Turn The Stress Of The Holidays Into Your Best Weapon In The Battle For Your Health

What if you decided to let the emotions and expectations of the holiday season empower you instead of take you out?

– Tiffany Head

You guys, I have something to confess. I try to be modest about this because I don’t like to brag, but I think I might be the luckiest girl in the world! I’m serious! Every single day when I open my email I have at least 3 messages letting me know that I have SCORED 50% off of any item I want from a certain craft score or I have been CHOSEN to uncover a secret price that only I get to see for this hotel stay. Sometimes I get notified that I have EARNED a free reward which makes me feel so proud and accomplished. I mean here I am, barely out of bed, and I’ve already earned a free 8oz frozen yogurt! 

The truth is, these tactics work on me! They play to my desires and they make me feel good about buying what I wanted anyways because it’s on sale. You could try to talk me out of it, but by the end of the conversation I will have convinced you that we would both be losing money in the long run if we didn’t buy at least 3 of them right now! One for me, one for a friend, and one to put away as a last minute gift to grab in a pinch. I am an advertisers dream because I am compulsive, I make decisions quickly and emotionally, and I feel satisfied when I get the thing…at least for a while.

It’s not hard to see where I am going with this. I did the exact same thing with food, but unlike “things” that I could collect and then unload in a yard sale or a quick trip to the charity donation center when I no longer wanted them, the food that I consumed stayed with me, on me, compounding over time and I could neither stop it’s growth nor shed it’s excess! I was out of control like a Black Friday shopper with a no limits credit card and no way to pay when the bill arrived in the mail.

Recognizing that I was driven to eat by emotions and circumstances was a huge step for me in the process of regaining control of my health. Like an advertisement appeals to your emotions in order to elicit the buy response, my body and brain had become wired to respond to things in my life by turning to food for comfort. I didn’t see this behavior in myself until I hit rock bottom, woke up in a hospital room as a result of not taking care of myself, and decided once and for all that I was going to change my life. 

Step one for me was deciding to change what I was eating. I was suffering from some health problems and in researching with my husband, we realized that it would benefit our entire family if we learned to eat whole foods (nothing processed). With that as my only real “rule” I set out to change my life. What I wasn’t ready for, though, was the war that I had unknowingly declared on myself by taking away the foods that I had always turned to for comfort when life felt hard. 

At first, the drive to eat would hit me out of nowhere! I would have a stressful day at work and suddenly I would feel like if I didn’t eat a candy bar I was going to implode, and I would have to scramble to regain control of my thoughts and my cravings. And it wasn’t just once in a while! I felt like I was always under attack, like bombs were being dropped all around me and I was frantically running and searching for cover but I could never find a safe place. When I felt sad I wanted fast food and when I felt stressed I wanted candy and when I was bored I wanted chips and when I felt anxiety in the middle of the night I wanted anything covered in melted cheese and when I felt happy I wanted to celebrate with dessert. It turned out that I didn’t know how to feel an emotion without attaching food to it, and by taking away my go to foods, I had taken away my primary coping mechanism in pretty much every area of my life. I became completely overwhelmed by feelings that were no longer being comforted by food and that lack of comfort just intensified the feelings! Unsure of how to move past it, I found myself just doing a whole lot of crying!

This is the point where most of us quit. I know that in the decade of failed attempts at changing my diet before this moment, it was here that I would throw in the towel. But this time was different, because this time I chose to believe that I was strong enough to face these emotions. Let me repeat that for you just in case you missed it. The ONLY reason that this attempt at changing what I was eating was different from all the other times that I had tried and failed was that this time I CHOSE to believe in my strength. It was just a choice. I didn’t have more will power this time, I didn’t have an easier life this time, I didn’t have more information or magic beans, I just decided that it was going to be different and that is what made it different. 

It is amazing what just a tiny bit of hope can do! Even though I cried a lot in the beginning, I kept my promise to myself to eat only whole foods, and as a result I started seeing changes in my health and my weight. Seeing results, even little ones that no one else could see yet, gave me more strength to keep fighting, and I began to recognize areas where I could take control of the battle that was raging around me. So I started to become more proactive in my battle and instead of crying when I felt an emotion that triggered a desire to eat, I began to write down what I was doing and what I was feeling when the craving hit. It didn’t take very long for me to see clear patterns in what set me off! By identifying what emotions or situations were definitely going to make me want to eat, I knew when to expect the food attack. Taking away the surprise element made me feel more in control of the cravings. It was a total game changer for me. 

The more I recognized the triggers and anticipated the inevitable food response that would follow, the easier it became to resist it. It was like the bombs were still dropping, but now I knew where they were going to fall. Just knowing where the bomb would hit created more calm in the storm and made me feel stronger and more capable of winning the war. 

Most people will tell you that the holidays are probably the worst possible time to start reigning in your eating habits, but I think that it is one of the best times of year to start to identify your deepest habits and triggers. Over the next few months you will surely encounter holiday parties, family obligations, extra spending, less sleep, tax preparation, long work hours, all the cookies, all the gift wrapping, all the expectations, the stress, the anxiety, the remembrance of loss, and that is just the beginning of the list. You could let this flood of emotions and expectations sweep you away, or you could stand up and ride the wave! 

What if you decided to let the emotions and expectations of the holiday season empower you instead of take you out? Consider how much you could learn about yourself if instead of passively eating your way through this season, you opted to track your feelings and the situations that triggered you to eat. I’m not even saying that you don’t eat the things that you are craving. I’m just suggesting that you could use the most stressful time of year and the inevitable onslaught of emotions and circumstances that are going to come anyways as an opportunity to identify exactly what it is that triggers you to want to eat. What if that was the greatest Christmas gift you ever gave yourself? For me, naming and claiming my triggers was a turning point in me winning the battle with my weight, and I can’t think of a better time of year to experience every trigger known to man! 

What does tracking your triggers look like? Next week I’ll share how that took shape for me and what I quickly learned about myself through this simple practice. 

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