Picture this: you just started your intuitive eating journey and are exploring food freedom, giving yourself permission to have foods you really enjoy and rarely eat, without guilt. The 1-2 weeks around Christmas/New Year’s held so many fun foods for you and you’re so happy that you were able to enjoy some of your faves with minimal/no guilt or compensatory workouts to “make up” for it!
But now you’re “back to reality” and, while you were able to keep the judgy thoughts away in the moment, they come rushing back. If you’re thinking…
“That was fun and all, but now it’s time to get back on track.”
“Should I really have eaten that much?”
“I definitely could have made better choices.”
“I really over-indulged.”
“I ate like shit.”
“Why did I let myself go like that?”
“Does unconditional permission to eat mean over-stuffing myself the whole time?”
“Maybe I just can’t be trusted around food.”
“The idea of food freedom and listening to my body is nice and all, but maybe it’s just not for me.”
STOP RIGHT THERE! You’re experiencing what I like to call a post-holiday emotional hangover: while you were able to give yourself permission to have foods that you enjoyed in the moment over the holidays, all the guilt, shame, fear of weight gain, and panic you managed to quell in the last couple of weeks all of a sudden comes rushing back and hits you like a train.
If this is the first time you’ve practiced food freedom over the holidays in a while, this reaction actually makes a lot of sense. When was the last time you actually felt like you could trust yourself around food, especially during the holidays? How many opportunities have you had to practice unconditional permission to eat, mindful eating, food neutrality, and being a compassionate voice of reassurance and nurturance for yourself? Probably not many. So of course the holidays felt uncomfy - not because you did anything wrong, but because it was different from what you’re used to. Any time we step outside our comfort zone, there’s bound to be some discomfort. But that is not synonymous with failure. And, contrary to the panicky thoughts you may be having, rebounding to past restrictive behaviors, diets, and military-grade exercise regimes are not the answer!
Let’s think of a different yet similar example.
If you celebrated anything this winter, were you around any kids? Did they get toys? Were there any they wanted for a long time or were really excited about? How much did they play with them?
If you weren’t around kids, do you remember how you felt when you got those extra-special gifts that one day or week out of the year? Of course they were exciting - maybe your friends already had that certain toy you wanted, you’d seen it in online or in stores, you imagined what it would be like playing with it, or you waited ALL YEAR for it - how could you not be chomping at the bit to finally open this present?!
Fast forward several months. I’d bet that, more than likely, that same toy you couldn’t get enough of was now tucked away with all your other toys. Nothing super special about it, because you got everything you wanted out of it. You could play with it whenever you wanted, so you did. But eventually, the excitement and pleasure wore off as time wore on.
How do you think that experience would have changed if you were only allowed to play with that toy for one week over the holiday season? What if, in the new year, you weren’t allowed to play with it again until the next holiday celebration? You’d probably be sad, feel like you were missing out, and find ways to sneak the toy when nobody was looking.
Now think about how this applies to food - those foods that are especially reserved for the holiday season. Or your birthday. Or Valentine's day.
Is the next best step to cure this hangover to cut down on those satisfying, “indulgent” foods, and pretend like they don’t exist? ORRR does it make more sense to try and start incorporating these foods more often so that they can become more neutral? The process of eating a food continuously, and thus decreasing strong emotional ties to it, has been researched and even has a name: habituation. It explains why including more delicious foods more often - NOT avoiding them or keeping them out of the house - can actually help us not lose our shit around them!
So if you’re feeling the hangover this year, I get it. There are valid reasons for this. And while your knee jerk reaction may be to become a mean, lean, clean food hermit, your emotions and body may actually be telling you that you have an opportunity to continue improving your relationship with food!