There it is. Hanging from the tree. The little crook of death. You know you’ll either spend the entire day staring at it longingly, or eat ALL OF THE CANDY CANES* IN THE WORLD (well, probably not, but that’s what it feels like). If those red-and-white-and-sometimes-green stripes are your nemesis, the time to start battling is now.
*I’m using candy canes for simplicity’s sake – feel free to substitute your own holiday fear-food at will
In years past, you’ve probably spent the holiday season avoiding candy canes like the plague – dodging ones tossed during parades, turning down the tiny, broken ones in a bowl at the bank, re-gifting all others to your nephews. You know if you break the seal, you’ll never stop.
Do you really want to live the rest of your life afraid of a little candy cane? (I hope you answered no . . . if so, read on!)
- Step One: Get yourself a lone peppermint, the lowest possible common denominator of candy canes. Chances are that your favorite restaurant will give you one as you leave, but if not, get thee to a bulk store and purchase one. (Yes, you’re allowed to buy just one.) If this is difficult for you, recruit a friend to participate in any or all steps with you.
- Step Two: Eat the peppermint. Enjoy the peppermint. Notice how you ate one peppermint and survived.
- Step Three: A few days later, find yourself a tiny wee candy cane. If your bank is out (why do banks ALWAYS have candy?), return to your friendly neighborhood bulk store and pick one up. For now, let’s only buy one candy cane at a time – having to store multiples at home before you’re ready can cause lots of unneccessary stress.
- Step Four: Eat the candy cane. Enjoy the candy cane. Notice how you ate one candy cane and survived.
Every few days, eat a candy cane as part of your balanced meal plan. What once seemed like a rare, special, terrifying treat will, over time, become just something you do. When Christmas rolls around, you’ll look at the package of candy canes sitting on your aunt’s dining room table, and you may have one, you may not. It’s up to you. Then you’ll continue on with your merry holiday-ing.
You see, when we treat food as *special* – whether it’s something we only have once a year, or something we never have EVER, but secretly wish we could – our brain attaches more weight to it than it should. If it’s a food we crave, but never give into, our brain will focus on it and NOTHING ELSE all day. It’s really hard to be present in life when all we’re thinking about is what we can’t have.
If it’s something we only allow ourselves on special occasions, our brain goes into “feast or famine” mode. The animal instinct says, “Okay, so this is the last time I will get to have candy canes until next year, so I must EAT ALL THE CANDY CANES RIGHT NOW!!”
By taking the special-ness away from the candy cane, your brain can interact with it differently. It will see the candy cane and say, “Oh, a candy cane. Yeah, I eat those.” The fear is lessened, and the famine-feeling is gone.
Yes, food fears are more complicated than just eating it and moving on. The reasons you binge and/or restrict go far deeper than food or your body, and this exercise may only scratch the surface. You may still eat more (or fewer) candy canes than you want to this Christmas, and that’s okay. Healing takes time, and there are many components you may need to work on. The most important thing is to start. Give yourself a chance to have a happy holiday. (You’re worth it.)
Check out last year’s guide to Surviving the Holidays for more information.