Ah, Christmas – all the pastelles, roast ham, sorrel, ginger beer, black cake…You get the idea. But step back a bit and check yourself. Feature writer Kaelanne Jordan speaks with a clinical psychologist about questioning your relationship with food during the festive season.
The run up to Christmas can be exciting: preparing for holidays, time with family and friends, presents and not forgetting the focal point of the season for many—food.
But if you have a question about your relationship with food, chances are your instincts are already telling you there is something that is not quite right.
“So, it’s a good starting point for you to explore,” said Clinical Psychologist Liesl Bachew.
A clinical psychologist for 10 years, Bachew observed that food plays a multifaceted role. Food she said, goes beyond nourishment. Food is social—as a means for entertainment. There is also the “pleasure” aspect to food as it is often used to help with emotions.
The availability of food, especially during the Yuletide season, makes it pleasurable and entertaining all on its own as opposed to just nourishing.
But food can be just as unhealthy as drugs and alcohol—the festive drink of the season.
According to Bachew, they are both unhealthy in their own ways. “Because it means you are trying to avoid your emotions. And once you try to avoid your emotions, it means you are not going through the process your emotions are trying to take you…you are not growing; you are not healing….”
Unadulterated use of food as a coping mechanism can have physical consequences as most consumers do not use broccoli, for example, as a coping mechanism.
“They are using what most dieticians will tell you [are] unhealthy foods that have negative and unpleasant consequences for your body—heart disease, cancer, if you use it for an extended period of time,” she said.
Bachew told Catholic News that persons can engage food in the same way they engage abuse substances such as tobacco and alcohol.
She explained food too can “trigger” the same addictive pathway in the brain.
“So, you’re seeking to get the pleasure reward from the food…some people might engage in the same sort of behaviour…they eat food as a craving, as opposed to [if] you’re hungry.”
While some persons may use the season to give in or indulge in Christmas cravings—homemade sorrel ice cream for example, Bachew stressed that while everyone has a craving, the frequency of the craving is critical, especially in instances where the craving is regular.
If you find yourself unable to control the amounts when you give in to the craving, feel guilty afterwards, hide to eat food, cannot resist the urge to eat, then “all of that working together” are symptoms of addictive behaviour.
Bachew drew similar reference to that of an alcoholic. “They say ‘Okay I’ll have one drink’…they are not able to keep to those rules…all of this is typical of addictive behaviour,” she said.
She suggests persons should engage in some “mindfulness” when they have the urge to eat in an effort to pinpoint any correlation of that urge to eat and what is happening to them emotionally, socially or occupationally as it can become a “very automatic situation (to eat)”.
Because the food we eat affects how we feel, Bachew recommends persons create a food log of what they consume, and the time of day to identify not only if they would have eaten quite a lot more on certain days but also to recognise what was happening, maybe emotionally, during that time.
Regarding sugar, traditionally the main ingredient in most Christmas staples—sorrel, glazed ham, black cake, butter cookies, homemade ice-cream, to name a few, it can act like a “drug” according to Bachew.
She explained the reason we consume the sugars is that it gives us a “happy feeling”.
“Sugar is one of those drugs considered to be addictive so that means we need more and more to get that happy feeling,” she said.
So, with Christmas less than two weeks away, the question is ‘Do you want to experience that “happy feeling” or a happy and healthy Christmas—one which is actually good for you.