Every Halloween, my kids look forward to making our traditional “spider” cookies. There is nothing special about the cookie itself, but the memories and pleasures associated with this yearly tradition have been something I treasure and enjoy creating with my children. However, I can vividly remember a time in my life where food traditions like this were not possible or even imaginable.
For anyone who has struggled with disordered eating or an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, holidays like Halloween can bring on a whole new meaning.
While other people may be engaged in the fun and festivities that come with the Holiday season, having a chaotic relationship with food can make any type of celebration feel frightening.
Foods that might be “unsafe” to eat, like candy, desserts, and sweets, suddenly take the spotlight and centerplace of focus at every gathering, which can create a sense of angst and uncertainty.
Whether you have had a history of chronic dieting, have used food as an emotional escape, or feel out of control when it comes to eating certain foods, the mere sight of a bowl of Halloween candy can be enough to send you into a downward spiral.
There is a way to establish a more neutral approach to the sweets and treats that can so easily cause distress and anxiety. And no, this does not involve hiding these foods completely out of site or bingeing to a point where you feel out of control.
Candies, sweets, desserts, and the like are often demonized in our culture, or in better words, shamed as something “bad”, even “toxic” for our bodies. In that light, how could we ever approach these types of foods with a neutral stance? This perspective in itself automatically creates a sense of shame or guilt for eating any type of food with a negative label attached to it.
The truth is that health is something that is measured over time and involves much more than our food choices alone. Our well-being isn’t determined by only eating “healthy foods”, but through the nature in which we eat and enjoy food. If eating certain foods cause you anxiety, the stress from that experience is likely MORE detrimental to your health than ANY type of food in itself.
YES, you can enjoy your favorite sweets and desserts as part of a healthy diet, and NO - you will not harm your body or your health by eating these types of pleasurable foods.
What is harmful is engaging in a chaotic relationship with food or in food behaviors that work against your body’s natural intuitive eating ability.
So this Halloween and holiday season, how can you navigate through some of the challenges of sweets and treats overload?
Here are some basic principles of intuitive eating that you can integrate in your life on a daily basis:
Feed Your Body Consistently: Going long stretches without adequately feeding your body can trigger urges to binge on ANYTHING, simply because your body is physiologically hungry and in need of nutrition. Be sure you are getting enough food throughout the day, and try not to go longer than 3-4 hours before having a meal or snack. Aim for building your meals and snacks around a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Having sufficient amounts of nutrition on a consistent basis will help you approach sweets in a more moderate manner.
Check Your Feelings at the Door: If you have struggled with emotional eating or tend to gravitate toward food as a coping mechanism, it’s important to gauge how you are feeling before coming into a situation where there may be an abundance of food. Are you feeling sad, angry, depressed, hopeless, stressed, anxious, etc? If so, it is critical to honor these feelings outside of using food. Understand that food will only serve as a temporary escape and will ultimately leave you feeling dissatisfied if you’re looking to it as a means of coping or escaping. Checking in with yourself can help you discover what you might be needing in that moment, whether this is in the form of physical nourishment, stress-release, or emotional soothing. Recognize and honor what you need.
Eat For Satisfaction: How many times have you eaten something, simply for the sake of eating and not necessarily because it actually TASTES good? When treats are “off-limits”, or no-no’s, there is something about them that becomes more enticing than they actually are. So if you have been depriving yourself of eating a certain food, like chocolate, candy, desserts, etc., you may actually be more drawn to having it. When the opportunity presents itself, you will likely eat more of this food than desired, simply because of the fact that it is available. Allowing yourself to have these types of foods, outside of special occasions, can be helpful in making the food itself feel more neutral, especially when you eat it. When you do eat these types of foods, ask yourself, “Does it taste good to me?”, “Am I enjoying this?”, “How does this feel in my body?”. These types of questions can help you discern if you are eating for satisfaction or for other reasons.
One of my favorite mantras is that “Food is Always in Your Future”, meaning that opportunities to eat and enjoy your favorites will always be there, not just on special occasions or holidays. Learning to apply some of the basic principles of intuitive eating can help support your journey and ultimately, nurture a more peaceful relationship with food, whatever the season or holiday may be.