It is not your imagination. The holiday season is hard to navigate if you have a challenging or stressful relationship with food. But it doesn’t have to stay this way.
Maybe you remember a time when holiday eating brought joy and a feeling of coziness. Maybe it wasn’t always stressful for you. Whether you desire to rekindle that magic, or just want to feel “normal” around food during this tumultuous season, you deserve to have a positive relationship with meals, snacks, and treats all year long.
Here are a few ways to nurture yourself and set boundaries with others, so you can worry less about your body and food choices … and more about how many times in a row you can listen to your favorite holiday album.
It is OKAY to set boundaries.
For many of us, family members, colleagues, and even friends can cause agitation and fear around our bodies and our food choices. Feel empowered to set firm boundaries around the topics and language you do not want to hear. If a comment about your meal or your appearance — or the meal or appearance of another person — makes you feel unsafe and triggered, shut it down. A few suggestions on how to do that (as it isn’t always the right time for a deeper discussion about these complex issues) could be by saying: “I am excited about my meal, and I hope you are too,” or “My body is not a topic for discussion tonight. Let’s talk about something else.” These should hopefully get the job done.
Remember this: Diets don’t work.
Let’s take a minute to explore why we feel so triggered around food and our bodies in the first place. We live in a society which is steeped in diet culture — a many-layered system that profits from our insecurities. In other words: Diet culture makes money by convincing us that we need to shrink or otherwise change our bodies. Not only does the dynamic of that relationship feel bad, it doesn’t even work: 95% of folks who go on a diet gain all or more of the weight back within 5 years.
It is, in some ways, harder work to find peace and wellness with your current body than to subscribe to aspirational weight loss goals. But it is a more sustainable, and self-loving choice. Remember: Diets don’t work, and it IS possible to be free from diet culture. Surround yourself with people who represent a wide variety of beauty ideals, shapes, sizes, and colors. Actively reject media that perpetuates unattainable beauty standards and promotes diet culture. Do, wear, and eat what makes you feel your most vibrant and well.
Your unique food needs come first.
Have you ever bargained with yourself in advance of a big meal or weekend of treats? “If I skip breakfast, I’ll allow myself to have dessert after dinner…” This is diet culture at its finest (a.k.a its worst): It often takes the form of an insistent yet not-actually-helpful voice in our heads that tells us we must restrict before enjoying. This behavior sets us up for making hurried food choices that don’t ultimately feel nourishing; for example, bingeing or getting “hangry.” Allow yourself to feel full and satisfied after every meal, and embrace each eating experience throughout the holidays as a new opportunity to find joy through food.
It is also okay to ignore or flat-out reject other people’s food rules or food weirdness. It is okay to stay with your meal plan and not eat “holiday” dishes. Remember that you are the only one who knows what feels good in your body, and that you are allowed to eat whatever — and however much — you please.
Allow yourself to eat for pleasure, and all that entails.
It’s inevitable, and it is okay: Sometimes, we eat past the point of fullness. Although diet culture berates us for making food choices out of pleasure, and we are made to feel guilty for overeating, both of those things are normal and natural. If something sounds good to you, allow yourself to eat it and truly enjoy it, then move on. That means rejecting the compensatory behaviors like skipping future meals or overexercising, and offering compassion and empathy to the part of us that may get engulfed in a post-meal shame spiral. One of the best things about being a human on this earth is all of the delicious, fun, and exciting food we get to enjoy. So ask yourself: What sounds good to you, today?
By Holly Lowery and Rochelle Bilow
anti-diet, body acceptance advocates 💪