Three steps to survive the holiday season

Well, it’s officially December, which means turkey and roast potatoes are already coming out of your ears, and if you see one more mince pie, you might cry from the indecision… to eat or not to eat.

 

But at least you get to spend time with your family, right?

 

Whether you hate your family or not, Christmas can be a stressful time.

 

And if you’ve been binge eating recently, it can mean full-blown anxiety and panic.

 

So how the hell do you survive all the parties, meals out, and full-on gluttony that is December?

 

Here’s three steps to help you:

 

 

Step 1: Focus on habits rather than negative thoughts about your body

 

Right now you’re focused on how your body looks. Since you don’t like how it looks now, you’re wondering how you’re going to cope when comes to the end of December.

 

This is causing you anxiety and worry. And what do you do when you’re anxious and worried? You eat.

 

So let’s shift the mindset.

 

Rather than being judgemental of yourself, rather than focusing on how your body looks (and thinking about an increasing waistline), focus instead on habits; on the actions and behaviors you have a choice over.

 

Which brings us to:

Step 2: Pick ONE of these habits to practice

 

These are great habits to practice at any time of the year, but particularly when you’re being bombarded with lots of rich food.

 

1. Eat mindfully. Let all your senses really awaken each time you eat. Take a good look at the food before you eat it. Does it smell good? How does it taste? How does it feel on your tongue and in your mouth? How does it sound? Be with the experience as much as you can. Not only will you enjoy it much more while you’re eating, but later on you’ll actually remember that you ate it, which means you’ll be more satisfied and less likely to snack later.

 

Remember that it’s totally OK to eat for purely emotional reasons. It’s OK to eat your favourite Christmas dessert / baked treat for no other reason than you want to. Give yourself permission. Enjoy it. Eat it mindfully. Then move on with your life.

 

If eating mindfully for a whole meal feels like too much, try to do just one mindful bite per meal, or just one mindful bite per day. Shrink it down to whatever feels manageable to you.

 

2. Eat / drink more slowly. Eating slowly means you’ll enjoy your food more, and you’ll probably find you need to eat less, too. Put your knife and fork down between bites. Take a sip of water and a deep breath. Enjoy the conversation around you. Just don’t eat so slowly that it feels restrictive. That’s the opposite of what we want to achieve here.

 

3. Find some quiet time. Find a quiet time every day, to get away from the Christmas mayhem, focus on your breathing, and try to tune into sensations in your body.

 

This could be taking a breathing space throughout the day, or trying to be with the sensations in your body first thing in the morning, or last thing at night.

Pick one habit to practice; don’t be an overachiever and overwhelm yourself. Less is more.

 

Step 3: Get on top of your thoughts

 

 

The biggest problem people binge eating face is dealing with all or nothing thinking, such as:

 

  • I’ve blown it.
  • Screw it, I’ll start my diet again tomorrow/in January.
  • I ate something naughty/bad.
  • I’m a failure.

 

It’s normal to have those thoughts. We’ve been conditioned by the media and the diet-obsessed culture we live in to think those thoughts. But you don’t need to act on them.

 

You see, most people let their thoughts and emotions run their lives. They’re on autopilot. But when you can bring awareness to your thoughts, you become free to choose how to act.

 

So when you notice a thought arise, one of the best things to do is to turn that thought into a factual statement.

 

For example:

 

  • I’m having the thought that I’m fat.
  • I’m having the thought that I need to restrict.
  • That was a judgemental thought.
  • I’m having the thought that I want to eat, even though I’m not hungry.

 

By labelling your thoughts and creating factual statements about the thought itself, you create space from the emotionally-charged part of the thought. And once you create space, you realise you don’t have to interact or get involved with any of the thoughts that arise.

 

You see, thoughts are like clouds in the sky. They arise, and they take certain shapes. When we get caught up in a cloud, everything becomes a kind of fog. We can’t see clearly, so we don’t act in the way we’d ideally want to.

 

But we can also take a step back. We can feel our feet on the ground, look at the cloud, and say “hey, that cloud looks like a hamburger!”, or “that cloud looks like a worry about the future”.

 

Then we can just watch the cloud go by.

 

(This amazing painting is by Rhads)

 

Because thoughts — just like the urge to binge — will always pass, as long as we don’t try to cling to them; as long as we keep our eyes focused, not on the cloud, but on the blue sky as a whole.

 

Think about it: a binge never happened when you felt calm and at peace. So removing the emotional charge of your thoughts is going to help you keep on top of those urges.

 

So take the perspective that, yes, it’s normal and totally OK to have these thoughts, but you can choose to let them rule you, or you can choose to take actions in line with your values, no matter what you’re thinking or feeling.

 

When you keep your eyes on the sky and your feet on the ground, when you focus not on negative thoughts about your body, but on actions that are in your control, that’s how you can craft a holiday season — how you can craft a life — that you will truly enjoy.

 

 

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