I love the start of the New Year, for me, it is a time to reflect and map out what I want in the New Year. I used to think I had to have all of my reflection and planning done by January 1 every year. I now know that there is time to reflect as January moves in and then time to focus on the year ahead. In other words, if you have not done any reflection on the old year by now, it is not too late!
I learn so much when I reflect on the year prior and plan my goals for the New Year. Please note, this does not include “resolutions” which are often not accomplished and abandoned by mid- February (see my podcast below).
Each New Year, I love creating Vision Boards. It gives me a visual picture and key words to guide me throughout the year.
My friend Erin Summ is offering a virtual Vision Board Workshop called Confident Visionary Event on January 29 and 30. It is from 10-5 Pacific. I have been to her workshops before and you will not be disappointed. Please check out her workshop in the link below to see if this is a fit for you.
You might have already started one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions: lose weight and start exercising. We know that by mid-February 80% of people who made a New Year’s Resolution lose their resolve.
We are deep in this very unusual holiday season. I find that so often over the holidays we are feeding a lot of things other than ourselves. We are trying to feed our soul and our inner knowing, but we are not doing it in the correct way.
Why is it hard to manage our hunger over the holiday?
I have consistently heard people talk about feeling scared, confused, and upset about food over this time of year. I call the time between Halloween and New Years as the Holiday Trifecta. It is the time where we are focused on food and often it is food we do not have (or allow ourselves at other times of the year).
We have a lot that comes at us and a lot of expectations this time of year. Expectations that can get to be a little too much for us. It is interesting that food often shows up as difficult over the holidays. We think we are supposed to be a happy time and not experience any “negative emotions.” We wonder why we are upset when it is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song says. In truth, it is not always that wonderful time of the year for lots of different reasons.
If we tend to emotionally overeat, well now there is even MORE food. And it is a lot of food that we only see once a year. There is often that special food to you (pumpkin spice latte anyone?). You know all those items; I could name a bunch of them. We tend to want it now and often, which makes it hard to check in with our hunger and be mindful about what we eat.
I remember when I used to work in an office job and there would be food all over starting in October. People bringing in all these items starting with all of Halloween candy and ending with all of the Christmas foods. I remember the lunch break room was filled with holiday food. It was tough to walk by and not eat, all day long. I would walk past it, but for me it was tough because I was thinking about it all day long.
Now, during the Coronavirus Pandemic, many of us are working from home AND there is a struggle having food in the house. My clients are consistently finding it hard to eating intuitively while working from home.
Once again there is a lot of this special food around that we only have that once a year and it makes us want to have a lot of it.
Why is it hard to not overeat at the holidays?
Each holiday has special foods that we, often, do not allow ourselves the rest of the year. From this perspective we can look at the dieting mindset/diet cycle:
Starting with dieting and that means restricting and then when we restrict, we don’t have what we really want.
We, then, overeat because we want it, we do not want to restrict.
That leads us to feel guilty and feeling upset with ourselves that we’ve done.
this which then loses back up to want to restrict.
This cycle can happen with that holiday special food, because if we say to ourselves, I’m not going to get this again for another 12 or 11 months then we’re going to have it. AND we’re going to have a lot of it because we only get it once a year.
Pumpkin Spice Latte anyone?
Starbucks has brilliant marketing; they have special drinks that only come out at the holiday time. There is a whole countdown to the special drink and tempt you by saying it is in short supply, so get it now. It can make you worry that you will miss out and not get it. The temptation is to get the most of it that you can. Noticing this as a sales tactic can help you notice how they are influencing your eating.
What are the Holiday Hungers?
The Holiday Hungers (you can hear all about this in my Feed Your Soul with Kim Podcast) are related to the “four hungers” that lead us to eat and overeat. Note, as I prepared to write about the four hungers, I realized there is a fifth hunger that is showing up bigger than ever during this year of the Covid19 Pandemic.
The Four Hungers are:
Head Hunger- that sense of not being able to not think about food.
Mouth Hunger- that sensation of your mouth watering wanting the taste.
Heart Hunger- the feeling that you really desire the food.
Stomach Hunger- the true hunger of your body.
I noticed this year there is another hunger and that is Spiritual Hunger which is the hunger for something bigger than ourselves.
What hunger have you been responding to?
The first type of hunger is Head Hunger. Head hunger reminds me when I used to work in an office, and I could not stop thinking about the food in the break room. I was pretty much obsessed with the food and felt compelled to eat it.
The second type of hunger is Heart Hunger, which is emotional hunger. This type of hunger comes into play with emotional triggers. If you have heart hunger, what is that hunger telling you? Maybe you need to take care of your heart and take care of the emotions.
The third type of hunger is Mouth Hunger, which is when a food item sounds good. It is that sense that you just want to eat for the taste. Salivating and yearning for the item. It is not connected to physical hunger and it’s possibly connected to more emotions or more of the thought of being hungry but it’s really not hunger.
The fourth type of hunger is tummy or Stomach Hunger. This type of hunger is telling you, I’m physically hungry. It can be confusing when we are not experiencing physical hunger and we are at an event where there are items we don’t usually have, and we want them. Have them. It is ok. I find we can tend to not eat and go to event overly hungry, so we feel ok to eat everything we want. I wonder how that is working for you. You can then go to the edges of being overly hungry which leads us to binge and get overly full.
Lastly, let’s look at Spiritual Hunger. This is the hunger for something that is bigger than you. It is a hunger for meaning and purpose.
If you’re hungry eat till your satisfied, it doesn’t have to be too full but eat. You do not want to go to restrict, binge, guilt cycle which can happen this time of year.
Now we can identify the hunger and then decide what/if we want to eat. There can be the feeling of powerlessness around food this time of year and you might think I am just going to go all in and overeat and I’ll deal with it the first of January (diet!). Pay attention to the thought that you will just overeat and diet at the New Year. That does not work and there is a better way to deal with food. Whenever you put yourself in a position to feel guilty about what you eat, your tendency will be to restrict later.
We can move into a place of empowerment in our lives and with food. That feeling of empowered is one of the ways that we must heal that heart hunger. Looking at what are those emotional triggers that is leading us to overeat this is the time of year.
I encourage you to at least recognize the feelings, to notice them and to see what emotions are showing up for you.
Emotional eating is showing up often during this Coronavirus Pandemic
Emotional triggers can be things like:
Living in the time of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Not being able to see your family.
Feeling stressed, lonely, and isolated.
Feeling bored because we cannot go out.
Feeling we must give up our needs to meet other’s needs.
Fear of getting sick or others getting sick.
Being unemployed and concerned about whether we can get another job.
Fear of not having enough money to buy presents.
When we have a history of using to satisfy our feelings food becomes our go to when these uncomfortable situations occur.
What can you do?
Start recognizing and noticing these feelings. For me, when I notice I want to overeat or I am overeating, as I notice it, I talk to myself and ask myself questions:
What is going on?
What is making me feel uncomfortable?
What would I like to do about it?
When I feel the worst is when I don’t have a plan to deal with feeling powerless in situations whether it is with food, other people or situations. When I didn’t know how to deal with my emotional triggers then I felt powerless.
Loneliness can be an emotional trigger.
For many people feeling lonely leads to overeating. We are faced with unprecedented times, right now and feeling isolated and lonely are increased.
Sadness can be an emotional trigger.
We talked about Holiday Blues on the Feed Your Soul with Kim podcast recently. This season brings up memories or thoughts of what we don’t have and that can bring sadness. Many of us are not with the people we want to be with, or this holiday does not look like the way we want it to or the way it should be. Possibly you are not in a relationship and that brings on its own set of lonely and sad feelings.
What can you do to lessen the Holiday Hungers?
I find insight is good, but we also must have coping skills to help us. I encourage you to find new activities to try out this year. I love to find ones that don’t involve food or money. I love seeing the creativity that arises.
Be physically active. If you generally go to the gym- do that. I can tend to not go to the gym over the holidays (I am a regular) because I am too busy, but now it is in my schedule as a must do. I know it makes me feel good and it makes me feel good to be active in the way that that that moves my body. The movement is not about working off the calories or the “bad” food. It is about keeping my body in action and move in a way that works for me.
Put something fun on your calendar. I usually have list of holiday gatherings and events I and my family want to go to. This year those events are cancelled. I generally crave down time at the holidays to have time to reflect on the spiritual ideas that come out this time of year. In other years, I have felt stretched too thin. Well, this year, I get to have that down time and I plan to take advantage of it!
Get a routine together. You need a routine even when we are in a Pandemic! Go to bed on time, eat your regular foods on your regular schedule. The routine can be lost, and we then feel disconnect from ourselves. When I have my routine, I know my needs are being met. This also sets me up for realistic expectations.
Stick to your budget and be realistic about what you can and cannot afford. Spend the amount of money you planned to spend without going into debt. Do you really want a huge credit card bill in January? Really my presence is my present. Meaning being fully conscious and focusing on your time with people can be more valuable than anything else.
Determining your hunger is the first way to determine what you really need. When we eat due to a non-physical hunger, we are not addressing the true meaning of the hunger. I encourage you to take a moment take a deep breath and notice the hunger and ask it what it must tell you or teach you. If it is true physical hunger (stomach hunger) then EAT. If it is one of the other hungers wonder how you might feed it. Engaging with hunger in this way will lead to greater satisfaction.
As far as I am concerned the holiday season starts October 1. I call this time of year the Holiday Trifecta: Three major holidays in quick succession. In October there is Halloween, in November there is Thanksgiving, and in December there is Christmas; it is the 3 months of over indulgence, letting loose and overeating. It is, also, the time of feeling bad about our bodies, disconnecting from the true meaning of the holidays, as well as it is the time of extreme eating. During this time of year, we can tend to eat (overeat) all the foods we avoid the other times of the year. It is the sanctioned 3 months of allowable overeating.
People, in general, ask me all the time why they overeat.
When they talk about the overeating, they talk about the frustration, anxiety and feeling terrible about themselves. I tell them there is the buildup of not allowing themselves to eat (dieting/restricting), then they overeat, and in the end feeling bad about overeating (guilt). It is a vicious cycle. I speak with people daily who go through this cycle on a regular basis. The holiday time is different because the foods we restrict throughout the year become fair game. As we eat those “special” holiday foods, we can allow ourselves to overeat.
The holidays, individually, are not bad in and of themselves. Halloween Day you can have some candy. Thanksgiving Day you can have some turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. Christmas Day you can have some cookies and sweets. Those individual holiday days are not the problem. One meal of overeating is not a big deal; the problem is all the other days and meals in between the actual holiday day (the Holiday Trifecta).
Often the answer to all of this overeating is, come January 1 – “I will go on a diet” or “I’ll think about it on January 1 at the New Year.” During the 3 month Holiday Trifecta, There are many days of overeating that you end up feeling bad about yourself and bad about your body (hence leading you to think you need to diet/restrict come January 1).
Let’s be honest with ourselves. What happens when we allow ourselves to overeat at the holiday time?
We tend to:
Become more and more disconnected from our bodies and ourselves. Mindless about how we are really feeling.
Feel bad in our bodies feel bad. Physically we have an upset stomach, bloating and weight gain.
Start disliking ourselves and feel bad about ourselves. People often tell me that after they overeat they hate themselves.
Suffer emotionally, feeling angry, frustrated and overwhelmed.
Think about food more often than not and that bothers us.
The problems and suffering with overeating is REAL. I am here to tell you there is a better way. A way to peace with food.
Here are some simple suggestions.
Take a deep breath. Cam and anxiety cannot exist together. Breathe as you think about eating and as you are eating. It gets you to reconnect with your body.
Notice your bodily signals about hunger and fullness. Ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” before you eat is a great first step.
Allow more self-care. This is the season of letting our needs go to the wayside, don’t let that happen!
Get support. I am not talking about going on whatever the current diet fad being promoted on Yahoo or Facebook. Find someone who helps you find peace with food and can put you in touch with strategies to put food in its proper place as nourishment.
It is important to know that during the Holiday Trifecta it can be so enjoyable with all of the gatherings, festivities and decorations, but it is also loaded with difficulties.
The difficulties can make the good times less enjoyable, because you are worried and feeling bad. Start by noticing how you are feeling and what you are saying to yourself. If there is negativity or worry, it could be time to get that support to help you feel more peaceful.
During this Holiday Trifecta time period, I there are options to travel down the road towards peace with food. You do not have to feel overwhelmed with food anymore this holiday season! You’ve got this!
February is the month we look to celebrate our love for another person. Often we focus so much on how we show love to someone else, it makes me wonder how loving we are towards ourselves. One of the most popular blogs on my website is one where I ask the reader to consider whether they are too helpful towards others. I think people click on that blog article because they think they are giving too much and they do not have time or energy to take care of themselves.
Today, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, focus on showing loving kindness to yourself. Put some of the love you intend to give to another back to yourself. How long has it been a long time since you have done something for yourself? If you cannot remember the last time you took care of yourself, take a moment to contemplate it now. Consider this an invitation to nurture yourself. It really is a necessity to take care of you first and foremost.
My motto is, “I am no good for others if I am not good to myself.” Consider this motto a requirement, if not a necessity.
To start, you can ask yourself, “What would I do today if I was really acting in a loving manner towards myself?” What can you do, starting today, to take care of you? If you have no ideas- let me give you some:
Get physical. Go for a hike, a walk at lunch time, bike ride, or go to a yoga class. Being active gets the endorphins going and just makes you feel good.
Play hooky from your normal activity. I love to take the afternoon off to go to the movies. It is so nurturing to break away from our routine.
Spend time alone: Go to a local coffee shop, listen to a podcast, read a book or a special magazine.
Get creative: Go visit a local art gallery or museum to get inspired filled up with beauty.
Be restful: Take a nap, sleep in a little later.
Imagine how it would feel to start caring for yourself now. If you feel overwhelmed even thinking about taking care of yourself, take it slow. If you have no idea what you can do to take care of yourself, I have a simple trick. Think back on a time in the past, when you were younger and you did take care of yourself. What did you do then? Get that image in your head consider how good it felt. If the memory of it makes you feel good- Do That!
In honor of Valentine’s Day spend some time treating yourself with loving kindness. It will instill feelings of joy and happiness in you that you might have been missing for a while.
What is your answer to the question “What would I do today if I was really acting in a loving manner towards myself?” I would love to hear your answer below in the comments.
Kim McLaughlin, MA is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in helping people with eating issues and eating disorders. She is a counselor in Roseville and the greater Sacramento CA area. If you are concerned that about overeating, weight or your use of food in general please contact her here.