Food is a focus on the holidays. In my opinion, it should be. It’s enjoyable to share food with others at a party or gathering. Because eating disorders are rampant in the United States, western culture food can become an unhealthy focus around the holidays. For someone who is overweight, the holidays can make them feel defeated and push them binge eat, or eating way too much food in one sitting, especially if the food is cake or something rich. If someone is overweight, people may notice their problem and worry about them at social gatherings, thinking it’s sad that they cannot partake in the merriment with food and that connection with others.
Relationships With Food
For those who beat themselves up through anorexia or bulimia, even if they do not mean to, New Year’s Goals can be an excuse to do that even more. For those who feel they are lacking in self-discipline or have a problem with obesity, the new year may make them feel a sense of low self-esteem if they feel they did not reach their goals the prior year. Regardless of what your view of weight and food is, every person is affected by the eating epidemic in our country.
Even those who have perfect control of their weight and an excellent “relationship with food,” as it’s called in the counseling profession, they may feel tempted to overeat and undo what they have worked hard for. This huge challenge our country faces over the holidays is because of our overabundance of processed food, especially white flour and sugar. In my opinion, some of the best holiday foods such as chocolate cake are composed of danger “addiction” foods that fuel the obesity epidemic. It’s no wonder I love a slice of chocolate cake over the holidays sharing a meal with someone. I love warm milk and cookies with my relative’s kids. The look on their faces is the epitome of childhood comfort. However, these foods are also highly ‘tempting’ one way or another.
As those with a problematic relationship with food struggle more around the holidays, as does everyone really, it’s good to remember the link to determining how big of a battle this food epidemic is for someone. Food is, after all, a great thing; it’s our fuel for living. We could not survive without it and have taste buds that make us want to eat it. The answer is complicated. Even though there is much we need to do and are doing to educate people about food choices and changing what is available, and live less sedentary lives, there is still a huge emotional element that is the elephant in the room.
No one wants to talk about the emotional links to overeating or undereating but everyone knows what stress eating is or has eaten a pint of ice cream when they were sad or upset. It can take some time in counseling for an individual to identify his or her links to emotional eating. Whether it be anger or sadness or some other emotion; some people even have connections with traumatic events that happened in their childhood or in their past such as sexual abuse, emotional abuse, bullying, or something that they never healed from that they use food to medicate.
The good news is that if someone is reading this article who feels they do not have the normal temptation to eat “just one more” after two chocolate chip cookies but has a much stronger need to moderate themselves, many therapists also specialize in this issue. Not having an enjoyable relationship with food can be a miserable thing and can point to underlying problems that can be treated in therapy. The holidays are a good time to be aware of these things even if it just helps you to tolerate and not judge someone around you who struggles.
Mindful eating is what mental health practitioners teach in modern times. They teach not to judge eating patterns but rather to be curious about them. For example, if someone is having a hard time slowing down and eating healthy over the holidays they suggest not dieting and yelling at yourself but rather being “kind” to yourself. In that situation, maybe the kind thing to do would be to acknowledge that it’s the holidays and a reason to celebrate and have some good food but not overstuff yourself. Allowing yourself some degree of ‘freedom’ to eat around the holidays will reduce any feelings of guilt, which may, in fact, lead to overeating.
Mindful eating teaches you to take your time with food. Our society is a fast food society, and we do not slow down and enjoy mealtime. They may even suggest turning your phone off when eating or enjoying the flavor of each bite slowly. If someone deals with undereating or bulimia, they may say once again say not to judge yourself and to try to understand what your body is telling you. I have worked for four years as a mental health clinician, and I think eating disorders and eating problems are challenging to treat. That is one of my areas of less experience, but I do think the general public may be misinformed. The links between eating and stress and emotions are enlightening to know.
When learning about them in graduate school and internship work, I became less judgmental myself toward people who were extremely overweight or had bizarre-seeming struggles with eating. It was not something like depression that was more black and white that I did not mind treating. Because it took me a while to fully understand eating disorders, I thought it would be a good thing to share with others in case they are more like I was, thinking there is no way that pretty skinny girl who looks like a supermodel has sadness or anger in her life causing her to starve herself to cope. Those of us who are in the healthy weight-range can pretend we have never judged someone for being fat, but it’s important to remember that judging someone’s weight may also be judging their emotional pains too.