Monday, December 17, 2012

Dealing with food around the holidays

Did you know that some people eat normal amounts of food, even during the holidays? I confess, I didn’t. Growing up, there were never less than six different desserts on Thanksgiving. And that number seems to grow every year. Christmas there would be at least as many different desserts plus a non-stop progression of chocolates, popcorn, chocolate-covered-popcorn, pieces of chocolate broken off of the Merry ChristMouse (solid chocolate mouse) my godfather sent me every year. The holidays were, quite frankly, all about stuffing our faces. And if you watch T.V. for an hour, or talk to friends, or watch commercials, it appears that that’s true for everyone–that the holidays are all about food. Even Peppermint Patty rags Charlie Brown out for not having Turkey and Stuffing, and Pumpkin Pie! I could go on for hours with examples like the Capital One baby being bribed with Candy Canes, or food brands that associate their food with love. So why is eating so out of control around the holidays? I’ve got one word for you, FAMILY!

Typically around the holidays, we try to spend time with family. We all have our own holiday phantasies–that’s a “ph” fantasy, like a wish in our unconscious for how things should be if we were perfectly happy. We may not even really be aware of the phantasy, and it’s not necessarily the same for everyone. However, for many Americans, Norman Rockwell had a lot to do with the typical holiday phantasy. We’re with family, that we love, and everyone’s happy, opening presents, enjoying a good meal, maybe watching football, enjoying some treats, and there is “Peace on Earth, and Good Will to All.” Jimmy Stewart reminds us to be thankful for what we have, even in hard times, and the Bergermeister teaches us that even bad guys are eventually won over by Santa Claus. But these are phantasies in that our real lives can never really live up to them. And yet we hang on to these phantasies year after year, and oftentimes try to force them to come true. Some people go into a full-on manic flight, spending money they don’t have, getting angry with people who are driving too slowly, or mad at their family for not sitting down to the table while the food is hot. All because, things are supposed to go a certain way, and they invariably don’t.

In reality, most family relationships are complicated and difficult. Loaded, and charged with deep-seated emotions from past hurts, failures or disappointments. You may have to go sit across from, and have a conversation with, the family member who has completely different political views than you, and likes to out-yell anyone who disagrees with them. Or, you may have people who, for a reason, don’t see each other very often… because they can’t stand each other. And so for a day, both are trying to just get through it and keep their mouths shut–or full. Like they say, you can pick your friends, but not your family. Just because you were born into the same family doesn’t mean you’re necessarily compatible personalities. And yet, according to all that is good and “peace-on-earth”y, you’re supposed to cherish your time with them. These are very surface examples. I haven’t even gotten into the unconscious conflicts that we all bring into our holiday celebrations. The unconscious knows no time, so every family occasion is another opportunity for you to get “tweaked” in whatever way bothers you most. No one but our families can push our deepest buttons. Like the parent who comments on your kid’s behavior, or worse, just gives you “the look.” And you so want to say, “hey! You weren’t such a perfect parent, remember when…” But you can’t. So you shove it down with whatever is handy. And that, my friends is why we have so much food around the holidays, and have such a hard time not overeating. Because coming into close contact with our families (or maybe some friends), results in us being flooded with emotions. And yet there’s a strong cultural message that we are supposed to be happy around the holidays, Damn it! So hurry up and make your turn… oh, sorry, my bad… got caught up in the Christmas mood…

People deal with the holidays, and their families, not measuring up to the phantasies they carry from year to year, in a variety of ways. But the most accepted in our culture, is to overeat. “Everyone does it.” In fact, others who are doing so, try to get everyone else to do so with them. Have you ever seen so much junk food in an office at any other time of year? Candy, cakes, Christmas parties, cookies, we are surrounded by sweet, high-carby foods. Or as I like to call them, “Crack Foods.” The foods that for you personally, are like crack-cocaine is to an addict. These are the foods that you cannot even allow in your house, or you risk triggering a binge. And yet, at the holidays, they are everywhere, and people are pushing you to “EAT!” “It’s the holidays!” ”You can diet in January!”
But you know what, as I said at the very beginning, there ARE some people who eat normally during the holidays. I know you know what that is, “eating normally.” If you’re still reading this, you probably know more about healthy eating than most people. But how can you make this year different than years past? The first place to start is by recognizing what your “Holiday Phantasy” is. What is your Holiday supposed to be like? In your heart of hearts, how do you see your “perfect” Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa. Now, you have to realize that it is NOT GOING TO BE LIKE THAT! That is a phantasy, and real life can never live up to it. So, rather than setting yourself up for all of that disappointment, maybe it’s time to come up with a new vision of a good Holiday. What is your good Holiday going to be? For me, I think it looks something like this: eat a normal breakfast, lunch and dinner, and pick one snack and one dessert. You know there will be other times when you get to taste the other desserts. You don’t have to have a piece of each one. And if you have one too many cookies, o.k., it’s not the end of the world. The goal here is to 1. Not use food to stuff down your feelings; 2. Eat foods you like; 3. Eat until you are full. And this means stopping and putting your fork down every now and then so your body has time to convert the food you’ve eaten to glycogen, and tell your brain that you’re full. You have to stop eating so that you can feel full; 4. Feel good later that night (not so overfull you could burst), or the day after, and 5. not regret overindulging (because you didn’t). And just know, that you are going to be feeling feelings with your family and friends around. You may feel some social anxiety at parties or even with your own family, people may push your buttons. But it’s going to be o.k. You can tolerate it and get through it, and ride it like a wave (or moguls), and actually enjoy your holiday season.

Copyright © 2012 Sue Brekka