The Christmas season is a time for celebrating, coming together with loved ones, enjoying delicious holiday foods, and somehow also talking shit about our bodies and eating habits.
Whilst social eating, giving gifts and diet-talk all happen all year round, the holidays add an extra festive helping of shame, and guilt as people seem to comment unprovoked about their weight, or your weight, the diet that they’ve been on, the diet they’re going to do come the new year, how bad they’ve been eating this season or how good they’ve been and how morally superior they are for not succumbing to the festive indulgence.
Here are some tips on how to navigate the festive season eating and diet talk, and to enjoy the season for what it brings.
1. Feeling out of control around all the extra food at Christmas season social events.
This is a tricky one that we need to work backwards from. Here’s why: Part of what makes us feel out of control with our eating during these times is what’s known as the last supper or last meal mentality. When our internal story is that ‘after this is all over, I’m going to be so good, start that new diet, work out more, lose weight and stay on track to the better version of me’ we place ourselves in small window of opportunity before this imagined future gets here. This an opportunity to make the most of the food we’re eating because come January 1st, there will be no more to enjoy. Because of this window, we develop a desperation to squeeze every ounce of pleasure out of it in hopes that it will sustain us through the upcoming hardship. In doing so, we tend to eat more than our appetites would desire, and more than it takes for us to be comfortably full. Though sometimes we’re aware of feeling out of control, it’s often not until after when we feel how uncomfortable we are from our eating that we feel totally lost as to why we made those choices. All we know for. certain is that the importance in being good from 1st of January is all the more elevated. And so the cycle begins again. So what is the answer to this? Stop telling yourself that future you is going to have no fun. Often any whiff of anticipated restriction is enough to set people off. Allow yourself to enjoy foods into the new year.
2. Trusting yourself with leftovers and Christmas food gifts.
The difficulty often experienced is that people feel they can’t trust themselves to keep these foods in the house because they will ‘eat them all’. The short answer is yes, that’s the idea, you buy them to eat them. But let me break it down. Many clients will describe the experience of having holiday foods in the house as though the food is calling to them from the cupboard or pantry, a siren call they can’t resist. Similar to the last supper, we tell ourselves that tomorrow we’ll be good and the desperation to enjoy food gets the better of us. This repeated pattern leads us to be sure that we can’t be trusted around these foods, that if something is enjoyable, we’ll be too impulsive to make rational choices. What do we do? When we cant tolerate the siren call any longer, we eat them all so that tomorrow the house will be free of them, and we can feel safe to make rational choices again. Managing this experience is a bit of a long game, that you can start now to be ready for Christmas next year. Start keeping foods you enjoy in the house and allow yourself to enjoy them year round. You can go all in, or you can take it one food at a time. Over the course of several weeks, or in some cases months, you will notice that the craziness you feel dissipates and there will be food in your fridge, freezer and pantry that you forgot was there.
3. Feeling obligated to eat everyone’s food.
At Christmas time, people often make their ‘world famous ________’ and you can often feel obligated to have Karen from work’s brownies, aunt Debbie’s potato salad or uncle Jo’s special Christmas cocktail, even if you don’t actually want it, or you’re full or would rather have something else on offer. There are a few ways you can approach these. The first is to just go with it. Perhaps it’s more important to maintain the peace than to worry about the food or the fullness. Those things fade with time, but the memories with your friends and co-workers might be longer lasting. It’s also important to remember that it’s ok to eat past fullness sometimes. Whilst it’s generally more comfortable to eat according to our hunger and fullness cues, there are several circumstances during which it makes more sense to eat past fullness. I’m not saying to 10/10 discomfort, but to a tolerable slight overfullness can be worth it if something is delicious enough or the season/social facilitates it. Another option would be to exercise your boundaries regarding your intake. You can let people know by saying something like ‘thank you so much, but I’m quite full now and that will push me over the edge’ or ‘I’m practicing getting better in touch with my body and I don’t think I should eat anymore’. Or ‘thank you but I’ve been waiting all year for nanna’s pudding so I’m saving room for that’. You could always bring Tupperware containers to take some food home if that better manages others expectations or your need to eat everything in the window of opportunity.
4. Diet Talk.
Because all of the above seasonal complications are occurring for everyone else as well as you, the people around us are worried about their weight changing or feeling out of control or are worried about feeling weak in having succumbed to Christmas food. It can be helpful to remember that for many, talking to others about their weight or diet plans is a way of demonstrating ‘I know this is unacceptable but I want you to know that I’m aware of it so you don’t think I’m stupid/naïve as well as thinking I’m fat/lazy/weak’ or for some helps them feel they will be more accountable in the coming future and therefore more forgiving of the present self. Whatever the reason, exercising a little compassion might be a great place to start with tolerating the talk. Alternatively you could be changing the topic from food or weight, so have some good alternatives prepared, be subtle and tell people ‘surely we’re interesting enough that we can talk about something else’ or be totally direct ‘I’m working on improving my relationship with food and my body and I find this kind of talk triggering, would it be ok if we talked of something else?’. If saying anything feels out of your depth, come with a good excuse to leave a a conversation or have a wing-person to eyeroll with across the room and count the number of times people say ‘New Year. New Me’.