If you haven’t seen one already, you probably will this week: a blog post, a Pinterest graphic or Instagram Live on how NOT to gain weight during the Holidays.
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. And 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 mashed potatoes?
I am well versed in the avoidance and burning off 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 always especially hard.
The Perfect Storm
The Holidays were a perfect storm for me. And “hard” isn’t even the right word. Because for me, the holidays were a time of anxiety, fear, guilt and depression. All that food that I was fighting against all the time was gonna be right there in front of me from the end of November to the first of the new year. And the more I tried to control myself, 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 anymore. I was gonna lose weight and exercise more, to fit into such-and-such clothes and I was gonna do it right! 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 from where I was then. I’m in a place now where I can embrace the Holiday season as a season of feasting. Gaining weight or not is of little concern to me now. 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.
If you’re thinking about the Holidays and feeling anxious, fearful, guilty or stressed, here are some things that helped me:
1. Letting Go of Control
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. It’s 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.”
“Yeah, but certainly you don’t mean McDonalds?”
“But what about sugar.”
Unconditional permission seems really scary at first. Grant it to yourself without fear. Your body will naturally settle into a very healthy place without rules and regulations reigning over. Maybe it seems extreme, but ultimately it is what helped me recover from my eating disorder.
2. No More Rules
For the longest time I lived in extremes. Either, or. There was no in between. I was either bingeing 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. That fear drove me to control everything and enslaved me to rules.
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 my food intake, 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.
3. Fill Your Mind With Positive and Uplifting Thoughts
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 that “forbidden food”, recognize these thoughts and emotions as unhelpful and destructive. Replace them with a positive, encouraging thought. Talk to yourself with grace and love.
4. 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.
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 for me. 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 and to find what that value is for you. When you do, see if you can embrace it.
5. Focus on Your Loved Ones
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. 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 your goal at Holiday gatherings.
6. Ask for Help.
I spent many years struggling alone. It was partly out of embarrassment and partly because I really didn’t want to relinquish control. I resented anyone who tried to help me. 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.
If you find that the Holidays are a difficult time for you, if your self-talk becomes incredibly discouraging and negative, bring a friend or family member into that. Clue them in on your struggle. Bringing it to light 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 and realize that shame is a feeling you have created. Know that you are really and truly LOVED.
The difference between being paranoid of gaining weight and embracing the Holidays as a time of feasting is HUGE. It’s 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. Although I am not a licensed health care provider, I am happy to offer any support to those who struggle but desire to be free.
You can find resources here at NEDA.com.
Other ways to get in touch:
Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com