The Psychology of Eating for Every Season
It’s beginning to look a lot like . . . the holidays. Stores have been filled with “merry and bright” for months.
Now, at last, it’s December: Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and a brand New Year just waiting to start the cycle all over again.
Some people welcome the merriment, singing along to the music playing in every store. But even for those humming along, everyday chronic stress merely shifts to holiday chronic stress. Too many gifts to buy. Too many cars on the roads. Too many parties to attend. And, yes, too much food to eat and inevitable pounds to gain. Healthy lifestyles often take a back burner to the annual tradition of stuffing ourselves.
About this time each year, many have a little saboteur sitting on their shoulder saying, “You know you’re going to gain weight during the holidays. You know you’re going to break your healthy eating habits. Just give up. Wait until January 1, resolution time.”
But what if we could have our fruitcake and eat it too? From the perspective of eating psychology, it’s possible. Whether during the holiday season, or at other times of stress in people’s lives, it’s clear that many people have not developed the tools needed to live their lives with a sense of power, of intention, or of consistency. They surrender and put their best intentions aside in deference to what they believe they can’t control.
Ironically, surrendering to the season is the best hack for the holidays. Don’t surrender to inevitable weight gain or overindulgence. Don’t surrender to stress. Surrender, instead, to the “holy” in these days. The word “holiday” originates from “holy day.” Time to celebrate and relax into the joy of this moment and the next. Find pleasure in each holy day.
Indulge in PleasureAccording to Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, Vitamin P — pleasure — is a powerful metabolizer. In The Slow Down Diet, David shares the story of a young woman and mother of three who is obsessed with chocolate and afraid of gaining weight. With a little investigating, David realized this woman wasn’t even eating any chocolate. At all. Not real chocolate. Low-fat chocolate pudding doesn’t cut it. His recommendation? Eat chocolate. Real. Dark. Chocolate. Indulge. Enjoy. Then move on. Once this young woman allowed herself the pleasure of chocolate, she didn’t gain weight; her cravings vanished and so did her chronic constipation. Many people, especially during the holiday season, believe more willpower is what they need when in fact, it’s more pleasure.
Susan Pierce Thompson, PhD in cognitive brain research and founder of Bright Line Eating, agrees. She says chemistry, not willpower, keeps people from healthy lifestyle habits. The processed-food industry knows this, too, engineering foods to increase insulin which, in turn, blocks the hormone called leptin. Leptin is the hormone that says, “Okay, I’m full.” If the brain is blocked from seeing leptin, there’s no sense of fullness and people eat more, packing on the pounds.
Life is a series of choices. One skillful, healthy choice leads to the next skillful, healthy choice. Remember the choice.
Surrender to NowMichael Singer, founder of Temple of the Universe yoga and meditation center asks, “If the natural unfolding of the process of life can create and take care of the entire universe, is it really reasonable for us to assume that nothing good will happen unless we force it to?” Time to surrender.
Surrender catalyzes relaxation, and relaxation catalyzes optimum digestion and calorie burning.
“Health is not something down the road, a state to reach, a place to get to. Health is a state of attitude and mind that naturally invites skillful choices in the moment,” says author and health educator Lani Muelrath.
Life is a series of choices. One skillful, healthy choice leads to the next skillful, healthy choice. Remember the intention. Remember the choice.
Use Skillful Choices for SatisfactionDuring the holidays, people often face buffets and party trays laden with foods that wouldn’t be their foods of choice. Learning to say, “No, not my food” is a skillful choice.
It’s also a choice that can be helped with this pre-party hack: Eat. Eat breakfast before the corporate holiday lunch. Keep a jar of nuts and seeds in the car. Eat an apple or veggies and hummus before the big family gathering. Showing up hungry is yet another saboteur.
There’s also the choice to bring a healthy twist on a traditional favorite to a gathering. Gingered sweet potatoes with maple syrup or apple pecan dressing are gluten-free, delicious choices.
Life is a series of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries — a calendar full of occasions to eat. These special occasions can either wreak havoc on the best of intentions or reinforce them.
The song “(No Place Like) Home for the Holidays” equates home with “the sunshine of a friendly gaze.” More than a house, home is a sense of being, wherever the place may be. Choosing to be home is the result of choosing to create moments that matter. Time to come home for the holidays.