Recipe for a Food Anxiety Free Holiday Season
You will need:
-2 cups self awareness
-1 cup self compassion
-1 cup healthy perspective
-2 1/2 tablespoons of patience
-2 heaping tablespoons of forgiveness
-a handful of boundaries
-a pinch of support from others (nice but not necessary)
Start off by understanding, amidst the holiday baking, family dinners and New Year’s resolutions, that food is NOT a moral issue. Your food choices should not be labeled as “good” or “bad” and it is absolutely not necessary to equate your worth and value to the food you put into your body. 220 calories of sugar cookie could just as well be 220 calories of all natural, low sodium, unsweetened, non-hydrogenated peanut butter. It is not what we eat that is the issue, it is the negative connotations and shame we attach to what we eat and the feelings of guilt and fundamental personal failure that follow. Food is cultural, nostalgic, fun, traditional and enjoyable but at the boring bases, food is energy to live. Eat the damn cookie, enjoy it, and get on with living your life. All food has calories and calories are simply energy units that our bodies burn so that our brains work and our hearts beat. Your body is finely tuned, intricate and intelligent. Your body can be trusted. The cortisol (more commonly known as stress), released by worrying about eating a cookie is MUCH worse for our bodies and our minds than actually eating the cookie (which realistically, will not make a dent on physical appearance or well-being). Consistently denying ourselves certain “bad” foods and replacing them with “good” alternatives is a whole other recipe for disaster, which leads us to our second step.
Get rid of the “All or Nothing” diet mentality. This may sound familiar: You promise yourself you’ll “get back on track” on Monday or when your vacation is over… You know what? Let’s just make it January 1st. But screw it, let’s make it January 6th when all the holiday chocolate is finally gone. You’ve already gone this far, might as well make the most of it before you are the epitome of restriction and self control in the New Year…What a sad, sad way to treat yourself. This black and white, “I’ll start tomorrow” mindset may be normalized, but it is, at its core, the start of the hellish binge/restrict cycle. If you’ve eaten a few cookies, there is no need to eat the entire batch with the intent to “start again on Monday”. That is like getting a small red wine stain on your shirt and then proceeding to douse yourself with the entire bottle. Instead of “starting over on ____”, start over right NOW. Start loving and respecting your body NOW by knowing that you can achieve a healthy and intuitive balance that CAN involve eating a few treats. You are not “on or off’ the diet wagon. There is no stupid wagon. Even if there was, it wouldn’t be going anywhere nice, trust me.
Know that you do not have to earn the food that you eat. You do not have to lose weight before the holidays to feel okay with eating Christmas dinner. You do not have to workout everyday to give yourself permission to enjoy food. You can really just ENJOY food. No shame, no guilt, no panic. I know from first hand experience that in many cases, especially when coming from a disordered background, enjoying food is much easier said than done. You may be thinking “the only reason I’m reading this is because I can’t simply enjoy food”. If this is you, know that your issue is complex and layered and will unfortunately not just disappear overnight. Changing the deep seeded beliefs that contribute to a disordered relationship with food takes time, self awareness and effort. In the meantime, please know that the truth is that you CAN trust your body. Try to internalize this, even if it goes against everything in you: Eating delicious food, while spending time with family and friends is the last thing from detrimental and is something you do not need to work for to deserve.
Be kind to yourself. The holidays can bring up a plethora of uncomfortable emotion. Be it family dynamics, missing loved ones or heightened struggles with food. A combination of even small amounts of these things can easily snowball into substantial anxiety. Uncomfortable emotion, if not monitored, can come hand in hand with the negative behaviours we use to try to mitigate and bypass the discomfort. These distraction tactics can take many forms. Mistreating your body through under eating, over eating, binging, purging and restricting is exceedingly common. Be gentle with yourself and in any given moment think “what HEALTHY thing can I do right now to make myself feel good?”. You may not be in control of what sets you off but you do have the choice to self sabotage or take optimal care of your wonderful self. One of the best tools I have used in my recovery has been to keep a picture of me as a little girl in place that I can often see it. This is a reminder that I am in so many ways, still that little girl- Precious and free and inherently deserving of love. Most of us have toxic inner dialogue that we would never project onto our child selves. Asking yourself the question “How can I take amazing care of myself today?” is a powerful tool for self compassion and effective self care.
Be prepared to be a warrior against diet culture, body shaming and potentially triggering commentary. It is a sad state of affairs when warped, cruel and counter-intuitive food mindsets are passed around like a sickness. If you’re reading this, you probably have or have began to develop an alternative perspective regarding society’s body image obsession. You’re one of the lucky ones. Don’t lose perspective on the freedom that comes with fighting against the nonsense. Holiday season can be a full on bombardment of food shame and body image focus. Think critically of everything and don’t be afraid to challenge other’s beliefs on food, body image and diet culture, even if it means awkward silence and confused looks. Keep in mind that at the end of the day, your health and mental well-being is your number one priority. Diet culture is so firmly rooted within the average person’s mental landscape that you may not always receive the understanding or support that you need, let alone change someone’s views. This is okay. What is important is that you are upholding your own values and setting up the necessary boundaries you need in order to support yourself. You are allowed to walk away from conversations, ignore remarks and state that you cannot entertain certain topics. Therapists, like minded friends and body positive social media communities can be amazing backup in the diet culture war zone that is often the holiday season. Don’t be ashamed to reach out if you need support.
Combine the above ingredients and mix well, follow the steps and bake at 365 degrees of determination to NOT be controlled by the majority of society’s damaging food and body image beliefs. Double, triple, quadruple the recipe, share with others, save the rest for later. Once done, decorate with words of affirmation and the knowledge that you are more than enough exactly as you are. You have the right to joy and freedom and happiness without conditions. You are allowed to love and accept yourself in this very moment, and you are permitted to ENJOY your life.