Just a few days ago, I returned home from Europe. After a month of being carefree with food, it’s been sobering to come back and see how many people are affected by food and weight worries at this time of year.
I get it. I used to feel the same way!
Yet it truly doesn’t have to be this way. My wish is for you to have a wonderful Christmas season, free from anxiety around food and your weight. Here are some of key pointers that can really help:
See the pattern for what it is.
It’s easy to feel anxious about the fattening foods on offer through the festive season. When you understand how strong the social messages around food, weight and body image are, these concerns are perfectly understandable. Yet ironically, fixating on food, calories and body weight can actually set up a pattern for blowout.
It’s to do with a law of the human starvation response that I teach in all my courses and coaching programs: Restriction always leads to overcompensation.
Let me repeat: Restriction always leads to overcompensation.
Let me illustrate with a personal story.
My pattern of food anxiety, restriction and blow-out started in my teens and plagued me at Christmas for many years. I remember being just sixteen and anxiously asking my Mum, “Is it possible to gain weight in just one day?”
I’d approach the holiday season with a sense of apprehension about being about to control myself with food and I’d worry incessantly about my weight.
This anxiety would trigger a spiral of thoughts about what I ‘could’ or ‘could not’ do with food. “I won’t eat any desserts at the staff Christmas party” or “I’ll just have one appetiser and steer clear of the cheese platter”.
I remember white-knuckling my way through Christmas catch ups, trying to stick to my pre-ordained food rules. Yet at some point in the evening, I’d completely cave in and lose all control. Instead of naturally moderating my intake, I would compulsively pick at food, panic-eating.
Not to the point where I was full. To the point that I loathed myself. The self-loathing was all I thought I deserved for blowing out. And it would spark another cycle of food fixation, restriction and overcompensation. It’s a cycle that I commonly hear my clients describe too and it looks like this:
By recognising this cycle for what it is, you are already halfway there to being free of it.
Self-kindness is the best antidote to body image and food shame.
The longer I work with people in this space, the more I am convinced that self-acceptance and self-kindness is the key to unlocking virtually all unhelpful patterns around food and our body image.
After all, starving ourselves, exercising compulsively and beating ourselves up about our body image is the very antithesis of self-love. On the other hand, compassion dissolves these feelings and sets us free.
When you notice negative thoughts pop up around Christmas (and they inevitably will), try offering yourself some self-kind affirmations:
- I am okay just the way I am.
- How can I take good care of myself today?
- I am worthy of respect and self-care.
- I’m not defined by what I eat or what I weigh.
- I am more than just a body.
This too shall pass.
You know that feeling at 3pm on Christmas Day? You’ve just tucked away that last piece of Christmas Cake and can barely move or you’ll burst!
In those moments, it’s easy to spiral down into thoughts of self-loathing. But remember – this is only one day of your life. You won’t feel like this forever! This too shall pass. Just as it only takes one meal to feel horribly full, it only takes a few days of eating nourishing food and taking good care of yourself to feel remarkably better.
Redirect diet talk.
Nothing grinds my gears so much as diet talk and food fixation as we head into the new year.
Diet talk sucks.
Firstly, there are at least 4 trillion more interesting things to talk about than weight loss. Secondly, diet talk perpetuates the collective body image misery that women all over Australia are in right now. Thirdly, diets don’t work. And fourthly, the real kicker is that diet talk implies to the people around you that you judging their bodies too.
Don’t do it. Don’t engage it. And don’t get sucked into it. If you’re non-confrontational, excuse yourself from the table or steer the conversation in the other direction. Or, if you are more comfortable being direct, share with people that you find this topic de-energising and are trying a different approach this Christmas.
It’s nobody’s business what you’re eating.
I used to feel an immense amount of judgement about what I ate – especially after I became a dietitian! This worked in two directions. On one hand, I’d feel pressure to ‘look healthy’ and on the other hand, I’d also feel obliged to eat food so I wouldn’t offend people.
In either case, it’s really nobody’s business.
If you feel like eating cake for breakfast on Christmas day, it is your total perrogative to do so. Likewise, if you’d like to skip desserts because you really don’t feel like them, it’s their problem (not yours) if someone feels offended. Play by your own rules.
Listen to your body and honour what it’s asking for.
Our bodies are truly miraculous creations. In my coaching work, I guide people back to listening to our natural cues and working with our bodies, rather than against them.
This process is a big part of how I maintain vibrant health without trying these days. And although I don’t fixate on my weight, I only became weight stable after adopting this approach.
In other words, our bodies regulate themselves without too much interference.
Interference can be processed, shitty Christmas party food when we’re really craving a fresh salad. It can be staying up late to ‘make the house perfect’ instead of surrendering to a little disorder and prioritising sleep. It may also take the form of saying ‘yes’ to social catchups when you know you need downtime and restoration.
It’s okay to be self-first over Christmas; this doesn’t make you selfish. There’s a big difference!
By listening into your body, you’ll emerge through Christmas with good energy, and rejuvenation.
Adopt a new food culture.
I’d love to share a parting thought before I sign off. The way you currently see food is only a paradigm of the culture we live in. Research shows that countries like France associate foods like cake with celebration in joy. Western cultures associate joy foods with guilt and weight concern.
So please don’t feel guilty this Christmas. It is such a precious time of the year and I’d love for you to look back on your Christmas from 2018 with a heart full of joy and fond memories.
You deserve nothing less!
Image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash