holiday eating: deprivation versus divine

By: Lanee Neil
During my years as a lifestyle consultuant and personal trainer, I discovered the joys of writing with my book, "The Weight is Over: A Journey to Body Confidence." This led me to becoming a freelance ...

part six in our eight-part journey toward total body confidence and compassion

It would seem that from October to January, life is a continuous party with an abundance of opportunities to eat or drink outside of our normal routine. I can remember trying every trick in the book to not overeat or consume too many high-calorie foods because I feared weight gain. I would be so obsessed with avoiding the “bad foods” at a party that I would miss out on opportunities to mingle, build new relationships, and enjoy the experience of the occasion. 

But enough with all the weighing of deprivation over divinity. This year, get your party dress on and enjoy a balanced, guilt-free holiday season. In this month’s series, we will learn to view all foods for what they really are””energy, balance and pleasure. I’ve highlighted five basic principles that will help you develop and strengthen conscious, present-minded eating habits, leaving you free to savor the moment and enjoy the season’s festivities.

Your Body Is Sacred and Irreplaceable

As Belur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar once said, “The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.” It’s easy to neglect the body and yet it’s amazing how it just keeps on regenerating even when we don’t give it proper care. Making the conscious choice to see your body as a sacred temple helps to motivate and promote better choices in food consumption. You can worship and bless yourself by asking this question each time you reach for food: “Since this is the only body I get, is this the most loving thing I can feed myself in order to do what I need to accomplish today?” Rather than experiencing deprivation, try offering yourself moderate portions of wholesome foods so that you can relish in the divinity of the improved choices you do make.

Observe Your Food Talk

What are you actually “saying” about your food choices? When you start to take notice about how you speak in conjunction with the food you eat, your body will listen. 

Saying things like, “if I just look at that piece of cake, my thighs will get bigger” only affirms a negative outcome. Instead, develop compassion for yourself and begin replacing negative food talk with such phrases as, “I eat exactly what my body needs.” And if you have a brownie for lunch, so what? Don’t get stuck beating yourself up about it. You still have the rest of the day, week and month to make better choices for your body.

There Is No Bad or Good Food

What if we were all to yell, “olly olly oxen free” to all foods right here, right now? From this moment on, let all fodder be devoid of positive or negative qualities. Although some foods may not be as nutritious or nurturing for our bodies, ice cream is not evil and broccoli is not saintly. Eliminating such moral judgments will not only lessen feelings of guilt after enjoying a slice of grandma’s pumpkin pie, but the noose will also begin to loosen around the reward vs. punishment in light of the comfort food vs. diet food mentality. The ultimate goal is to develop a more balanced way of nourishing your body.

Food Is Meant for Pleasure!

How amazing is that first bite of warm, flourless chocolate cake? Delicious! And the second? Well, it’s great. But the third? The third is only okay, and after that it’s as if your taste buds are bored and fall right to sleep. Eating the whole cake usually only happens because it is there and you’ve been trained to clean the plate. A Chinese proverb aptly states, “The more you eat, the less flavor; the less you eat, the more flavor.” 

One great way to improve your eating experience requires a few conscious steps. First, get into a comfortable, seated position. Take a square of your favorite chocolate and enjoy the scent of its wonderful qualities. Observe how your body responds. What do you feel, and are you enjoying it? Next, place the chocolate on your tongue and notice how the taste changes as it melts onto the different parts of your tongue. What is its texture? Play with it in your mouth. Swallow it slowly. Savor the remnants of its flavor. You can try your own version of this at your next meal. By improving the sensory experience of eating, you will be able to eat less and acknowledge your body when it tells you that you’re full.

Cravings Are Usually Emotional, Not Physical

Sometimes when our body is craving something it needs, we erroneously identify it as hunger. If you are still experiencing a craving after eating a few bites, check in with yourself emotionally. Are you bored, lonely, nervous, tired, using it to avoid talking to someone at the party? If actual hunger is not present, try grabbing a cup of soothing tea and then write down what it is you are actually feeling. The cravings will usually pass once the emotion has been identified. If you are at a party and are drawn back to the food table for one more glass of eggnog, trying conducting a mental check-in and ask yourself what exactly is driving the urge for more. Resolve the root of the craving instead of medicating it! 

By using these principles to strengthen your conscious, present-minded eating, you will begin to view food in a completely different light. Food is energy and eating should be a divine act full of compassion for self! Once I learned how to do away with negative thoughts of deprivation and embrace these new attitudes toward food, I was able to relax and enjoy the reason for the gathering. Try approaching this year’s holiday season with a renewed focus on nurturing your body.