For some of us, the holidays represent a time of celebration, joy, connection and fun. For others, this time of year can bring up some very negative emotions.
Depending on life and family circumstances, the holidays can represent a time of heightened anxiety as we are confronted with: - difficult relationships that we may have with family members, - a lot of financial pressure to give gifts and spend money that we might not have, - loneliness and dissatisfaction with our personal lives, and/or - a pressure to be "happy" or "joyful" when actually the gloomy weather is making us feel more down. If you're struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with food, this time of year can be very difficult. The pressure to eat indulgent food and drink lots of alcohol at dinners, Christmas lunches, parties and gatherings can cause extreme anxiety and feelings of overwhelm. This is the time of year when the unhelpful thought of "I will start my diet/healthy eating tomorrow" often becomes "I will be good from January, so I might as well go crazy right now" and as a result, we struggle with overeating or binge eating. If you have a difficult relationship with food, how can you enjoy this festive period whilst also feeling good about your food choices? Here are some helpful tips to get you through:
1. DON'T MAKE JANUARY A BRAND NEW CHAPTER One of the reasons December can become a month of overindulgence is because we tell ourselves that we will "be good" again from the new year. Whenever we defer something to tomorrow or next week or even next month, we are effectively giving ourselves permission to go crazy until that point. Our brain anticipates restriction in January by making us store as much food and energy as we can in advance of the crash diet in January.
A clever way to stop this from happening is to just not plan to do anything differently in January. If suddenly you can still eat whatever you want next year too, there is no immediate rush to cram in all of the food you can over the festive period.
2. ACTIVELY GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO EAT ALL FOODS WITHOUT GUILT Another way we can end up with an unhelpful relationship with food over the festive period is by letting our food rules get in the way. Food rules can include no gluten, dairy or sugar and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by foods containing all of these ingredients over Christmas. These food rules may then cause you to avoid social gatherings and isolate from others because you don't want to be tempted to eat these foods. Alternatively, these rules can cause you to eat one of these "forbidden" foods and then think you've ruined your progress, so you might as well overindulge.
Instead of having strict food rules, think of them as flexible food guidelines. If you don't eat gluten, dairy or sugar day-to-day but give yourself permission to eat these things on special occasions, you're more likely to enjoy the meal without feeling guilt.
3. KEEP A MEAL STRUCTURE THAT WORKS FOR YOU Eating typically becomes disordered over the festive period because it lacks structure. Skipping a meal can easily lead to grazing all day long and not eating at certain times of the day can often make you feel as though you are eating more than you actually are and the body doesn't do so well when eating is very erratic. Our bodies love routine and structure and even when we are eating more indulgent food more of the time, it helps to maintain some sort of structure to when we are eating.
If you're trying to restrict your food intake over the holidays, you may opt in to skip meals as a way to give yourself permission to eat more at meals later on, but this often backfires as it results in feelings of extreme hunger and then really overindulging at the next meal. Keeping some sort of flexible structure and regularity around eating can help prevent this vicious cycle from occurring.
4. FEEL COMFORTABLE SAYING "NO" During this time of year, there can be a lot of pressure to do things that you don't really want to do. Invites from friends, family members and colleagues to dinners and parties can soon add up and if you start feeling obliged to attend everything that you are invited to, you may end up feeling depleted and drained.
Feel comfortable saying "no" when you are feeling as though you "should" go to something or do something that you don't really want to do.
5. STRIVE FOR BALANCE, NOT PERFECTION Anxiety we can feel around food over the festive period is due to feeling as though we won't be able to eat how we"should" eat. Our goals around food can be very restrictive or prescriptive and feeling as though we can't meet these goals is what drives the anxiety.
Aiming to give yourself as much flexibility as possible can really help to minimise the anxiety that you feel around food. It helps to aim for balance and just to do the best you can, rather than trying to achieve some form of perfection that doesn't exist.
6. FOCUS ON THINGS OTHER THAN FOOD Focusing on food and what we should or shouldn't be eating can induce a lot of anxiety. Whilst of course what we eat is important for our physical and mental health, social connection and enjoying ourselves is also very important for our mental and emotional health. So it is really important that strict food rules or worries about food are not holding you back from enjoying your life.
Rather than focusing on what food may or may not be available at certain events or dinners, try and shift your focus on to who you are looking forward to seeing there, what you are excited to talk to them about, and what nice things you can do together instead.
As we head into the holiday season, it is important to go in with the right headspace to make sure you are making choices that benefit your physical and mental health. To do that you need to resist making January a brand new chapter, give yourself permission to eat without guilt, and maintain a meal structure that works for you. It's also important to say "no" to holiday events if it gets overwhelming, strive for balance rather than perfection, and try your best to focus on things other than food.
If you’re struggling to get out of a restrictive diet culture mindset and need support while on your weight loss journey, book your free consultation with me today.
As an award-winning weight loss coach and fitness trainer, I help busy women lose weight for good without severe restriction or dieting. You can learn more about my services here.