Well of course that makes sense! We leave work and drive too fast to get home so we can finally relax. Between patients we scribble notes in the file, run to the bathroom, and make a phone call while slurping caffeine so that after the next patient we can catch our breath. We inhale lunch without looking at it while we order holiday gifts on online because we don’t want to waste time just eating.
“Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
tis the season of endless folly.”
It’s high season for too much and not enough, and Heart Hunger moves to the number one spot on Jan Chozen Bays’ list of Seven Hungers. As the holiday hype heightens and family drama, anxiety, depression and distress eating increase, we may feel anxious about our ability to respond to our patients’ escalating worries and fears about out of control holiday eating. As clinicians, may find ourselves thinking that the problems that come with the season are just too much and that we don’t have what it takes to help those in our care with their overwhelming concerns.
During this holiday season of “food fests” at the office, with family and friends, in the media, schools and stores, we often suggest to our patients that they slow down when eating and savor the smells, tastes, textures and visual aspects of their food. But sniffing platters of food at the holiday office party isn’t going to happen. And slowing down with the very object that is their biggest “problem” can be daunting especially at this time of year.
We’re now in the throes of holiday madness sales, unrealistic expectations and personal history- a perfect recipe for reverting to the entrenched coping habit of eating foods that comfort or numb. So even though it’s a season of huge over-indulgence, it can be a time during which small steps count.
Pausing can be one of those small steps. Rather than suggesting pausing before taking the first bite, suggest they pause before entering the room or building where the office party spread is on display. Offer the idea of taking one minute to stay seated at their desk and feel the sensations in their feet in contact with the floor, or as they walk down the hall. Suggest sitting quietly for 60 seconds before getting out of the car to enter the house of a friend’s holiday brunch, aware of the feel of the steering wheel, or sounds inside or outside of the car, or the coming and going of the breath at the belly. I call this “backing the movie up” far enough so that we can find a reasonable spot in which they might pause instead of hoping we can do it amidst the noise and pressure of the festive event. This way they begin building a slowing-down habit where and when it’s possible, rather than in the fray of things.
I try to take my own suggestion and see where in my day and my thinking I can slow down and pause. I try to “walk my talk” so that my practice becomes a skillful way of being with myself and others. I’d be interested to hear how you navigate the holiday food landscape mindfully (or not so mindfully!). Please share below your own observations and experiences, or perhaps the kinds of exercises of mindfulness practices you suggest to others.
(Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW and her colleague Jan Chozen Bays, MD, author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food are co-leading an intensive 5-day Professional Training in a program called Mindful Eating, Conscious Living at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in the high desert of Southern California March 10-15. See the website for more information.)