4 years old: Ask for a toy. Don’t get it. Cry. Get a cookie. Feel better.
10 years old: Argument with Mom. Eat a cookie. Feel better.
16 years old: Receive a bad grade in school. Get ice cream. Feel better.
22 years old: Work project flops. Go to happy hour. Feel better.
Now: Disagreement with hubby. Eat a cookie, get ice cream AND drink some wine. Feel better.
Relationships. We have them with our parents, our teachers, our colleagues, our partners, our kids, and ourselves. They start out from the moment we come into this world. Every relationship provides us with something different, and we manage each one in different ways. One very common way… Food. Our favorite food at times becomes a great coping mechanism.
From the time we’re babies, food is part of our life for both physical nourishment and emotional connection to our family members, caregivers, and friends. In all the various ways that people have relationships with one another, so are the many ways we can have a relationship with food.
The relationship we form with food, very often stems from the way we grew up with it. For me, food was a gift of love. A hot bowl of chicken soup and buttered toast cut into squares when I was under the weather. My favorite homemade Italian dinner to celebrate good news or a big win! And of course, there was always 31 Flavors double hot fudge sundae with Mom to soothe a heartbroken soul.
Food was also connection. Long conversations at the dinner table with my Mom and sister, picking at leftovers, tearing off small pieces of bread, and nibbling here and there just to linger a little longer.
It’s no surprise that food became my confidant, my therapist, and sometimes my Saturday night date! Food was there when emotions ran wild. The act of eating can fill voids, be a way to zone out during tough conversations and–on the opposite spectrum–it can be a bridge to connect, have fun and create memories!
Our first relationship with food as a child will lead the way to our adult relationship with food. It definitely took a conscious awareness for me to move away from “food as therapy” to “food as physical nourishment.”
When I realized my parents and grandparents really weren’t to blame for how I chose to eat as an adult, I decided to change. I took responsibility, looked at my food relationship straight on, and made mindful changes on how I USED food.
Great quote, Ms. Angelou, and it speaks volumes to my relationship with food around the holiday season! This time of year is my BIGGEST trigger. And having coached hundreds of emotional eaters, I know I am not alone.
Why would the holidays bring up an emotional relationship with food? Let’s see:
- Family gatherings, where everyone has “their” way
- Holiday travel
- Relatives you haven’t (purposely) seen for some time
- Too many cooks in the kitchen
- Hosting family and friends in your two-bedroom home
- Staying the weekend in your old childhood room
I can go on and on…
But as Maya reminds us…“when you know better, do better.”
In the early years of my health journey, I would fall to pieces when I went home for the holidays. I would stand in the kitchen, talk to my Mom and sister, and unconsciously shovel food into my mouth… reminiscent of my childhood days. I would also find myself hoarding my sister’s pantry if I was bored, or appeasing my aunt and cousin by trying one of every TEN desserts they would bring to the holiday dinner.
And guess what… at the end of the night, I never felt good.
Bloated, stuffed, crabby, uncomfortable, and defeated. Big surprise, right? A couple of years ago I said enough is enough. I came across Maya Angelou’s quote and said, “You know better, now it’s time to do better, Heather!”
Here are five simple strategies I use to keep a healthy and harmonious relationship with both food and family during the holidays!
- Make a plan to be prepared. Know where, when and with whom you will be sharing holiday meals. Know where and with whom you will be staying or sharing living space with. If you can’t ask for the food you would like, take responsibility and bring it. Be prepared to smell things that may trigger your emotions about a certain food, person or memory.
- Know WHY you’re eating. We eat for different reasons at different times of our lives: for boredom, comfort, stress, fun, thrills, to please others, grabbing seconds to show how much we liked the food. Check in with yourself. Are you mindlessly eating? Snacking immediately after you had breakfast? During meals, are you overeating or eating too fast? Stop chewing and take a deep breath. Ask “why?” Recognize the emotion and realize that you don’t have to eat if you’re not physically hungry. Be prepared with other activities you can participate in for yourself.
- Talk about it. Tell your family and friends that your health matters to you. Have an open and honest conversation about your nutrition and even your relationship with food. Let them know what foods you avoid, why, and how you feel when you are true to your nutritional needs. What a relief to communicate the truth. You may be surprised in the interest your family and friends have in your story. Or perhaps they have a similar experience with food to share.
- Stay in the present. I realized one of the main reasons I would fall back into a nurturing relationship with food around my family was because I was unconsciously going into the past. When we leave the moment, we no longer have control. Staying present not only serves us by keeping us mindful, it is a gift to give those we are with.
- Give thanks! Give thanks and find gratitude for what you have–your family, friends, childhood home, out-of-town relatives, overly demonstrative aunt, pushy Nonna–everyone! Yes, even those who push your buttons. What are they there to show you at this moment in your life? How would being thankful for them turn the situation around? It’s amazing how helpful this tiny shift in perspective can be. Though it’s not always easy, remember that you are in control of your own emotions.
I’m still not 100% perfect with my food relationship from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, but I am no longer packing my elastic waisted pants and big, baggy shirts when I visit the family!
Food becomes a friend when emotions run wild. This year, I know that you can be there for yourself. Be your own guide and even your own best friend for the holidays and every day.
When you are in a mindset and emotional space of love, care and gratitude for yourself, watch how your relationships with food (and family) can transform in positive ways. And if you feel the need for extra support, reach out! To those friends, family and T30C community members who you trust to understand what you’re going through. We’re all in this together. Now we know, that we know better, so let’s do our best!
Want to know what we’re thankful for? YOU! Did something in this blog strike a chord with you? Leave a comment below and share your experience.