Avoid overeating and drinking too much this holiday season by mindfully focusing on giving yourself pleasure rather than trying to numb the pain.
Cookies, chocolate, traditional desserts, eggnog, and the wine flowing at all those holiday parties are part of what makes the holidays happy! But the holidays can also be stressful. Family matters, cyclic grief, and having to shop at the mall—these can all contribute to an urge to reach for sugar and alcohol. How do we go into the holidays ready to enjoy these special treats without giving ourselves a hangover?
The answer is simple and surprisingly sweet: we focus on pleasure. Yes, pleasure!
This holiday season, we can commit to seeking as much pleasure as possible and enjoy the hell out of it. The trick is that we must be clear about the difference between pleasure and numbness. Genuine pleasure requires that we be fully in our bodies, able to access all of the sensations and emotions within a given experience. Pleasure is healthy and life-affirming. Numbness, on the other hand, means overindulging in order to not feel our feelings. The only sensation we get with numbness is the relief of not having to feel the pain anymore. We might need to do that sometimes, but pursuing numbness is not a healthy long-term strategy because it requires that we override our internal signals.
Pay attention to the little things
When we reach for a Christmas cookie with pleasure, we pay attention to the experience. We take the time to make a cup of tea and sit down. We look at the cute little colorful sprinkles on top and allow ourselves to be delighted. We smell the sweetness of the dough, taste the familiar flavor, and feel the texture of the crumbly cookie and crisp decorations on top. We feel the flush of sensations that runs through our bodies with that first bite. We take a moment to notice whether the body wants more or has had enough. If it wants more we eat more! If it doesn’t, we stop. This is also sometimes called mindful eating.
When our intention is to numb, we grab a couple of cookies and cram them into our mouths, barely chewing, and immediately reach for a third before we’ve even swallowed. We barely taste the cookies, but our feelings dial gets turned way down.
Choosing the path of genuine pleasure isn’t always easy. Sometimes we need to numb ourselves, and that’s okay, there is a reason we have that mechanism in our systems. But the holidays will be a lot more fun if we make a solemn commitment to pleasure and presence. Here are eight tips to help:
1. Drink water with each alcoholic drink. Doing this will slow you down and ensure that the special beverage is for pleasure and not for thirst.
2. Don’t show up to a party starving. Your hunger signals may override the slowness pleasure requires.
3. Sit down while eating. It will help you relax, slow down, and focus on the food. Wait a few minutes to ensure you actually want more food before you go for seconds.
4. Get regular exercise. Doing exercise regularly helps regulate hunger and fullness signals, making it easier to listen to your body. You might be out of your routine during the holiday season, but you can always walk!
5. Have non-food/booze related stress management skills handy. Like yoga, calling a friend, or listening to one of my guided meditations.
6. Forgive yourself when you slip into numbness—it happens! Be extra nice to yourself if you end up with a hangover—and keep in mind that hangovers can cause anxiety.
7. Gaining weight is not a bad thing in and of itself (despite the messaging we get). If you gain a little weight in a season of pleasure, that is totally okay. Our bodies are meant to shift and change with the season. Take that off your list of things to worry about.
8. Remember that pleasure is a practice. You’ll get better at it if you keep practicing!
Need more help? Here are 16 affirmations for mindful eating.