I was planning on going home this weekend, but thanks to some wintry weather I’m still here in Durham. We didn’t get too much snow here, but my parents got a few inches. If you know the south, you know we aren’t prepared to drive in this stuff. I was bummed I won’t get to see my family and Chip, but I’ll probably be more motivated to get some studying done here. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
Last night I shared a little bit on Instagram about food freedom around the holidays and it inspired me to blog! I didn’t think I would get a post up this week, but I’m feeling amped up so here we go.
Even though I’ve created a nice intuitive eating/health at every size/body acceptance bubble for myself online and in real life, some of the diet talk around Thanksgiving still squeaked its way onto my timeline and TV. I’m sure it’s going to ramp up again as we approach Christmas, New Year’s and National Dieting Month AKA January. Instead of getting excited about favorite holiday dishes and cherishing time with loved ones, a lot of conversation is spent on how many calories are in this or that dish, ways to make it “healthier,” or how to diet so that you can “make it all fit.” And I’ve been there! So I certainly understand if you are. I know it can be a hard time.
As I wrote on my Instagram last night, a few years ago I felt anxious about having certain foods in the house or at celebrations. Of course, this was heightened at holidays. Food is one way to connect and celebrate, but it wasn’t always easy for me to see the joy in that. When a party was on the horizon, part of me worried about what food would be there and what I would eat there and preemptively feel “bad” for it. I’m so thankful that over the past couple of years I’ve come a long way in improving my relationship to food. I’m not here to tell you I have all the answers, because I don’t. But I do have a few thoughts/tips/ideas about how to cultivate a more peaceful relationship with food around the holidays. I hope you find them helpful!
If you see an article or TV segment about how much you need to exercise to “burn off” your food, ignore it! Turn off the channel if you need to. Eating is a biological need. You would not restrict yourself from peeing, or try to make up for it later in the day by holding it in, right!? So don’t pathologize your need to eat or a craving you may have. In addition, calorie counts are not always accurate, people absorb different amounts of nutrients from food, and calorie estimates from exercise are wildly inaccurate. We can’t boil down our health and weight to a mathematical formula. So many other factors are at play and weight does not = health. I would not recommend calorie counting even if all of these things were “perfect” – I am just sharing this to hopefully boost your confidence that calorie counting is not something you need to do. 🙂
You are good and worthy just as you are. Eating one type of food doesn’t make you a good or bad person. Food just doesn’t have that power! At the end of the day, all foods break down into the same things: fat, carbohydrate, protein, plus vitamins and minerals. All foods nourish your body in some way. I find it helpful to keep this in mind if the Food Police starts to pop up in my head.
Setting up a dichotomy of good and bad foods often sets you up for swinging from one extreme to another. That doesn’t feel good and probably makes you feel even less confident in your ability to nourish yourself. In addition, focusing on “good” and “bad” foods usually diminishes the eating experience. If you eat your grandma’s famous apple pie but the whole time you’re thinking “this is bad, I am bad” and afterwards you beat yourself up about it, that won’t feel too good. Those feelings of guilt and shame not only make you feel bad emotionally, they can actually cause gastrointestinal distress and make you feel sick.
Put all foods on the same playing field, and get curious instead of judgmental. This leads me to my next point…
If you feel hungry after a holiday meal or party, think about what you could do differently next time. What might make you feel more satisfied? Or if you end up with a stomach ache, get curious about why. Did you go into the event too hungry? Every time I get way too hungry, my stomach hurts- no matter what I eat. Were you nervous? I think sometimes we are quick to blame what we ate for feeling poorly, and maybe sometimes that’s the case, but our emotional state, how hungry we were before, and even anxiety about those foods we ate can cause the same symptoms. Sometimes you might not have a clear answer about why you feel a certain way, and that’s fine, too.
If there’s a certain thing everyone else is eating but you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. If someone is pushing seconds or thirds on you and you just can’t even, you can just not even. Even if there’s a food you like, but you’re just really full or don’t want it… remember you can always have it later.
Mindfully eating (checking in with how you’re feeling) at a holiday party can be hard. There’s so much going on! I certainly don’t expect to close my eyes and think about how amazing every single bite tastes. I do try to do a couple of quick checks while I’m eating that help me find satisfaction. I’ll give some examples, and I know it sounds tedious.. it did feel tedious at first when i was working on being more mindful, but it became more automatic over time!
Maybe just once during the meal, you can ask yourself “Am I satisfied yet?” “How does this food feel in my body?” or “Is this still tasting good?” There is no correct answer to these questions or a correct action to take if the answer is “yes” or “no.” If you are full, but the food is tasting delicious and you still want more, go for it! If the food isn’t tasting that great but you’re still hungry and there’s not a better option in the near future, maybe you want to keep eating. Maybe you don’t. The fun part is that YOU GET TO CHOOSE.
Hopefully you found these ideas helpful, or at least comforting during what I know can be a stressful time when it comes to food. I know it can be really hard to move away from a regimented or anxious way of thinking about food. I also know that is is really worth it. 🙂