Thoughts on Overeating on Thanksgiving

Dreading Thanksgiving tomorrow? I can relate. Maybe family dynamics are difficult and bring pain. Maybe you have no family to celebrate with tomorrow (I am so so sorry if this is your circumstance). Maybe you’re afraid of how to navigate conversations around food and body. Maybe you’re terrified about all of the food that’s going to be available. Or maybe you’re already dreading the shame and guilt you foresee yourself experiencing. For me, Thanksgiving (and any food gathering) brought on so much anxiety, shame, and guilt.

I remember one Thanksgiving in particular that we spent with my sister’s in-laws. The morning of, I bathed the day in prayer, asking the Lord to give me discipline around the food that was going to be there. I asked him to help me focus on the people and conversations instead of the food available. I begged him to help me put food in the “proper” place and to eat until comfortably full instead of stuffed. And don’t get me wrong, these are not wrong prayers; in fact, I think they are wonderful in the right context. But I fundamentally misunderstood something—my overeating in these occasions was not due to a lack of love for the Lord or lack of discipline. My overeating in these occasions was simply due to the fact I WAS HUNGRY. I would feel so much spiritual shame and guilt about eating high caloric foods, desserts, and overall too much. What I didn't realize was that my body was hungry and wanted food and therefore drove me to eat too much on occasions like these. Food was an idol, but not because I loved it more than God. Food was an idol because I restricted it and made the size of my body the most important thing in my life.

 
Thoughts on overeating on thanksgiving
 

So I want to encourage you about tomorrow. If you have been manipulating your food intake, reducing portion sizes, exercises solely for caloric burn, OR if you’re a normal eater, you may end up overeating tomorrow. And that’s OKAY. In fact, if you’ve been underfeeding, it might actually be a good thing (getting out of calorie deficit is absolutely essential for eating disorder recovery). Realize that it’s not some moral flaw. It might be because you’ve been undereating. Or restricting. Or simply because you love a certain food or were enjoying time with family. Give yourself permission to eat tomorrow, and to possibly eat until you’re uncomfortable. And then move on and continue to feed your body regularly and enough. It might just impact your experience next time.

Why we need a point of reference in eating disorder recovery

 
Why we need a point of reference in eating disorder recovery
 

I’m beginning to learn more about the use of metaphor in eating disorder recovery. Anita Johnston, the author of Eating in the Light of the Moon, stated that metaphor is so powerful because it accesses your the intuition, imagination, and emotions all at the same time. So when you make new discoveries, you create new brain pathways. New brain pathways=new patterns of behavior. Cue the analogy/metaphor (I google searched the difference between the two but didn't understand what it is, so I'm using them interchangeably 🙈)

I was reading my daily devotional the other day and it started by talking about a phenomenon called “museum feet.” I really enjoyed the analogy that it drew and began thinking about how it applied to my own life in various areas. I couldn’t find the phenomenon when I searched online, buuuuut I’m gonna go with it, because I think it can be really helpful. And if my analogy gets lost on you, I apologize…I’m still learning this skill. As the author of the blog described it, “museum feet” is the phenomenon that happens when someone is put into a very large space such as a museum, amusement park, etc. and gets overwhelmed with how vast it is that they just want to leave. They have no idea where they should go or what they should do that they just give up. In order to avoid this, architects put in a large landmark or point of reference. For example, in Disney World, it’s the magic castle. It’s something that people become familiar with and it helps them orient themselves to the new space. For me as a kid, it was the Big Kahuna at our local water park. Every time we would go as a family, my mom would tell me that if I got lost I just needed to go to the big Kahuna. I didn’t have to fear not knowing where she was, I just needed to find the massive water ride and head towards it.

So how does this apply to my life? I‘m in this new stage in which I see all of the possibilities in my career/social media and I also recognize all of the various things I need to do in order to grow in my skills and proficiency, and yet, it is SO overwhelming that I don’t end up doing anything.  In this glorious park I've entered, I don’t want to try a new ride or play a new game, I just want to get back to something I know and find comfort in. There are no clear directions on what steps to take or the order of those steps, so I need my reference point. I need my “Big Kahuna”.

In what other areas do we open the gates of new opportunities and get so flooded with the vastness of uncertainty that we give up and go back to what we know? What do we miss out on in the park because of a lack of reference? In eating disorder recovery or exploration of a life without dieting, it is so easy to get overwhelmed with this newfound space of freedom that it’s too overwhelming. It makes sense that we don’t want to explore what life is like without calorie counting, over-exercising, restricting, overeating, bingeing, purging, etc. because that is what we know. We are familiar with every inch of that small world and incredibly unfamiliar with this new large one.

 
why we need a point of reference in eating disorder recovery
 

So what can we do to gain some reference? What landmark can we look to in order to ground us and keep us from feeling overwhelmed and giving up? I think this looks different for every person so you have to figure out what it is for you. Maybe it's personal time in the Word and prayer. Perhaps it’s your dietitian or therapist who points you in the right direction until you become familiar with this new space. Or maybe it’s a mindfulness practice that helps to decrease your anxiety and give you perspective. Maybe it’s developing a realistic, flexible plan that gives you something to refer to. Or perhaps it’s looking to other people who have recovered, are very familiar with the amusement park, and can give you directions. Figure out what can be your landmark so that you don't get so overwhelmed and give up. Discovering and exploring this new world is totally worth it.

How does this analogy/metaphor speak to you (if at all)? How could you apply it to your own life? I’d love to hear in the comments below!