More than any year, this year we all know that Christmas isn’t going to be all fun and joyful tidings for everyone.
Christmas day is especially tricky for me, it was my father’s birthday and since he died, 25th December has been tinged with sadness and regret. Over the years, I’ve put some support strategies into place so that I don’t fall into a big black hole full of christmas pudding and chocolate. Because food does a really good job of soothing pain and sadness away and what better time to overeat than in the long dark stretch between December and the new year?
If food is your thing then it will always have the potential to be your thing.
Over the years, I have learned how to manage my relationship with food in creative and self compassionate ways. My food thing doesn't take up so much space. It's less distressing. After years of yo-yo dieting and binging, I feel at peace with food. And when the going gets really tough I get the urge to revert straight back to my default setting. For years, I ate compulsively to shut out anxiety and sooth sadness. Eating, and the self loathing that came with it, provided the perfect distraction from the difficult stuff going on in my life.
Thankfully, nowadays I have other ways of dealing with stuff, food is only one of them.
Rather than pushing them away, or stuffing them down, uncomfortable feelings need to be let in, acknowledged. The more I know about my anxiety and my sadness, the better equipped I am to find other ways of looking after myself. So, every year around about this time in December, I take a moment to investigate the loss and the pain I feel at no longer having my father.
I acknowledge how sad the whole birthday/Christmas without Dad thing is, how much I miss him.
How freaky it feels to want to cry at the most unexpected moments – even after all these years. What I really miss the most is my dad’s hugs. I miss how he’d wrap his arms around me and I’d lean into his soft, warm embrace, inhaling the scent of his spicy aftershave, feeling safe and loved. Then I remind myself of the strategies I’ve put in place over the years to avoid turning to food for hugs instead.
I use my feelings as a gauge.
As soon as I become aware of the urge to eat, I sound a festive alarm bell and remind myself that this means something needs my attention. I take a breath and tune in. I name the anxiety or sadness or frustration or whatever it is that is making me want to run away and I conjure up the softest, fluffiest cashmere blanket I can imagine and carefully and lovingly tuck my feelings up in it. I imagine myself tucked up with them, settled comfortably in an armchair – even if I’m running around my kitchen or sat at the table with my family. I close my eyes, even for an instant, and allow myself to delve into the soothing warmth of my imaginary blanket. I know that this alone is often enough to break the trance, the automatic hand to mouth action that has me reaching for food.
This is a pretty good strategy and I know from previous experience that it helps to nourish myself without food.
Sure, I sometimes decide to eat and sooth myself like that, regardless. This is also OK, I like to eat lots at this time of year, and as long as I don’t beat myself up about it that’s fine by me. I also, crucially, have back up: a couple of mates I know I can call on if I need some hand holding and of course my sister. I am also making sure that I eat delicious, fabulous food so that I don’t have to deal with feelings of dissatisfaction as well. I have an evening planned with friends for laughs and I’ve got Bing Crosby playing on loop while I decorate the whole house with tinsel. I think I’ve got everything covered.