Covid Christmas comfort eating
Coping with Covid Christmas and comfort eating
This article is about the difficulties we face this Christmas. So, here you’ll find ways to approach Covid Christmas challenges, and how to manage Christmas binge or comfort eating.
In a normal year, we eat at least twice as much as usual at Christmas.
This isn’t a normal year
Some of us won’t be able to meet loved ones this year, or don’t have family or partners at all, and will be spending Christmas alone. This, after already having had the longest period of isolation and worry.
Alternatively, some of us will be able to meet with our families, but this may come with its own challenges. Either way, there are going to be extra tests to face this Christmas. For many, this may intensify the challenges we already face at this time of year, as well as the ones we’ve been facing for 9 months now.
Naturally, as human beings we need light relief, contact with others, appreciation, and space for reflection. So, these are the things I’ll be encouraging you to find in my guide to surviving a Covid Christmas, and holiday overeating.
Be compassionate about your loneliness at Christmas
Hopelessness about being alone, or feeling you don’t fit in, is a very common experience at any Christmas time. This will be as intensified as it has ever been this year. So, if you felt lonely before the pandemic, it would be easy to feel hopeless now.
Loneliness is part of the human condition. We’re all feeling it. We’re all having to face our own aloneness or loneliness. Even if you are in relationship, you can still feel alone.
Exploring what loneliness actually is can help
Which part of you is really wanting to be met when you feel alone or misunderstood?
What part of you wants to do something with somebody else?
How would it feel to do that?
Your confidence might go very low when you feel lonely or separate. Therefore, you might quickly fall into blaming yourself for being alone, or being unhappy in relationship. It’s common to feel “nobody likes me,” or “who else would have me?”
So, keep an eye out for that voice in your head that tells you there’s something wrong with you. This is your learned self-critic.
There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just a human being.
Loneliness, or feeling you are not understood by the people around you, are a whole mixture of feelings and thoughts. Namely, self-criticism, sadness, grief, fear and worry, These may all be separate parts that need compassion and healing.
Understand your Covid Christmas comfort eating
Acknowledge that this is a tough time and ask yourself how you’re feeling, and what state you are in before you eat, or on reflection afterwards. Observe what makes you comfort eat at Christmas. Sometimes just naming how you feel or what’s happening for you, can ease that tension.
Before you wolfed down three puddings, or ate the whole chocolate advent calendar, what was happening? What were you feeling?
Exploring the answers to these questions is going to give you valuable information about the feelings you might be using food to try to make yourself feel better from. Food, especially junk food, can soothe or give you a high. So, what state were you in, or about to go into, before you chose this particular drug?
If you’re with a partner or family, become interested in what patterns you repeat with your family. What is the role you play in your family? Are you the rebel? The mediator? The black sheep? What’s the benefit of taking on this role? How has it protected you? What does this cost you?
Be proactive at Christmas
Chances are that with the lack of your usual varied routine, and the mixture of feelings you might be experiencing, you’ve defaulted to very simple ‘comfort zone’ habits. So, Christmas is a good time to do something different, and to stop working so hard.
Could you make time for a walk? Build in a bath to uplifting music? Listen to a helpful podcast? Watch stand-up comedy? Reach out to someone and tell them how you feel or what you’ve been doing?
The point is to make deliberate time for enjoyment for enjoyment’s sake. The more you do these things, the less likely you are to want to overeat at Christmas. This is treating the cause, rather than the symptom. Self-compassion and self-understanding are the keys to feeling less alone and more worthwhile at Christmas, and so, not needing to overeat as much.
Reach out. But if you can’t, look for evidence in your life of where the quality of your relationships has improved this year, instead of how they haven’t. Remember the moments of love that you have experienced in your life.
There are parts of the brain that can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy, or between the present moment and the past or the future. So, you can teach your brain that you are in a loving experience right now.
Pause, to cope with Christmas
Spending time with family can be a dread for many people. This could be doubled this year. We’ve all worked harder than we’ve ever worked, one way or another, and so we’re even more tired, stressed and irritable than we usually are. While for some of us it will be a blessing to finally see family members, for some of us there will be an excuse not to!
At Christmas, there’s often a fear of conflict, boredom, guilt, resentment, not being heard or accepted, a feeling of obligation, having to play along with how the family communicates, and not being able to ‘be yourself’. Christmas is a time that puts all your communication skills to the test. The familial patterns are never stronger than at Christmas, when traditions are emphasised, anniversaries are remembered, and emotions are heightened.
For those of us who will still accommodate family this year, with everything we’ve been through, we might be more overwhelmed and more tempted to overeat this year.
Do something different
Getting up, moving, or doing something else may take you out of the mode you’re in and click you into a different state. Separate yourself from the family/ your partner’s attitudes. Pause for long enough to check in with your real reason for wanting not to eat.
Before you find yourself at the Christmas table, spend some time working out all the reasons why you want to lose weight, or to be someone who eats more carefully. Have a list to refer to, and check in with it often. The more you familiarise yourself with this, the more likely you are to remember it when you need to; when that binge urge or Christmas overeating habit strikes.
Take space in company at Christmas
If you can’t go for a walk or to your room for a while, here’s an exercise you can try.
In your mind, find these words:
” That is them, and this is me”
At the same time, imagine putting a hand in a stop position between you and the other people, as you say:
” That is them”
Then, imagine putting a hand to your heart as you say:
” This is me”.
This may help you to separate emotionally and appreciate your own point of view.
Summary of surviving Covid Christmas & holiday comfort eating
In coping with being human this Christmas I’ve suggested here that you be kind to yourself, observe what makes you do the things you do, allow pleasure, call up the experience of love, and take space to remember what’s important to you.
Christmas is a good time to start being loving towards yourself. Heaven knows we need it!
As the saying goes ‘Goodwill to all men’. That includes you. Especially now.
Want to go further?
Shelley Treacher is a BACP accredited body centred psychotherapist, with a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. She is also a certified specialist in binge & overeating recovery (with Julia Buckroyd Emeritus Professor). As well as a certified coach, specialising in co-dependency & moving on from tough dating and relationship experiences (with Katherine Woodward Thomas. NY Times bestselling author).
Shelley has been published in the Counselling Directory, produces the fortnightly podcast ‘Overeating and Binge Eating Recovery’, weekly ‘Therapycat’ videos, and has written several articles about binge eating and loneliness. Shelley’s upcoming workbook is about how to overcome comfort eating. She runs several groups a year with people from all over the world. She supports people through the process of understanding and reducing binge eating, and in overcoming loneliness.