The holiday season is said to be the “best time of the year”. It is a season meant to be filled with joy, happiness, and celebration followed by traditions that often revolve around food. However, the large emphasis placed on the food can also amplify any personal struggles with disordered thoughts and behaviours.
Attending a family gathering or reuniting with friends can become sources of anxiety and become immensely and emotionally draining. One can feel completely out of place in such a cheerful environment, blaming themselves for ruining the mood.
It might feel like judgements, stares and glances are flying across the room, disguised in comments like “looks like you lost weight!” or “your aunt is going on a keto diet starting January”. Others may have a really challenging time around so much food or drinks and the pressure to eat with company. Just the smell of food can add a heaviness to moments spent with others, and they have no idea what a normal amount of food is for themselves. The thought about the holiday dinner can bring intense turmoil, guilt and discomfort.
Instead, the holiday mantra “best time of the year” can become “a time to just get through”. Moments like this can make eating disorders feel like the “safe space to turn to” in vulnerable people. This year might present differently with the lockdown rules implemented during the pandemic, but regardless of that, what if this holiday can be different? What if family dinners can be a pleasant experience this time (even if they’re on Zoom)? What if you were told that it IS possible to have a holiday season where:
You can enjoy all of the food you truly want.
You eat according to how your body feels.
Your self-dialogue doesn’t involve comments about weight, food, and diets.
You feel prepared to deal with uncomfortable comments about weight, food, and diets.
You don’t dread getting “back on the diet again tomorrow…or in the new year.”
One thing that may help with the anxiety and the fear is acknowledging that there will be turmoil and discomfort. In doing this, you can reflect on strategies to better cope with eating disorder thoughts and behaviours. Having some sort of “plan“ can instill enough confidence to show up for your family and the (virtual) dinners instead of allowing the eating disorder to exclude you from all the connections that you want to build.
It can begin by taking perhaps, five pledges this holiday season (or 2 or 3). These pledges are for everybody and for all body sizes, whether disordered eating is present or not. These pledges also do not acknowledge where you may be on your journey to healing your relationship with food so it is absolutely okay if you don’t feel like you can relate to all of them at this time.
1. I understand that I may eat past fullness – and that is ok!
“I recognize that normal eating can include overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it—not just stop eating because you think you should“ (Ellyn Satter). I further recognize that we may have been taught that eating to our heart’s desire during a holiday dinner is something we should feel guilty about. I understand that overeating once in a while is not related to my weight or long-term health. I trust that my body will show up for me and adapt.
2. I agree to still eat throughout the day (I don’t need to “save up”/ “make up” for the feast)
I understand that when eating is not consistent or when meals are skipped, my body starts to lose trust in me feeding it and that this can disrupt hunger or fullness cues. I may feel tempted to “save up” for the big holiday meal. I recognize that if my body becomes uncertain about its next meal or source of energy, it can lead to an urge to eat more to prevent starvation. I trust that my body deserves to be fueled consistently.
3. I vow not to “restrict tomorrow” or “in January”
I recognize that the “reset” mindset is correlated with the “loss of control” with food over the holidays. I understand that my body knows when restriction is around the corner, triggering mental deprivation and causing my body to go into “starvation and protective mode”. I see how this ultimately influences thoughts and behaviours around food, preventing my enjoyment of food and reinforcing the belief that my body is incapable of adapting to my eating habits.
4. I agree to disengage with the diet, weight and body talk
I trust that consciously choosing to move away from diet and body talk can make space for me to reflect on my values and areas in my life that are important to me. I agree to notice conversations that perpetuate diet talk and try to remove myself from these conversations or redirect them. I acknowledge that there may be times where these conversations increase eating disorder thoughts and urges. I agree to make space for this discomfort and make a plan for when challenging moments arise.
5. I give myself true permission to savor this meal and participate fully.
Depending on where you are in your recovery, this last step may be extremely challenging and that IS OKAY. In the following pledge, you can also insert “will try to“ in the sentence.
I recognize that it will feel safe to turn towards my eating disorder to decide what or how much to eat. I will remember that no meal or food option is related to my self worth as a human and that body size is determined by genetics and circumstances rather than food choices. I recognize that avoiding certain foods instead of giving myself permission to eat until true satisfaction may leave me with increased cravings and urges. I agree to make space for an experience with food that is without judgement. I trust that this unconditional permission to eat all foods will be difficult to practice, but that it is in line with the relationship I’d like to have with food.
If I choose to celebrate this holiday season, I deserve to feel as though I can genuinely enjoy it.
Happy holidays from Sööma!
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