You made it through Thanksgiving! You should be proud of yourself. Unfortunately, the landmines surrounding holiday eating and body issues are not over yet. The next month is sure to be filled with wonderful, yet stressful events. Cookie baking, cocktail parties, casual get-togethers and sit-down dinners. All of these events will culminate in a holiday feast with people undoubtedly swearing “diet starts on the 1st!”
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we ruin happy occasions with diet talk? Why do we talk about how much weight we have lost over a plate of pumpkin pie? The answer is diet culture.
As someone with a degree in nutrition science, I’ve had a front row seat to the effects of diet culture. As a woman who comes from a long line of serial dieters, I know just how ingrained diet culture is in our lives. What if we simply listened to our bodies and gave ourselves permission to eat without guilt? Just imagine how great it would be. We could eat until we are satisfied and nothing more. We wouldn’t gorge ourselves on food we only get once a year because we’ve given ourselves permission to eat it anytime we want.
It’s an amazing idea but most people can’t imagine it being a reality. It’s not your fault if you can’t connect with this idea. Your beliefs about food and body image have been with you since childhood and reinforced every day since. Studies show that the average person gains less than 1 pound during the holidays. Yet weight loss is the number one New Year’s resolution for Americans. Every January, gyms flood with people who are working out and restricting food in the name of weight loss.
I’m certainly not telling anyone to stop exercising or stop eating healthy. I’m encouraging you to look at your motivation. Why do you feel that you need to make your body smaller? Lately when anyone tells me they are starting a diet I ask them why. They of course respond that they need to lose weight. I then ask why they care to lose weight to begin with. The aftermath of this simple exchange is crazy! Everyone responds in one of two ways. They either look like a deer in headlights and change the subject, or they get offended. Everyone thinks they should lose weight but nobody has an actual answer as to why!
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about body positivity lately. It’s becoming pretty trendy. And while that’s great, you cannot expect to go from a life of hating your body to loving it overnight. The in- between is a large gray area called body neutrality. I have spent the past year working on achieving body neutrality and while I still have a long way to go, I’m in a much better place than I was last year.
If being comfortable in your own skin is something you also hope to achieve, I have some simple tips that you can start practicing this holiday season and into the new year:
- Stop talking about it! Make calories, diets, weight, and body image off limit topics of conversation. When other people try to talk to you about their diets or make disparaging remarks about their body or yours, gently change the subject or excuse yourself from the conversation.
- Be kind to your body! If you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts about how your body looks, try focusing on something you like about it instead.
- Exercise because it feels good! Working out should not be punishment. If you hate running, don’t force yourself to do it. Try yoga, swimming laps, dancing, or anything else that brings you joy.
- Give yourself permission to fuel your body! There will be more food than normal during the holidays but you still need to eat normally each day. Keep in mind that indulging a few days out of the year will not derail you in the long run.
- Practice intuitive eating! There is a lot of great research about this but what it basically comes down to is listening to your body in the most simple ways. If you are hungry, you need to eat. If you are not hungry, don’t feel that you must eat even if you are in a social setting. If you are craving something, you may have it. If you aren’t really in the mood to eat, stay hydrated and eat when your body tells you it’s ready.
You will be blown away at the freedom these things provide you. Imagine being at a holiday party were you have given yourself permission to eat anything you’d like. You won’t feel the need to binge on all the sweets because you know you can have a sweet whenever you’d like. You won’t feel guilty if you have a higher calorie food because you know it will all even out. In fact, you will probably find yourself making healthier choices because you are truly listening to your body and what it needs to feel good.
This holiday season I encourage you to make baby steps toward body neutrality. Be kind to yourself. Show yourself grace. Remember that none of these things will happen quickly or linearly. There will be good days and bad. There will be setbacks. There will be more diets. There will be bingeing. All of this is ok. But this year my resolution will be to treat my body the way I’d treat a friend. I will be encouraging. I will compliment. I will show it care. And just maybe, this new year will be the year that I love my body just as it is.
(*Please note that this is not medical dietetic advice. If you have a medical issue or struggle with disordered eating, always consult your doctor for specific diet and exercise plans.)