Alright friends, another long post coming. It’s that time of year again. The time when we start getting bombarded with messages about the pending holidays. It starts before Halloween and keeps going well past the New Year. It ranges from the mostly harmless (“Do you know what you’re making for the family feast?”) to downright fear mongering and shaming (too many examples to choose from…take your pick). Regardless, it often has the same result: the idea that the holidays are something to worry about because they’ll cause weight gain.
A lot of my clients have shared how stressful this time of the year is for them. As we work through ditching the diet mentality and practicing intuitive eating, they still feel the urge to go back to the familiar pattern of dieting around the holidays. If that sounds similar to you, you’re not alone. Even if you have a good grasp on the principles of intuitive eating, it’s easy to feel the temptation – whether that involves eating when you aren’t hungry, eating out of obligation, or restricting or compensating for your eating in any way.
So for this post I wanted to share a few things that you might find helpful. I hope they make you feel more confident and empowered as you navigate the holiday season, so that you might stay true to what you want to commit to: a life free from diets.
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Things To Remember
The holidays come around every year. You might be thinking, “Oh, this can wait, I’ll just go back to working on this once the holidays are over.” This might mean you temporarily go back to dieting behaviors, avoid uncomfortable situations, or hit the pause button on doing the work that leads to healing. I don’t blame you; in fact, I totally get it. That added stress can really exacerbate our desire to return to what’s familiar or predictable and for a lot of people, that’s dieting.
But despite the temporary relief that might bring, it’s not a permanent solution.
You’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worthwhile to work through these things in the present moment instead of postponing them again. Setbacks or pauses are very much a part of the process; ditching diets isn’t a linear process. If this is where you find yourself, remember that it’s OK. This thought you’re having doesn’t make you wrong or “bad” and it doesn’t mean you’re “doing intuitive eating wrong” either. And because the holidays do indeed come around every year, you’ll have a different opportunity next time and you just might be amazed at what a difference a year (or less!) can make.
You don’t have to engage with diet talk. It’s often easier to go with the flow or fit into a conversation, but remember this: You do not have to participate.
If hearing a constant stream of diet-culture messages or comments about food, movement, bodies, weight, etc. is stressful for you, disengage in any way you can. This might be politely changing the subject, arming yourself with subtle or overt responses that make it obvious you don’t want to go there, or setting other boundaries for yourself. In some cases it might come down to physically removing yourself from the setting where that takes place. But you’re not stuck, and whatever discomfort you may feel about enforcing those boundaries will (hopefully) be remedied by the absence of topics that try to pull you back towards a mindset you don’t want for yourself.
Health is influenced by behaviors, not the number on the scale. It’s easy for us to forget, especially given the constant reminders of the looming holiday weight gain that we apparently have to avoid at all costs. But here’s the thing: these claims about weight gain over the holidays is exaggerated and skewed. The result (and it’s pretty effective) is that we’re scared into seeking a “solution” and that’s often a New Year’s resolution or January diet. We spend more on the diet industry in January because of this fear but we don’t have to. There are plenty of other ways to take care of your health if that’s a value for you. Here are a few places to start:
- Choosing nourishing foods that you enjoy eating and removing restriction and dieting behaviors
- Finding means of movement that you enjoy, whether that is structured exercise or something else
- Establishing and maintaining good sleep habits
- Taking care of your mental health and accessing resources to do so
- Finding opportunities to connect and socialize
- Nurturing your personal relationships
- Supporting boundaries and avoiding risky behavior that impacts health
Will doing these things change the number on the scale? Maybe, maybe not, maybe you’ll never really know if you aren’t weighing yourself. But they can support overall well-being and they are things you can actually exert a little control over if health is something that’s important to you.
Here are some other quick things you might focus on when you notice anxiety or stress about the holidays:
- I have the right to enjoy holiday foods without guilt or compensation.
- I am allowed to stop participating in body- or food-shaming conversations.
- It’s OK to eat past my fullness. It’s OK to skip something I don’t like.
- My weight, my health, and my worth are different and separate things.
- I make choices to improve my overall wellbeing, not to control my weight.
- I can serve my health without worrying about my body size.
- This thought I’m having is temporary/untrue/unhelpful and I can decide to still treat my body well.
- I am allowed to set boundaries because I care for myself.
- I deserve to be respected and to respect myself.
If you want to see a few more examples, be sure to check out the Intuitive Eater’s Holiday Bill of Rights.
Things To Say to Family, Friends, or Co-Workers
“Thank you, this looks great but I’m actually feeling satisfied already.”
Not feeling hungry? Not your favorite thing? Just don’t want to give them the satisfaction? Great. Any of those are valid reasons to decline someone’s invitation to eat. And there are plenty of other perfectly solid reasons to decline it, too. You don’t have to justify or explain your reasoning but in case you do, having a phrase like this can be helpful.
“I’m working on not talking about food or my body in a disrespectful way. Do you mind if we change the subject?”
Diet talk and body bashing language is so pervasive we sometimes don’t even notice it. But if you don’t want to hear that in conversations (and let’s be real, there are plenty of other things to talk about) you can voice that. A common reaction is surprise, but it might open their eyes to how often they engage in it and why it’s not the most important thing.
“Good for you, not for me.”
Channeling my inner Amy Poehler with this one, but something short and sweet and to the point can serve well in just about any situation. It works for anything from office “challenges” to a family member’s crazy new diet, and anything in between. We can recognize we all have personal choices to make, but if you’re not here for it, you’re just not. Full stop.
Things To Do
You might be feeling some feelings during the holidays. That’s OK. It stirs up from strong emotions and memories, rekindles old stuff you thought you moved through, or adds new drama to your life. It happens despite efforts to avoid it and to be honest, maybe avoiding it isn’t all that helpful anyways.
But it’s times like this when digging into your self-care arsenal and offering yourself a little compassion and grace is important. If you don’t already have some ideas prepped, here are a few things that can help recalibrate yourself once the holidays are over:
- Veg out with your favorite cheesy Hallmark holiday movie or rom-com
- Settle in with a book or article you pegged a while back and haven’t gotten around to reading. Better yet, pair with the cup of tea, coffee, or anything else that makes you feel comfortable and cozy
- Get creative. Maybe you break out a craft or hobby or get together with family members to make something
- Declutter or clean your space. Set your environment up to be one you enjoy being in
- Blast all the obnoxious Christmas music you want. There is no judgement here about what you want to sing along to when no one (or anyone) is around
- Get some fresh air (weather allowing). A change of scenery can be nice and if you’re frozen when you get back, it might take your mind off some other things for a little while
- Dream big for the new year. No, not like a New Year’s resolution but more like setting an intention or thinking about the goals you want to achieve. You can also reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and celebrate them
- Practice gratitude or mindfulness. It could be something brief but there will inevitably be something you can focus on that reminds you that your worth is not tied to the way your body looks this holiday season
- Allow space for your feelings and if you want to, talk to someone about them
- Give yourself time to relax – if you can get a few moments alone to unwind and refocus, that’s great. If your day is absolutely nuts and your can’t get away, make sure you practice other forms of self-care when and where you can
I liked this idea from non-diet dietitian Amy of Satisfy Nutrition: self-care box. Basically, collect any and everything you think you might need or want and keep it all in one place for easy access. Here’s another example from Kylie of Imma Eat That.
Whew. You made it. If you’re still reading, I hope some of this is going to help you when the pressure of the holidays feels like it’s building.
If you have anything to add or you want to share something on the topic, I’m all ears! Drop a comment below or reach out to me through social media or shoot me an email.
And if you’re looking for more support for a non diet approach and intuitive eating, be sure to check out my Intuitive Eating Workbook. It’s full of resources and tools to help you kick the dieting mentality and find food freedom!