There was a time (not so crazy long ago) when holiday celebrations actually brought me a lot of anxiety and tension. Because I never really trusted myself with food and because I was often using it to deal with things it couldn’t deal with, celebrations were a breeding ground for disempowerment and stress.

What I didn’t understand at the time was HOW I was creating this pattern for myself.

I always tried so hard to be “good.” I wouldn’t allow myself to indulge regularly and tried to deprive my body of pleasure on a daily basis, so when I couldn’t escape indulgence, I would try to crash down with it. Instead of having two slices of cheddar, I needed to eat the whole tray of cheese (pretty damn quickly). I couldn’t have three glasses of wine at a party, I had to have a bottle and a half. At Christmas parties, I would park myself in front of the spiced mixed nuts and eat until I felt sick because deep down, I didn’t really believe I was allowed to experience pleasure, so if I indulged, I had to punish myself in some way with it. I always left celebrations feeling defeated, out of control and disempowered.

According to a book I recently read, both French women and American women were interviewed on their associations with birthday cake. The French women associated birthday cake with laughter, fun, family, community and celebration. Surprise, suprise, American women associated it with stress and anxiety. French culture celebrates pleasure (especially with food), but they also recognize the line when pleasure doesn’t really feel pleasurable any more. 

Pleasure from food is one of the great pleasures in life, and a life sans-pleasure doesn’t sound very fun or the type of life most people would want to live. It’s part of the sensate experience of being a human being and having a body.

So, how do we build a relationship with pleasure that allows us to ENJOY celebration fully and still stay in line with a respectful relationship with our bodies and our health visions?

1) Investigate your relationship with food/behaviors that feel disempowering.

There is nothing wrong with indulgence during a celebration, or any other time for that matter. The cookie is not a problem! Our relationship with the cookie can be a problem. What might you be using it to do that it cannot actually do for more than 2 or 3 minutes? What pleasure might you be seeking in reality? When we get clear on our disempowering relationship with the food, we can start to build a new relationship with it, one that has a MUCH MORE positive association and creates a different experience with pleasure in our lives, one where it feels as good afterwards as while we eat it.

Start with recording what foods/situations around food that routinely make you feel like crap (both physically or emotionally) afterwards.

What are the USUAL SUSPECTS that you tend to default to? What are the recurrent scenarios? When you do make the choice, notice your emotional state. Are you stressed out? Happy? Desperate for connection? Lonely? Bored? Record the circumstances around the choice and the emotional state so you can start to become aware of your patterns.

One of my clients noticed that whenever she working at her job, she started downing junk food. When we investigated, she realized she over-indulged when she felt nervous that she didn’t understand what she was supposed to be doing. She felt self-conscious and was afraid people would notice she wasn’t doing anything productive, so she would eat as a way to “look busy” and to deal with her anxiety.

This eating and drinking related anxiety can be SUPER present in party and social situations at the holidays, and people use it as a way to block from feeling vulnerable or engaging with other people.

2) Allow yourself pleasure! If you choose it, fully give into the experience. 

So often, when trying to lose weight, people will try to be super good all at once, and just cross their fingers that this time they will be more successful than they have in the past. But eventually, when life comes in, and motivation wanes, people get sick of being super good, say “screw it” and throw the baby out with the bath water. They may have success at first but inevitably the weight comes back on, as is typical in binge and deprivation cycles.

Instead, allow yourself a significant food or drink pleasure a few times a week, but PLAN AHEAD for it. At the holidays, there are tons of parties and social events, so you really need to pick and choose where to indulge. This is where empowerment comes in. You can still go and drink seltzer and/or resist the cookies. It is all about when it is MOST worth it to you to cash in on indulgence.

Decide ahead of time what days/ events, food you REALLY want to indulge in and eat high-energy food the rest of the time. Maybe it is important to you have six cocktails on New Year’s Eve. Well, you can still eat healthily in the days leading up to it. Feel like you MUST have the pumpkin pie? Awesome! Have a piece and ENJOY it, but don’t find a way to punish yourself with it by eating until you hurt.

Moreover, plan for pleasure that is NON-FOOD related around the holidays (bringing poinsettias home, going to the holiday markets while sipping hot tea, ice skating, yoga, meditating, a hot bath, a massage, a manicure, connecting with your friend after work for a walk in the park amidst snowflakes, going to a holiday show). You have A LOT of sensations. Taste is only one of them. Feeling good is your body is also damn pleasurable.

Ask yourself, besides food, “What am I really hungry for?” in this moment. Is it connection? Comfort? Stimulation? There are so many ways to get those things without food, but since food is easiest and doesn’t reject us, we may gravitate toward it first.

If you are celebrating, in what ways can you celebrate without food or booze? This way, at least you have a choice.

3) Let yourself celebrate with food if you want!! BUT start to pay attention to the line when pleasure turns into pain, and if it is worth the price to you. Whenever you indulge, become very aware of the experience you are having and enjoy it slowly, savoring and being present with what you are eating or drinking. That way, you can be present with when it doesn’t feel good anymore. You may wind up leaving half of it on the plate.

Take these steps to start to shift your relationship with pleasure.

If you change your relationship with pleasure, celebrating without guilt may just become your new experience. Trust me, it is MUCH better that way.

I want to hear from you! Comment below to share your insights or what NON-FOOD ways you can celebrate:)

Rock On and Be Well,

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