Too much of a good thing

The main focus on potential health issues associated with Purim is often the risks of over-indulging in alcohol. This is supplemented with halachic debates about what the mitzvah to drink really means and the dangers of getting drunk too much and too often.

The amount and quality of the food and nosh we may consume during this joyous celebration is often overlooked. In the lead-up to Purim, it is essential that we discuss how patterns of overconsumption of high-calorie, high-sugar, and fatty foods, especially when combined with emotional eating, can also be dangerous to our health.

Everyone occasionally eats more than they want to or eats food they know aren’t healthy. Sweet and salty snacks can be a particular attraction just when you are trying to control your diet.

Some of us have more difficulty than others when it comes to controlling what we eat, especially during stressful or distressing periods. Emotional eating can cause substantial distress to those affected by it, particularly because of the frustrating lack of control and the regret or self-blame that follows.

Purim, one of the happiest holidays of year, poses unique challenges to emotional eaters. The abundance of junk food flowing through your home, the stress of organizing the holiday (and Passover just around the corner!), and the mitzvah to eat and be merry all exacerbate the difficulties for emotional eaters.

Why does emotional eating happen?

Many people reach for food as a coping mechanism for stress. Financial worries, health issues, feeling lonely, or feeling overtired are all situations that can cause emotional eating.

Food can also feel like a way to fill an empty void inside ourselves. If we don’t have anyone around us who we feel we can talk to, we may find solace in comfort food instead. There is a reason certain foods are considered comfort foods. In a recent study, researchers found that participants who were made to feel sad by watching sad videos, but were given an infusion of saturated fat through a feeding tube, felt only about half as sad as those who didn’t get a dose of fat. The stomach communicates with the brain, and when we eat high-fat foods we feel better. It is simply our nature to crave these treats and soothe ourselves.  

Think of Purim as an opportunity

Purim is the perfect opportunity to enjoy friends, family, and celebrations. This holiday is also accompanied by plenty of food and drink, and, to be honest, a bit of stress. This year, use this time as an opportunity to start making changes that will help you truly enjoy the holiday. You can make changes that give you back control of your eating and your wellbeing.

Be aware

Often, emotional eating is a result of not paying attention to what we are doing. Have you ever sat in front of the TV and not realized until later that you finished a family-sized package of chips and several cookies? This is what psychologists call unconscious eating. Unconscious eating happens when you hardly notice what you are doing, your attention is on the TV (or perhaps your company), and you’re not really aware of how much food you are consuming.

Bring awareness to how much you are eating. During the yom tov, if you are going to enjoy a snack, give yourself a controlled amount in a small bowl and stick to this amount. Make sure to give yourself the freedom and attention to enjoy it to the fullest!

Take steps to make sure food is not your only pleasure

This is probably the most powerful step in taking control of your emotional eating. Purim is full of fun and festivities. Find pleasure in these activities as well. Enjoy the Megillah reading in the synagogue or bringing mishloach manot to your friends and neighbors.

Share your food. If your family members don’t object, give away some of those sweet treats you have around the house for the yom tov. Bringing excess nosh to your local fire station or to an organization that redistributes food to the needy is another enjoyable activity for many people. It’s a great privilege to be in a position to give; notice how this makes you feel and acknowledge the joy that it brings.

Find ways to deal with difficult emotions

If you are struggling at any time, it is important to find healthy ways to deal with difficult emotions and situations. Seek help from a therapist if you are trying to cope with overeating. Therapy can help on many levels. Not only can it help you process past pain or trauma, but you can also learn practical skills to control your eating and start enjoying a healthier life.

Understand the role of physiology in eating habits

If you allow yourself to get too hungry, the body will send strong messages to the brain that are very difficult to ignore. This Purim, before going to a party or gathering where you know there will be festive food and drink, have a healthy meal before you go. This way you won’t be at the mercy of your body’s natural response to hunger.

Purim is a time for feasting and cultivating feelings of joy. Allow yourself to enjoy a healthy amount of food so you don’t regret your choices later. If Purim is an especially challenging time for you, reach out for help. You deserve to feel joy and self-love all year round. Make Purim an opportunity to bring about self-awareness and healthy changes that you can carry with you all year.

Reach out

For long-term treatment and a plan for success, contact Marcia Kesner today, a frum therapist with practices in Brooklyn and the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

About the Author
Marcia Kesner is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Mental Health Counselor with over 25 years of experience and has offices in Brooklyn, New York and the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her practice focuses on treatment-resistant, self-harming, and self-sabotaging behaviors and addictive disorders, as well as healing from the after-effects of trauma and abuse. Marcia has recently been incorporating more of an emphasis on shame resilience, vulnerability, and self-compassion into her work.
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