Truly my favorite time of year…I love the lights, the music, the evergreen garland, the parties and, let us not forget, the array of beautifully decorated cookies that only emerge for this tiny window in our calendar year.
I couldn’t always easily include cookies in my list of holiday loves. For many years it was a complicated relationship. Plates of homemade baking were more of a battleground than a welcome treat. I would have to steady myself with strategy as I went into my family Christmas gatherings trying to stave off that moment when I would inevitably lose hold of my restrictive resolve, eat that extra 2 or 3 (or 8) cookies, feel sickly full and deeply disgusted in myself.
Finding freedom in my relationship with food (including Christmas cookies) required me to dispel my long held myth: sugar was ok for everyone but me. Spending all those years in constant diet mode had made it so that every single sweet indulgence was an indication of failure. As a compulsive and emotional eater sweet indulgences were plentiful and therefore so were my experiences of perceived failure.
When I committed to cultivating a long term healthy relationship with food I knew that the concept of permission would have to be a cornerstone if I was going to be an empowered eater…choosing foods because I really wanted them and denying foods simply because I didn’t (not because a diet program or other external source told me I couldn’t have them). Initially the prospect of lifelong permission with sugar was terrifying, it required learning to trust myself.
I was willing to invest in the journey however because I knew that the alternative was a life of restriction and where there was restriction there was also, inevitably, the impulse for my compulsion and where could the sustained healing be in that?
Through my healing process I came to see that true ‘healthy’ eating honors two distinct equally valid purposes of food. One purpose of food, certainly the primary one, is to nourish our body. This should comprise the bulk of our eating. However there is a second purpose for food; sensory pleasure. There needs to be allowance, I would argue daily allowance, for eating food simply for the pure pleasure and fun of it. I tell my clients to use a 90/10 guideline – 90% of our eating is primarily for nourishing the body and 10% of our eating can be primarily for satisfying the mouth.
Delightfully we live in a world where food acts as both utility and art. The only purpose of our Christmas cookie platter is pure mouth joy, sensory pleasure, no different that listening to a great piece of music or letting your eyes feast on a beautiful work of art. Think of the freedom involved if rather that defining eating for taste as “bad” “cheating” or “weak” you defined eating that star shaped masterpiece of flour, butter and icing as the lovely birthright of someone enjoying the human experience.
The tricky nuance for incorporating pleasure eating into your life on a daily basis is finding a way to allow for it that is balanced and alert to the very different dynamics of compulsive and emotional eating. On The Deeper Cravings Path™ I teach how to savor the sweets without losing control. My clients uncover their emotional eating triggers and are better able to recognize them. It isn’t always easy to know what is motivating a particular eating decision however. To help make it easier I teach 3 basic conditions to look for to distinguish between reaching for that cookie simply as a benign pleasure eating experience versus an emotional eating episode:
The first condition is that there is emotional neutrality. If you are deciding whether or not to have the sweet and are embroiled in a “should I/shouldn’t I” conversation or feeling any guilt or defeat you know you are engaged in an emotional eating dynamic. Healthy pleasure eating requires permission and a feeling of empowered choice.
A second condition is that you will be present for the eating experience (eat mindfully). When you’re eating something purely for the sensory delight it is something you’re consciously seeking out. As such, when you begin to enjoy it you will be fully present for it. If you find that the cookie that you’re eating is gone before you even really tasted it then you have just engaged in emotional eating.
A third condition of pleasure eating is that it be… pleasurable :-). This means you’re selecting something you truly enjoy the taste of and not just eating it because it is there. In addition, it has to feel pleasurable within your body. This requires that you listen to your body’s cues around hunger and fullness. If you are edging towards fullness and beginning any slight discomfort and are still reaching for a cookie you know it is an emotional eating episode. Likewise if you are experiencing hunger signals it is the time to be choosing foods that nourish your body not the foods that simply satisfy the mouth. Therefore experiences of pure sensory/pleasure eating happen when your body is sitting at a comfortable neutral spot.
True freedom with food is possible and it is so delicious. To have a taste of it this holiday reclaim your right to balanced pleasure eating; trust yourself to enjoy the artistry of the holiday baking by using these Deeper Cravings principles to guide you.
Wishing you many guiltlessly sweet moments this season.
To Find Long Term Peace in Your Relationship with Your Body and Freedom with Food Contact Me For Your Free Consultation Session for The Deeper Cravings Path™
photo credit: Cliff Johnson <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/19174219@N00/3144650136″>12/25 – Christmas Cookies</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>