Article by Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW;
Photos from Unsplash.com
This article is excerpted from the book, “Why We Overeat and How to Stop.”
Whether or not you have food issues in general, the holidays are a challenging time of the year. The special foods of holiday celebrations are visually appealing and absolutely delicious to the point where few of us can maintain self-control. We enjoy ourselves while we’re eating, then repeatedly experience the physical and emotional misery of having eaten far too much.
For many of us, the weeks to come will be characterized by deteriorating health and vitality as we continue to abuse our bodies with food we can’t resist. Most of us will give in to the endless stream of powerful temptations, fearful of missing out on special opportunities and in the hope that we’ll be able to repair the damage once the season is over. The reality though, is that most of us will exit the season a little heavier and less healthy than when we started.
We do this because we use food in so many ways, especially during the holidays. We eat it for simple enjoyment, of course, but we also use it for bonding with loved ones, as a way to pass the time together, as the focus of valued rituals and traditions, and as an expression of celebration.
These purposes all have value, but making food the star attraction for all of them creates two important problems. First, we eat so much that it detracts from our physical and emotional health, which is not only damaging but also defeats the purpose of celebration. Second, our overuse of food displaces other activities that would actually be better at strengthening our relationships and satisfying our emotional needs.
The answer is to give food a more proportional place in our celebrations. This means continuing to enjoy it, share it, and look forward to it, but doing so within our physical limits. When we start making other options more important in our lives, there will naturally be less emphasis on food. This helps with self-control, in addition to creating a richer variety of ways in which to enjoy ourselves and take care of our emotional needs.
I’ve found that when people decide to look past food for other ways to focus their gatherings with friends andfamily,theyalwayscomeupwith plenty of ideas. It is an inspiring and heartwarming process to witness as everyone starts feeling creative, energetic, and excited in ways that they haven’t experienced when focusing on food-centered plans and ideas. A sampling of ideas that I have heard
Play games or work puzzles together. Share family photos, videos, and stories.Volunteer together for the day and enjoy a casual meal afterward, sharing stories of the experience. Go for a walk or hike together. Go out on a group mission to perform random acts of kindness for a couple of hours. Play outside with the kids.
Make another activity—movie, play, concert, visiting a local attraction— the central focus of the gathering, enjoying a simple meal together afterward.
Make crafts together for personal use, for donation to others, or for getting a head start on holiday gifts.
Work together on letters to US military personnel who are away from home.
Make gift boxes for donation (shelters, nursing facilities) or to send to US military personnel.
I’ve heard from many who have gone on to use ideas such as these in their own holiday gatherings and have felt greatly enriched for having done so. In fact, they’ve all emphasized how much more they enjoyed themselves in general. These comments are typical: “The kids loved it … We had a great time … It felt really good to do this … It was the best family get- together we’ve had in a long time.” They tell me these stories with big, relaxed smiles. They look happy.
This reveals a disturbing consequence of overemphasizing food in our lives and our celebrations. We now use eating in place of other personal and relational practices that would be far more nourishing to the spirit, and the spirits of many have been left impoverished as a result. I speak every day with people who have been trying for years to fill that void with food, becoming emptier inside as their bodies become sicker, bigger, and more unwieldy.
This is another compelling reason to give food a smaller role in our lives. It’s not just about reducing caloric intake, although that is a result most of us need desperately. The more important outcome is that the attention we turn away from food will be turned toward thoughts and activities that are far better at enriching our lives, feeding our spirits, and honoring the deeper meaning of the holidays we celebrate.
About Elizabeth Babcock
Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW has beena certified diver since 2000. She is a psychotherapist and community edu-cator who has written extensively ontopics of interest to anyone seekingto maximize their health and overall enjoyment of life, though her primary specialty is the treatment of overeat-ing.
She recently published “Why We Overeat and How to Stop,” (available at Amazon.com), a new approach to overeating which empowers readers to end the cycle of yo-yo dieting once and for all. She resides in southwestern Pennsylvania where she spends as much time as possible outdoors, preferably on, in, or near water. She can be reached through www.eliza-bethbabcock.com and on Facebook.