Christmas, Food & families - how to survive!I remember a media story in the 1980's about a woman who went missing just before Christmas. Family and friends were understandably frantic and the woman thankfully turned up within a few days safe and sound. The story that emerged was both surprising and not surprising at the same time. The woman turned out to be a bulimic aerobics teacher who could not face the prospect of being around food during the festive period, so she had run away. Such was the fear of food, she hadn't thought about how upset her loved ones would be - that's how powerful an eating disorder can be. I also remember really upsetting my family one Christmas in my late teens. I had a job at a local pub during my year off before Cambridge and I volunteered to work on Christmas day - double pay and a chance to get out of the Christmas dinner with all the temptations. A double win as far as I was concerned, but my mum especially was really unhappy that I wouldn't be with the family at Christmas lunch. I did the shift but felt so guilty afterwards (I did guilt then - I don't now!) that I ended up eating all the leftovers when I got home at about 4pm. I remember just eating continuously and then until falling asleep in a carb stupor at bedtime. Christmas can be a really scary time for people trying to lose weight. It has all the worst problems of Family, Pressure to eat, Food and meals being out of our control, Temptation, Habits and associations and the Risk of regaining addiction. Let us look at each of these in turn, so that you have a way to cope with all the pitfalls coming up over the next month. Just before we do this, here's an extract from the new Why do you overeat? When all you want is to be slim, summarising the concept of Transactional Analysis - as it is very relevant to this article: Transactional Analysis The founder of Transactional Analysis (TA) was Eric Berne. His ground breaking book, Games People Play was first published in the USA in 1964 and in the UK two years later, although he had been working on the concepts for some years before this. The book that I really like, which developed the concept of Transactional Analysis further, is Thomas Harris’s best seller I’m OK – you’re OK. Transactional Analysis is beautiful in its simplicity – it follows the Dr. Wilder Penfield observation that all events are ‘recorded’ by the child in their formative years (and beyond) and that these recordings are stored – pretty much like an i-tunes collection. There are, in essence, three types of recording and these help us to understand why people behave as they do and how we may be able to help people to change negative behaviours. 1) The Parent – is a large collection of recordings in the brain of external and imposed events, which happened in the first few years of life. All the messages delivered by parents, carers, anyone in a ‘parent’ role of authority count in this period. Some messages will be ‘good and nurturing’ e.g. “I love you", "you are lovely”. Some will be ‘good and useful’ e.g. “don’t put your hand in the fire”. Some will be ‘bad and not very useful’ e.g. "don't do that" – this one is a problem if it is not obvious why this thing should not be done and if there are many things that inexplicably should not be done. The worst messages, hopefully rare, will be ‘bad and counter nurturing’ e.g. “You are a horrid child”. 2) The Child – this is the equally large collection of recordings in the brain of internal events (feelings) in response to the parent messages. The seeing, hearing, feeling and understanding going on at the time are what we define as the child. "I feel loved", "I feel unworthy", "I feel scared", "I feel useless", "I feel safe", "I feel content" – all such feelings are stored in the collection. 3) The Adult – “is principally concerned with transforming stimuli into pieces of information, and processing and filing that information on the basis of previous experience.” (Eric Berne). Harris proposes that there is evidence (Gesell and Ilg, 1943) that, as young as 10 months, the child is beginning to form an adult script from the ‘taught script’ of the parent and the ‘felt script’ of the child. So, from an incredibly young age, we are continually trying to make sense of messages coming in and how we feel about those messages. Followers of The Harcombe Diet do this continually: we challenge every single thing we read and hear and we are no longer ‘trusting children’ when it comes to public health advice. We are evidence based adults wanting to know facts and where things come from. Family Your childhood featured possibly the longest and most powerful relationships that you will ever have in your life – and almost certainly the most impactful, because nature (what we are born with) and nurture (our first few years on earth) largely determine our life long personalities. We can change, but we need to know what base we’re starting from before we can do this and we need to be sufficiently enlightened about ‘who we are’ and ‘why we are the way we are’ before we can choose to change any aspect that we may wish to. For my first 18 years on this planet, my two key roles were as a daughter and a sister. That was my place in the family unit, which inevitably dictates and dominates one’s life for those critical formative years. I recommend the fascinating Oliver James book They F*** you up: How to survive family life (That is the actual title!) James goes into many published, academic, studies about families and concludes that all of the following impact the development of your personality: your gender; whether or not you had siblings; how many siblings; where you are in the order of siblings (eldest, youngest, middle etc); anything that happened to your parents such that you needed to take on a more ‘grown-up’ role; anything that happened to a sibling that changed their ‘share’ of attention (an illness or injury or learning difficulty etc). This is just about family roles – he also goes into your parents’ personalities, Transactional Analysis and much more.
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