“I have to get rid of these leftovers or I will eat them all.” Sound familiar? The “them” in question could be leftovers from any holiday celebration that includes food, such as Halloween candy, Thanksgiving pie, Christmas cookies, New Year’s Eve hors d’oeuvres, Easter jelly beans, Memorial Day barbecue, or birthday cake and ice cream.
The aforementioned strategy for dealing with such leftovers sounds logical on the surface and might even seem to work for a little while. If the food is not there, you cannot eat it, right? As the never-ending cycle of holidays continues though, the strategy of avoidance reveals its downsides: stress, anxiety, deprivation, reinforcement of an oversimplified and misleading good/bad food dichotomy, and increased risk for episodes of overeating or outright bingeing.
An alternative does exist, one that takes less mental and emotional energy, allows people the freedom to enjoy holiday favorites without going overboard, and makes peace with food. This alternative is stocking, which is a well-known technique among practitioners who help people with emotional eating, compulsive eating, binge eating disorder, and supposed food addictions.
Stocking is the antithesis of quickly ridding the house of holiday leftovers, and it may initially seem counterintuitive. A full explanation of the technique requires more time and space than would be appropriate for this newsletter, but here are the highlights for your consideration.
Uncouple morality from food and eating behaviors
In order to feel more comfortable with stocking, people need to rid themselves of the good/bad food dichotomy and be able to temporarily put the hard science of nutrition on the back burner. Not all foods are the same nutritionally; it would be ridiculous to proclaim that an apple has the same nutritional value as a Twinkie, and I am not arguing otherwise. What I am suggesting, however, is to strip the moralization away from food. An apple is just an apple; you are not good or virtuous if you select it for your snack. A Twinkie is just a Twinkie; you are not bad, guilty, or weak-willed if you choose it instead. Sometimes your body’s cues will lead right to the apple, other times to the Twinkie, and either outcome is okay.
Establish an abundance of food at home
Identifying what food will feel best in your body means little if you do not have a reasonable shot of providing said food for yourself. Therefore, one of the tenets of stocking is to keep a wide variety at home, including foods that are seen as taboo and can trigger overeating or bingeing.
When our body is asking for a food we do not have on hand, we tend to overeat on the foods that are in the house. This can certainly occur with both adults and children, but we especially see this with teenagers who live in food-restricted households. Well-meaning parents might keep foods high in salt, sugar, or fat out of the house because they think that doing so creates a healthy food environment, but oftentimes it backfires. For example, the teenagers overeat on low-sodium potato chips that never really hit the spot while a small amount of regular chips would have done the trick, or they overeat on Newman’s Own fig cookies when really they just want a couple of Oreos.
Select foods based on intuitive-eating cues
One of the logistical differences between those who practice intuitive eating and those who do not is how food selection begins. Standing in front of the open refrigerator or scouring the pantry and cabinets and selecting whichever foods call to you is an external process that differs greatly from asking internal questions about what temperature, texture, flavor, color, etc., food will feel best in your body at that moment and seeing where it takes you.
These cannot be treated as leading questions. In other words, if you have stocked up on, let’s say, Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, and you are trying to convince yourself that your body does or does not actually want the ice cream, then stocking will not work. Keep an open mind, ask these questions neutrally, and see where your body’s cues take you.
Maintain the inventory of foods at home, especially of triggering foods
Maintaining the abundance of food in the household is an important element of stocking. If the supply dwindles, you might feel like you need to hurry up and eat a particular food while it is still around. Should you ever run out and then buy it again, the food regains its luster. If you are stocking Doritos, for example, maintain a supply of, say, ten large bags at home. As soon as you finish two bags and are down to eight, go out and buy two more.
Be patient and use a neutral voice
Initially, you may find yourself eating certain foods when your body does not actually want them, but as you keep up the practice, eventually your trigger foods will blend in with all of the other foods in your pantry and no longer sparkle the way they do when they are brand new to the house. Until then, abstain from judging yourself harshly for eating episodes that do not go as you would have liked. Remind yourself that you are still in the early stages of the process and you are learning. With a neutral voice, examine what happened so you can respond differently when similar circumstances arise in the future.
Enjoy your new-found peace with food
Imagine how different your experience with leftover Thanksgiving pie would be if you routinely kept slices of pie in your freezer for whenever your body wanted them. Contrast the fretting you feel about the remaining Halloween candy to the relaxed liberation of always having a few bags of peanut butter cups in the pantry year-round.
For the stocking technique to be successfully implemented, foundational work to dispel nutrition myths, break up the good/bad food dichotomy, and uncouple moralization from food choices is necessary beforehand. Because this process takes time, it is probably too late for the stocking technique to be much help for you this Thanksgiving unless you have already been working on these prerequisites.
The cycle of holidays will continue though, so if you get started now, you might find you have a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience with this February’s Valentine’s Day chocolates than you would have if you continued down your current path.