Inside Scoop: Here’s how to ditch the diet culture and enjoy yourself around the holidays.
This post was submitted by Vania Nikolova, Head of Health research at RunRepeat.com.
Holiday season is almost here and we anticipate the joy of spending time with friends and family and having some time off work.
For a lot of people these positive feelings are combined with a lot of anxiety about food. Some dread the expected weight gain, others dread that they’ll have to restrict and resist the holiday treats. But what almost everyone does is trying to find a strategy to survive the festivities with minimal damage.
This could be especially hard if you are a chronic dieter or battling with an eating disorder. I, myself am in the process of recovery from my eating disorder, and here I’ll present the strategies I use during the holidays to survive the diet culture.
Here’s how to enjoy the holidays in our diet culture
Avoid diet talk at all cost
Almost nothing else can ruin your mood as fast as a nasty comment in the lines of:
- “I wish I could eat that pie”;
- “There are a gazillion calories in this”;
- “You’ll have to run for 2 hours if you eat these”;
Especially if you’re just trying to enjoy yourself.
Diet talk and diet culture lingo is all around. It’s impossible to go to a café or a restaurant and not hear someone justifying their food choices or berating them. And this is even more common with the approaching holidays.
Since I am in recovery, I refuse to participate in diet talk of any kind. I suggest that you can do the same.
First, if you are the person that’s engaging in diet talk, ask yourself what purpose is it serving? Why are you doing it? Aren’t you going to enjoy yourself more, if you eat your food without moral judgement? Is this just a nasty habit that you have, that hurts you more than it helps?
For everyone else, you have to set a clear boundary. If someone starts talking about their eating behaviour in a moralistically judgmental way, don’t get hooked. Politely explain that diet and calories are not topics that you want to talk about. That you would like to talk about your lives and just enjoy and savour the food on your plate.
Most people get the hint, and even if they slip up and start talking about how “bad” they have been with their food, they will understand your reluctance to continue the conversation.
For the people who start telling you what a mistake you are making and how important diet is and so on, you can politely say that you understand that, but you are just not interested in a conversation on the topic. If they insist, try to change the subject. If they just don’t get it, I would suggest rethinking the relationship.
I know this sounds too drastic, but what good are people who can’t accept such a simple boundary especially if they are aware of the discomfort it brings to you?
If this describes your family, the only thing I can suggest is agreeing with the person attacking you (even if you don’t agree). Statements like you might be right, work wonders. Repeated enough times, this may make the other person want to change the subject because you’re not playing your part of the game. If this is too painful for you, try changing the subject – ask the person about something that is important to them to help divert the conversation from diet culture lingo.
The main point here is – avoid diet talk at all cost. It’s never beneficial. And it usually ruins everyone’s mood, especially if things get heated.
Deal with emotional eating constructively
The holidays are an emotionally charged time. And sometimes it’s hard to understand where your desire to eat is coming from. Are you just happy and enjoying the holiday treats? Or maybe you’re stress eating?
If your relationship with your family is complicated (as mine is), the stress component of your eating is likely to be present.
The first thing that you need to realise is that all of us eat for emotional reasons, some of the time. It is a part of life, not an issue. The problem is with the majority of your eating and how you’re accustomed to dealing with your emotions.
To be able to distinguish your emotions from your hunger, it’s beneficial to employ some mindful eating practices:
- Try not to be too distracted while you are eating – if you are a part of a conversation, finish the conversation, then continue eating. Try not to mindlessly eat, but rather pay attention and savour every bite.
- Taste your food – eat normal sized bites, chew your food and try to feel the different textures. Also think about the tastes. Try to figure out the ingredients, also how spicy or how sweet the food is.
- Eat slowly – not too slowly, but allow yourself to taste the food, put down your fork and then take your next bite.
- Don’t put a lot on your plate. You can go for seconds anytime.
- Eat only the food that tastes good. Don’t force yourself to eat something, just because you have put it on your plate or someone is insisting that you try.
- Assess your fullness level regularly. Before reaching automatically for the next helping just think about how full you are, do you need to eat more and if yes, try to estimate how much more should be enough (even if you are not correct, the exercise is still useful).
These practices will help you enjoy holiday foods without deprivation and without feeling sluggish and stuffed.
Useful things to remember
- Eating is a biological necessity and not a moral act. Not eating dessert doesn’t make you a better person.
- We all change our eating patterns during the holidays, and usually our weight fluctuates, but when we get back to normal, our weight gets back to normal.
- Holidays are time to spend with friends and family and food obsession takes your mind off what is actually important.
- It’s much better to focus on having fun and being spontaneous, than to focus on perfect eating. Your mind and your body definitely need a break.
Happy Holidays and best wishes from me.
Vania Nikolova is the Head of Health research at RunRepeat.com. She spent a lot of years on the dieting treadmill and developed a severe eating disorder. Now she’s recovering and she’s trying to bring more awareness to the subject through her writing.