It is a common theme this time of year. Well-intentioned people share tips and tricks for negotiating the Holiday gathering, from bringing your own food, to slimming down cocktails, to eating before hand, to swapping “this” for “that”. The possibilities for caloric avoidance are endless; not to mention all the ways to burn those “forbidden calories.” How many charts have you seen telling you how many burpees it’s going to take to burn off those mash potatoes??
I am well versed in the avoidance and burning of forbidden calories. For nine years I waged war on my body and my weight in the form of anorexia and bulimia. For me it was a year-round battle, but the Holidays were especially hard.
But “hard” isn’t even the right word, the Holidays were a time of anxiety, fear, guilt and depression.
The Holidays were a perfect storm for me: all the food that I was fighting against right there in front of me from the end of November to the first of the year. The more I tried to control the less control I had. Weeks of beating up my body would come to a head on New Years Eve where I’d resolve to not have an eating disorder, to lose weight, to exercise more, to fit into such-and-such clothes. Things would get better for a few days but ultimately I’d return to the same destructive habits.
It hasn’t been an easy journey, but where I am now is so far-so far- from where I was then. I am in a place now where I can embrace the Holiday season as a season of feasting. I have little concern for whether or not I will gain weight and I carry on with my normal exercise routine because I enjoy it, not because I’m trying to burn off calories from a holiday meal.
One of the things that allowed me to come to this place of peace with the Holiday season is that I admitted I was powerless and I let go of control. And that seemingly gave me all the control in the world, because now I can walk into a Holiday gathering and the food there has no hold on me. Weight and body image seem to be of universal consciousness for most women. You don’t have to be diagnosed with an eating disorder to find that the Holidays exacerbate a struggle with body image, weight and food.
Along with admitting I was powerless and relinquishing control I granted myself unconditional permission. This final “letting go” of all the food rules I’d held onto was a huge shift for me and has helped me arrive a place where I eat whatever, whenever and feel no guilt or shame. When I talk about unconditional permission I hear so many “buts.”
“But if I did that I’d eat so much.”
“But certainly you don’t mean McDonalds?”
“But what about sugar.”
Unconditional permission seems really scary, but when you grant it to yourself you would be surprised that when the rules and control are gone, that your body naturally settles into a very healthy place.
Maybe it seems extreme, but ultimately it is what helped me recover from my eating disorder.
If you’re thinking about the Holidays and feeling anxiety, fear, guilt and stress. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help you through a difficult time:
Let go of Control.
For the longest time I lived in extremes. Either, or. There was no in between. I was either binging or starving. There were acceptable foods or forbidden foods. It was all driven by fear that I would gain weight. Nearly every decision about food or exercise came from a place of fear and that fear drove me to control everything. I tried every trick in the book to avoid eating at holiday gatherings: I brought my own food, ate before hand, vowed to eat nothing, chewed piece after piece of gum-nothing worked. I would always end up bingeing. The more I tried to control the food, the more power it had over me. I gave it so much importance that it dominated my life, preoccupied every waking thought and dictated how I felt about myself.
To gain control you have to let go of it.
More often than not tightening your grip will backfire. Try to let go of the number on the scale. When faced with discouraging thoughts about your weight or guilt from eating “forbidden foods,” recognize those thoughts as unhelpful and destructive and replace them with a positive, encouraging thought. Talk to yourself with grace and love.
Embrace the Season.
All of life is cyclical. Humans are cyclical, we function best when we move in and out of seasons of hard work and rest; seasons of discipline and seasons of feasting.
When I started to embrace the season for what it was: a time of feasting, I noticed a greater peace.
I’ve embraced the fact that the holidays are a time of year where I tend to eat more. I may gain weight during the holidays. If the food is delicious I eat beyond the point of satiety. It’s OK to feel full. That feeling doesn’t elicit the fear that it used to. Now I know that as I return to my normal eating and exercise patterns after the holidays that weight will most likely come off. More importantly my ability to “eat clean” doesn’t define who I am, it is something I can move in and out of as the year cycles past. I’m not denying the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, or suggesting the holidays are a time to binge, I’m suggesting that there is value in a season of feasting, to find what that value is for you and see if you can embrace it.
Focus on the People.
When food becomes the focus you lose sight of the people around you. The more I focused on not gaining weight the more disengaged I became with the people around me. Now that food is no longer my focus I am free to engage fully with my family and friends who I see throughout the Holidays. If your focus is on the people around you, food, body image and weight gain or loss will lose their importance and ultimately their power. Take action to gain perspective.
Make engaging with others the goal of your Holiday gatherings.
Ask for Help.
I spent many years struggling alone, partly out of embarrassment and partly because I really didn’t want to relinquish control and resented anyone who tried help. Asking for help, especially if you struggle with an eating disorder, is essential. The journey to freedom is not one that you can walk alone. But if you find that the Holidays are a difficult time for you and your self-talk becomes incredibly discouraging and negative, bring a friend or family member into that. Clue them in to your struggle, bringing light to it will ultimately help you. When we hide in the shadows of shame there’s little anyone can do for us, step out of those shadows, realize the shame is a feeling you have created and that really, truly you are LOVED.
The difference between being paranoid of gaining weight and embracing the Holidays as a time of feasting is HUGE. It has been a long journey, but not an impossible one. If the Holidays are a struggle for you, they don’t have to be. It starts with changing the way you think, little by little, step by step.
If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder or know someone who is please seek help from a licensed professional. The advice offered in this post is from my personal experience. I am not a licensed health care provider. Although I am happy to offer any support to those who struggle but desire to be free.
You can find resources here at NEDA.com.
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