“Holiday feasts are meant to be eaten and enjoyed,” I would remind myself as I pulled up to the table. “Now isn’t the time to start counting calories.”
While this is 100% true, if you’re anything like I used to be, the meal you have at the holiday table – or any table – is just the tip of the iceberg. That plate of food is nothing compared to what you secretly swallow when no one’s looking. It’s that food, inhaled while your system is awash with stress, anxiety, and shame, that takes the gift of holiday treats and makes them the stuff of nightmares.
Once you’ve given in to the craving to binge, compulsively overeat, or play Sneak & Slam with the leftovers, your special occasion is likely to feel a lot less special.
You eat what you eat in front of people. Later, a craving hits:
- To be more full
- To eat the way you want to
- To stuff every space in your mouth with something, anything, to quickly change the channel in your head to something more pleasant than the present.
Like me, you want better for yourself:
- A strong sense of agency over your choices.
- To feel GOOD IN YOUR BODY.
- To feel well and truly cared for (by YOU).
For years it never occurred to me that that could actually happen.
No matter the object of my desire, 1 the cravings felt the same and followed the same pattern. What’s clear to me now, 2 and maybe to you, is that each time I gave into a craving, I felt worse, not better, on the other side.
And the worse I felt, the more cravings I had.
And so it goes, ad infinitum.
I’m healthy and fit today – and have been for well over a decade – because I finally broke that pattern.
If you’re like I was, you give in to cravings for more 3 and binge hard and fast. You hardly taste anything in your frenzy to reach that magical moment when you’re so damn full that you don’t have room for sadness, anger, disappointment, or loneliness.
If you want to end this pattern and you’re ready to have a healthier relationship to food, you might try the following experiment this holiday season.
How to Not Give In To a Craving
- Scan the horizon. As you do your holiday thing, pay attention to how you’re feeling. Scan your body for signs of craving. Note when desire crops up to eat a thing or in a way that will leave you feeling worse, not better, on the other side. When a craving begins, try not to give in or push it down. Instead, focus on it. Get curious about how it manifests as felt sensations in your body. Do you feel yourself physically leaning-in? Is there a palpable sense of reaching toward the object of desire? Is there tension? Where do you feel that? How might you describe it? Examine your craving like a scientist collecting data.
- Ride it out. Imagine cravings as a wave with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Once you notice one coming on – like when you “remember” there’s leftovers, or when your attention gets snagged on the half-eaten pie on the counter – understand that the desire to consume will get bigger and feel more intense before it fades. It’s when the craving swells that you’ve historically given in. This is when you’ve most likely made choices that cause you pain and discomfort. Choices that make you not like being you so much. And it makes sense – as the craving builds, it can feel like not giving in might kill you. 4 Keep observing the wave as it builds.
- Feel it break. “This, too, shall pass” applies to everything, and cravings are no exception. If you follow these steps, eventually – and in a lot less time than you might think – the craving will pass. Even the grandest, most outrageous wave breaks when it hits the shore. When your craving finally does break, the energy behind it will dissipate. If you’re paying attention in that moment, you’ll feel your body settle back into itself. And there you’ll be, standing on solid ground, having prioritized your precious body and sanity over old, destructive patterns and compulsions.
No matter what you crave, if you know that giving in leaves you feeling worse on the other side, follow these three steps. Each time you do, you’ll see how brief and fleeting cravings can be. You’ll feel more in control and capable of taking good care of yourself no matter what’s grabbing your attention. 5
- First food, then cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, approval, you name it. ↩
- Over a decade into my recovery from this craziness. ↩
- More food, wine, beer, approval, acceptance, scratch tickets, etc. ↩
- I’m confident some super-smart reader can think of a craving that actually WOULD kill you if you didn’t give into it. This is not that. K thanks. ↩
- And, by “grabbing your attention,” I mean fiercely and mercilessly consuming every atom of your mind, body, and soul with a wanting so acute as to blot out most – if not all – of life’s priorities in an effort to quench the unquenchable nature of compulsion and / or addiction. Natch. ↩