Friday, 23 December 2011

A festive Strategy for dealing with the food 'thing'

My father would have celebrated his 74th birthday on Christmas day. This is the first Christmas - and birthday - that we celebrate without him. Double whammy. Christmas this year is going to be tricky and I am busy putting some support strategies into place so that I don't fall into a big black hole full of christmas pudding and chocolate.

If food is your thing then it will always be your thing. Over the years, I have learned how to manage my relationship with food and, mostly, I don't have much of a food thing at all. But when the going gets 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 a better way of dealing with stuff than by using food. 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, I invited the angst and the pain to tea and got to know them over a slice of cake. I asked them to tell me more about themselves, about what they needed to feel safe and if they had any suggestions on how they thought I could make that happen.

They talked about how scary the whole birthday/christmas without dad thing felt, about how much they missed him. And how freaky it felt to want to cry all the time. They asked me to stop running away from them. They wanted to be wrapped up in lovely, soft, warm blankets and held. We talked, I listened. Together, we came up with a Festive strategy. And it looks something like this:

As soon as I become aware that I am running away from myself, distancing myself from my feelings and from the people around me I will sound a special festive alarm bell and remind myself that this means something needs my attention. I will take a deep breath and tune in. I know that this alone is enough to break the trance, the automatic hand to mouth action. I will name anxiety or sadness or frustration or whatever it is that is making me want to run away and I will conjure up the softest, fluffiest cashmere blanket I can imagine and carefully and lovingly tuck my feelings up in it. As they nestle in and doze off peacefully, I will bring myself back to reality and move on: without needing to have another bite (or another sip or another drag). 

I think this is a pretty good strategy hand I know from previous experience that it works pretty well. I am sure that sometimes I'll decide to carry on regardless. This is OK,  I like to eat lots at this time of year, as long as I'm doing it consciously and I don't beat myself up about it. 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. Also, very importantly, I am 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 J for some time-out a deux and I've got Bing Crosby playing in loop while I decorate the whole flat with tinsel. I think I've got everything covered.

Do you have a festive strategy to deal with the food 'thing'? Have you ever invited your 'stuff' to tea and had a chat? What did you find out?

Have a wonderful festive season everyone!


  1. I'm so sorry you're facing Christmas without someone so special and I think your strategy is a very brave one and I hope it works for you and that you are able to enjoy the festive season.
    I'm going to adopt a curiosity strategy this Christmas - I'm going to see what happens and observe my reactions to it in terms of emotional response and eating response. I'm sure I'll learn a lot this year and I'm going to really enjoy NOT dieting or worrying about starting a diet in January!

  2. Big hugs to you and your family this Festive Season and thanks for this wonderful concept. My mother has been ill this year and sometimes my fears have been overwhelming but inviting them in has, when i've been able, worked better than ignoring them - I haven't gone mad or eaten everything in sight yet!
    Best Christmas wishes!

  3. This will be my first Christmas without a loved one too, and what you say holds many truths for me. I do like the idea of wrapping the feelings up in a blanket, and will give that a try. As well as the sadness, and the awareness of the gaping hole in the family, my brother's illness and death has made me appreciate my own life more. After years of just 'getting through' the festive season, this time I intend to enjoy myself.
    Happy Christmas!


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