midst of a late-night leftovers plate. Start by drawing the feeling/hunger. It could simply be colors or scribbles. Or it could be a personification of the feelings and thoughts. It could also be a simple outline of your body and where in your body you feel the urge or craving.
Using the non-dominant hand helps access emotions that are stuffed away in the limbic system. This part of the brain is not directly available to the left, logical side of the brain. Holidays inevitably bring up memories and bodily feelings (the Inner Child) connected to previous holidays, sometimes going all the way back to early childhood. That is why it can be such an emotional time.
Here are some examples:
Next, ask the following four healing questions, writing them down with your dominant hand:
1) What are you?
2) How do you feel?
3) What makes you feel that way?
4) What do you need?
Use your NDH to answer each question. If you are still unsure what you are truly hungry for, ask “what else do you have to teach me?” Or “how can I help you?”
You can take this simple activity further depending on what answers you get. Let’s say that like this example, you are called to rest and practice self-love and acceptance. How might that look? Draw another image of you doing exactly that and write a letter with your dominant hand this time, promising yourself that you will do just that. If you are unsure on how to do so, you can switch hands again and ask for more guidance on how this will happen. For example, “how do I practice self-love and acceptance?” “How do I get more rest?”
This simple activity can be done at any time you feel overwhelmed by an emotion. Scribble it out, turn to the four healing questions and journal with your non-dominant hand. You may be surprised what you find. Our cravings and our hungers have the potential to hold great meaning. Solve the symptoms like a puzzle so that you may be more present with your loved ones, and with yourself. And for goodness sakes, enjoy, really truly enjoy, that wonderful food! Guilt and shame do not deserve a place at the table.
Marlena Tanner, RDN, CEDRD-S, CJEA
Morro Bay, CA
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