Recently, I came across a picture of Santa Claus with a quote:
“No more cookies please. If you don’t have celery sticks on a tray and cucumber water waiting, all you’re going to get is coal.”
This quote describes our culture so well when it comes to thoughts around food. We tend to have an all-or-nothing approach to eating; it’s either all the cookies or not even one for Santa.
“Food restriction creates food interest,” said Nancy Clark, a registered dietitian.
When Santa restricts himself from eating cookies, he suddenly becomes more interested in cookies. Thoughts of cookies consume his mind, which often leads to overeating. What would happen if Santa had just one cookie and then moved on to the next house? Would he be jollier? Would his red suit fit better? Would his reindeer have less weight to carry on the sleigh?
This holiday season let there be peace on earth and peace with food.
The holidays are a time to reflect on what we are thankful for. They are a time to spend with loved ones and a time to remember the birth of our Savior. For some individuals, the holidays are a time to worry about overeating at holiday gatherings, unwanted weight gain and unrealistic exercise goals for New Year’s resolutions.
Sometimes individuals attend holiday events with rigid food rules in mind. The challenge with this is that they may step outside of the boundaries of those guidelines and feel that a rule has been broken. This can lead to a “What the heck!” mentality and can trigger overeating. For example, if you go to a holiday gathering with set rules that you will not have any dessert, what happens when Nana’s famous pumpkin pie is being served? Even taking one bite of pie may cause you to assume that you have blown the diet! You may find yourself thinking, “Well, I’ve already broken a rule by eating a bite of dessert so I might as well eat the entire pie!”
This overeating often leads to feelings of guilt, more food rules, further restricting, and eventually back to overeating. The cycle can become vicious and can oftentimes lead to weight gain.
We have to make peace with food in order to appropriately listen to and nourish our bodies. Making peace with food can help to improve physical and mental health. It promotes mindful eating and rejects the dieting mentality.
The first step to making peace with food is to consider nothing off limits. Unless you have an allergy, food preference or a medical diagnosis requiring specific food restrictions, all foods can fit into your diet. Remember, that food restriction creates food interest, which can lead to overeating. Allowing all foods to fit into your diet makes the once “off limit” foods less appealing, because you know that you can take them or leave them.
A patient once told me that she didn’t understand how her roommate could eat one cookie and be done. This particular patient would try to eat just one and would end up consuming the whole container of cookies. In her mind, each time she ate cookies, she truly believed it was the last time she would ever eat cookies again. Therefore, she overate every single time. You may have heard the saying, “Eat and be merry, for tomorrow we diet.” Many dietitians refer to this as the Last Supper Mentality. Over time, this leads to weight gain.
In the process of making peace with food it is important to be aware of the food police. The food police mentality consists of rigid dieting rules and says what you should or should not eat. This can ignite rebellious eating and overconsumption of food. It makes you feel good or bad depending on what you have eaten. It makes eating a moral dilemma. Food is neither good nor bad and a person is neither good nor bad for eating a particular food. It can be dangerous when we begin to make eating a moral situation.
Remember to listen to your body by eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. This is a lot easier said than done! Remember the differences in stomach hunger and head hunger. Know the differences between internal and external fullness cues. An internal fullness cue would be the absence of hunger. An external fullness cue would be seeing that the plate is clean and assuming that, because of an empty plate, you must be full. Try listening to internal hunger and fullness cues.
Don’t forget to show yourself compassion! The goal is progress, not perfection. This may look like two steps forward and one step back, but it is still a net step forward.
This holiday season, let there be peace on earth and peace with food. Learn what it means to nourish your body and enjoy the pleasures of eating at the same time. Remember that with this way of eating, Santa can have his cookies and eat them too. And so can you!