It’s the middle of December and here I am full swing in another holiday season. While I survived Thanksgiving and all the Black Friday sales, I’m knee deep in shopping, wrapping, cooking, planning, attending and partying. No matter how many times I hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas,” I still turn it up and sing. The truth is, I love Christmas. Another truth is that I didn’t always feel this festive around the holidays. Back when I was a dieter, the holidays brought up a lot of my anxieties around food and my body.
It’s really hard to truly enjoy the holidays if you’re feeling out of control around food or embarrassed about the way you look. If you’re hoping to feel a little less anxious and a little more festive, I have five tips to help you feel more relaxed around food and be a role model for your kids so they can grow up in an environment that does not include this type of anxiety.
1. Remind yourself that your body shape and size has been largely predetermined by your genetics and environment.
Yes, you can try to fight this, but research shows that you’ll lose 95-99% of the time. That basically means that only special unicorns are truly “succeeding” with dieting. Yet research shows that even these “success” unicorn stories show signs of disordered eating and mental duress. Knowing this, I hope you can let go of trying to control your size or your hunger and instead, honor your hunger and eat what tastes good. Ironically, the more you control — a.k.a., restrict — your food intake, the more out of control you’ll feel around food. Stay nourished throughout the day and ask yourself, have I had enough to eat?
2. When you decide to eat what you want, please eat to whatever fullness level feels good.
Please make sure you are eating foods that are delicious and pleasurable. On some days you might want to eat past your normal fullness level and that’s okay. On some days you may be running around shopping, wrapping, preparing and end up eating less than normal. Trust your body and know that your hunger levels will vary based on what you’ve eaten over time. There’s no need to count, weigh, calculate, or divide your points, grams, or macros. Save all the mental math about what goes into your mouth and use that time and energy to truly be present with your loved ones.
3. If you eat when you aren’t hungry or as a reaction to some feelings, that’s perfectly normal and fine.
Expect this around the holidays and decide ahead of time that you aren’t going to beat yourself up or feel any shame or guilt. It’s a very normal and natural human reaction that doesn’t need to be condemned. Enjoy whatever it is that your body is calling you to enjoy, and then pick up the phone to call your sister and complain about your in-laws so you can process through your feelings, too.
4. Self care, self care, self care.
Please take a minute to write down five to ten things that you can do for yourself to take care of your body and mind. Maybe things like:
– Get seven to eight hours of sleep.
– Practice deep breathing for two minutes every day.
– Take a yoga class.
– Write in a gratitude journal (five specific things you’re grateful for each day).
– Schedule quality time with friends or family.
– Get a babysitter so you can run errands or wrap gifts or get a massage without your kids tugging at your sleeve.
– Build in a practice of self compassion. You’re human and bound to make mistakes. Have patience for yourself and talk to yourself the way you would speak to your child or your best friend.
5. Commit to not saying anything about anyone else’s food or body, and if someone says something to you, change the subject or walk away.
Demonstrate for your kids that body shapes and sizes are not important, and that you don’t put value on a person based on their size. If you hear friends or family talking about making a plan for the new year, remind yourself that these so-called plans are meant to fail and come disguised in so many forms pretending not to be a diet. If the plan you’re considering involves any of the following, be wise to the broken system and avoid it from the beginning.
It’s a diet if it:
– tells you what to eat
– tells you when to eat
– tells you how much to eat
– moralizes certain foods and demonizes other foods
– dictates how much you should exercise
– eliminates whole food groups without medical necessity
Unfortunately, we live in a very fat phobic and food phobic culture, and I’m committed to teaching my kids that all bodies deserve love and respect and that their bodies and food are perfect just the way they are. Repeat after me: Let go of trying to control your body size or food, eat what you want to whatever hunger level feels good, practice self care, avoid making comments about other people’s food or body, and relax if you eat when you aren’t hungry.
I hope these five simple steps will make a big difference in your holiday parties and family meals. Life is so precious. You may just want to add #6 to the list, which is to blast Mariah Carey if you need to drown out the diet chatter this Christmas.