Welcome back to the Letting Go of Food Rules series! If this is your first time visiting, check out this first post that introduces this series.
This is the first real topic in the series. I’m choosing to start here since Christmas and New Year are literally weeks away! YAY! Ideally, I would have posted this before Thanksgiving, but life happens. That’s okay though. I hope you find it useful for all future holidays and celebrations. It definitely is helping me.
One of the biggest sources of stress around this time of year is holiday weight gain. There are more parties which always seems to mean more food. Not only is there more food, there are more foods that we ONLY eat this one time of year. This is what I’m calling “seasonal foods.” Some popular seasonal foods for this time of year are: pumpkin pie, pecan pie, peppermint flavored things, eggnog, gingerbread, green bean casserole, turkey, stuffing… You know, the foods we fix at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe it’s your grandma’s special casserole, or a favorite side dish you always make, or a snack-y food that you always seem to have this time of year. Let me just say, none of these foods are wrong or bad, but for some reason they tend to make us really freak out. Either we go overboard stuffing ourselves full to point of sick on them or we get really stressed trying not to overdo it and usually end up still eating them to the point of sick and feeling shame and guilt for doing so. None of that sounds very festive and fun to me…
Why does this happen? You can think of it as food scarcity. Actual food scarcity may not be happening, but we make our minds feel that way. It often starts with thinking of a food as really bad for you. Maybe you think “if I just would quit eating X food all the time then I could lose some weight.” This usually leads to restriction. This might look like: “I am only going to eat X amount of this food” or “I can only eat this 1 day a week, or month, or year.” Now all of the sudden a food that you really enjoy and could find satisfaction from in a reasonable amount seems bad to eat and can only be eaten under very specific circumstances.
Extremes like this make that particular food seem very very desirable. The more you say that you can’t have it, the more you will want to have it. Usually this also means that when you do finally have it that you will feel like you need to eat more of it to satisfy that craving. This is where that feeling of out of control and that you can’t stop eating it if it’s there comes in.
Now I realize some seasonal foods are really limited to this time of year only, and that’s okay. You may not be able to find them in stores until this time of year. It’s okay for some of those foods to be more prevalent in your diet for a few months at a time. For me, pumpkin bread is one of my favorite fall foods. I’ve made it at least 3 times in the past few months. In the summer, zucchini and squash go on sale a lot. Trust me, we eat a lot more of that during those months than we do in the winter. All of that is okay and really that’s to be expected.
So the first big challenge is to accept that it is okay for your diet to change from season to season. Various foods will sound better to you in the warmer months than they do in colder months. Don’t be worried when you realize you are craving a food that you like and that you can’t have any other time of the year.
Here is the trick though. Realize that you can have the food more than once. Realize that you can always choose to have that food multiple times. There is no need to restrict it to just one time. I find that when I feel like this is my only chance to eat a food that it makes me feel more anxious about it. I want to eat more of it and have a hard time getting myself to stop even if I’m miserably full. A great way to overcome this is to stop and remind yourself “I can have this food again. This food is not going away forever. I am full now, but when I am hungry again I can choose this food again if I am craving it.” This creates a feeling of security with that food. It doesn’t feel scarce anymore.
There are of course exceptions to this rule. There may be a few times in your life where it may be the only chance you have to eat a food, and that’s okay. What we are talking about here are the foods you know you will and can have again.
So here is your challenge for the day: think of a food that you really love to eat this time of year. Choose a food that maybe has started to make you feel stressed because you really love it but now feel guilty eating it. Try to pick a food that you feel like you can’t stop eating it if it’s there.
Next, plan to eat this food in the next couple of weeks. When you eat this food, sit down and enjoy it. Pay attention to how it looks, smells, feels, and tastes in your mouth. Eat it till you are satisfied. Make sure you eat it slow so you can listen to your body.
Next when you are finished, remind yourself that you can eat this food again. Remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Then I want you to plan to make this meal again in the next few months. Sometimes we think that we can only eat foods at certain times of the year, but many of them can be eaten year round. An example for me is the pumpkin bread. It would be easy for me to eat a large amount of pumpkin bread all at once and try to avoid eating it again for a long time to make up for overindulging. A better thing to do is to make it multiple times, enjoy it each time I eat it, and to remember each time that I have the choice to eat it or not eat it. The great thing about pumpkin is that you can buy canned pumpkin all year round! So I can really make this any time that I want. It is like that for many foods.
So the food rule we are breaking today is eating your favorite seasonal foods out of season. Maybe that means you make green bean casserole in February, or pumpkin bread in June. Having full permission to eat the foods you like removes the anxiety around those foods and also decreases the intense desires to eat them.
Food can be neutral. All foods can fit. You have permission to eat the foods you enjoy.