Holiday Pep Talk! (Part 2): Navigating Food, Body Image Issues, Comments and Diet Talk during the Holidays
Time for part 2 of our Holiday pep talk! In part 1 we discussed a few things that might help when you’re navigating the Holiday season as a vegan (and all the parties, dinners and gatherings that come with it). I stole Dani Shapiro’s writing exercise of beginning to dig deep by using the phrase “I remember…”, and then I turned it on its head with some support and reminders to you in the form of “remember…”. I just had to follow that post and podcast episode up by also talking about one of the topics we love here at The Brownble blog and podcast. I couldn’t leave you hanging without discussing the topics of food, body image, comments that might pop up regarding your appearance, as well as what to do when the inevitable January diet talk pops up, and you’re on this quest to find a better relationship with food, with your body and with yourself, stepping outside that diet culture paradigm of restriction and external rules of eating.
So here goes, are you ready?…
I remember (and still experience sometimes) that the Holidays can be especially tricky when you’re on this journey because we often see relatives who, although well-meaning, can make comments about how we eat, how our bodies look, can push us to eat more or clean our plates, or can make comments when we grab a second helping.
There can be conversations at the table about other people’s appearance or habits, and even ours. There can be a lot of diet talk at the table, things like “I’m eating as much as I can today because tomorrow the diet starts”, or “tomorrow I’ll be good” (leaving it very clear that they believe this holiday meal is “bad”), or, “in January I’m beginning “x” diet or cleanse.
People who have naturally smaller bodies might hear family members push more and more food on them, making comments about the way they look. People who have naturally larger bodies might hear comments after they reach for dessert or another dinner roll. Relatives might comment on how their body has changed since the last time they saw them. They might keep the topic off you and comment on how other people look or how their bodies have changed, how they’ve aged, etc., and you might still feel uncomfortable.
The fact that The Holidays are a very food centered celebration in our culture, can cause uncomfortable or painful feelings on someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, or someone who is trying to find a new way to relate to food and was prone to overeating or bingeing, or on the other side of the spectrum, on someone who might feel very uncomfortable over the pressure to eat more than they are comfortable with.
Regardless of where you stand in any of these examples, when we’re on this path to heal our relationship with food, to practice a more intuitive and mindful approach to eating, trying to improve our body image and say goodbye to external rules and diet culture’s rules, the Holidays can sometimes be very challenging. Don’t even get me started on the fact that after The Holidays comes January, international code word for punishing yourself through dieting and exercise with the goal of changing your body.
I’ll say it again, the Holidays can be rough, they can be full of moments, conversations and comments that might remind us of some of the things we’re trying to change.
The idea behind today’s post and podcast episode is that I remind you of some tools that will help you through it. We will always encounter people who don’t get what we’re trying to do, or don’t get our new trust in our own bodies. That’s a part of life, the important thing is not to keep you from ever hearing or experiencing these moments, it’s to empower you to trust yourself even when these occur. That’s what we’re going to do together today.
A little story before we get started
This week as someone heard me talk about my love of chocolate, they asked me how much I actually ate. To this I answered the truth, I eat a bit of chocolate every day.
“Every day?!!!!” they asked me, surprised. To which I answered, “yes, every day”.
They then conducted a police-like interview asking me what chocolate I bought, whether I ate one piece, two pieces, 20 pieces. They told me how they would eat an entire chocolate bar if even one bite crossed their lips and how they couldn’t keep chocolate in the house.
This moment made me realize how far I’ve come from the little girl who hid in her mother’s closet to look for the shoe box where my mother hid her Cadbury bars. She never found out I knew where it was, and I was always surprised at how she never noticed that lots of extra-large Cadbury bars started to disappear. I would sit in the closet really early in the morning, or late at night, open a package and eat as much as I could eat before the inevitable stomach ache came along.
When I was now saying how I eat a little bit every day and the person I was talking to asked “how?!”, “how on Earth can you do that?”, here’s what I replied: “It’s not about can or can’t, I can eat the entire chocolate bar if I want to, but because I know that to be true, I don’t really want the entire chocolate bar that will always come with a stomach ache. I want to have a bit of a sweet and creamy taste, and since I know I can have another piece WHENEVER I want it, I don’t need to binge on it. I eat what I like, set it aside and I eat it again when I feel like it.”
Then, a whole conversation started up about how they admired my willpower. That’s the thing though, it’s not about willpower, it’s about eliminating the rules that require summoning willpower. Instead, it’s about satisfaction, tuning into your body and finding what feels good, this will be a combination of many factors, including nutrition, pleasure, desire, satisfaction, feeling satiated, hunger, fullness, and especially, knowing and truly believing that the dieting rules that used to rule our lives have moved on to become something better: developing trust in your body and yourself. When I dug into my friend’s reason for not being able to stop until all the chocolate was gone, it stemmed from diet culture: “I eat it all because I know tomorrow I won’t allow myself to eat it again.”
This is a brief example of so many of the things we talk about here. It’s a brief example of what helped me heal years of a very disordered relationship with food in which I was jumping from one extreme to the next. Going from being on an extremely restrictive diet (thinking and obsessing about food all the time because I was so deprived), to being on a constant all you can eat buffet after you’ve just run a marathon mindset (feeling uncomfortable, sick to my stomach after meals, and guilty and ashamed of not knowing when to stop, and feeling guilty and ashamed of the results this could have on my body).
If you’re new to the blog and podcast you might love to tune in to the following posts and episodes in which I dive in deeply into the tools that helped me heal:
Now that we’ve retraced our steps a bit, let’s talk about The Holidays, and a few little things I want you to remember:
Remember that delicious food is meant to nourish you AND provide pleasure and contentment: it’s not only a set of macronutrients or a list of vitamins or calories, we can begin to see food with a wider perspective, where we know and understand basics about nutrition and health but so that food choices are also informed by our preferences and enjoyment of foods.
Remember that it’s part of normal eating to enjoy food past fullness sometimes, this is part of the journey: Overeating happens sometimes and that’s ok. It’s part of being a normal human being. Practicing flexibility with this is also important. Know that this new approach to eating doesn’t require that you become a robot specialized in gauging your fullness signals each and every time. It’s a journey with its ebbs and flows.
Remember that you can respect your hunger and fullness levels, and what you feel like eating, even during The Holidays: After the previous point mentioned, it’s also important to remember that you can also pay attention to hunger and fullness signals during the Holidays. If you’re full and would feel uncomfortable cleaning your plate, you are allowed to save the leftovers for later (plus, Holiday leftovers are the best!). You’re also entitled to say no to a food that you don’t enjoy, or have more food if you’re still hungry regardless of how others are eating,
Remember that there are many types of bodies out there, that there isn’t just one that is allowed: There isn’t just one type of body that is inherently healthy because of its size, or that deserves respect over the others. There are many types of bodies out there and each has a place in this world, and therefore deserves respect and a space in it.
Remember that your body can and probably will change with the passing of time and life circumstances: It’s not only normal, but in many cases healthy for our bodies to change and adapt as the years pass. We are not meant to weigh at 30, 40 or 70 what we weighed when we were 15, and we’re not meant to look exactly the same through our entire lifespan. Bodies are designed to change, so treat yourself with plenty of self compassion if your body has gone through changes. Self compassion means you treat and talk to yourself as if you were talking to your nearest and dearest friend.
Remember that you don’t have to pay for food eaten, with exercise or restriction after the fact: it’s time to reframe exercise! Let’s shift the focus from seeing it as a pre-payment for food, or a punishment for how we ate. This can create an unhealthy relationship with exercise, with our bodies and with food. Reframe exercise by choosing movement you enjoy doing, and taking the focus away from changing your body. Here are some things you can think of instead: “I move because it relieves stress, brightens my mood, helps me have a better body image, gives me energy, gives me a rush of feel-good endorphins, helps me spend time outside or relieves anxiety.”
Remember that exercise doesn’t mean you are now deserving of food. You are deserving of food and nourishment just by being human: Just as we don’t need to punish ourselves with vigorous exercise after a Holiday meal, we also don’t earn the right to eat by exercising. We HAVE the right to food and nourishment just for being human. Enjoy this right and the pleasure of being able to have a full delicious meal.
Remember that other people’s diet talk isn’t an instruction manual for you: It’s normal to encounter diet talk around the Holidays. This doesn’t mean you need to engage in it or take it in as gospel. If you hear this over the holidays let it bounce right off you, and trust this new journey you’re on. Remind yourself that by putting yourself back in the driver’s seat when it comes to your food choices you don’t need instructions imposed by someone else.
Remember that you can ask for respect: If comments about your appearance, your way of eating, your choice of how to eat comes up as a topic of conversation in a way that is disrespectful you can ask for respect and you can also walk away.
Remember that you are deserving of respect, no matter what your body looks like: You deserve respect. In whatever body you are in, you are deserving of respect, love and equal opportunities. If someone doesn’t show you this, don’t take it in as your own narrative. That is theirs, and the right to be respected is what is yours.
Remember you don’t have to clean your plate: You have autonomy over what your plate of food looks like before and after you’ve finished. Be mindful during holiday meals and connected with your body’s cues and also with your preferences and what delights you.
Remember you don’t have to drink if your don’t want to: There is so much pushing and forcing of alcohol during the Holidays. As someone who doesn't drink very much, this always makes me anxious. If you’re like me, remember this: you are not less fun if you prefer not to drink or if just a few drinks were enough. You are not a party pooper, you are not a buzz kill, you are not boring, remind the person pushing unwanted alcohol on you that you don’t need alcohol to enjoy yourself and that you’ve had enough for tonight but they’re welcome to enjoy what makes them happy.
Remember you have autonomy with food choices: Whether you’re vegan, or almost there, or not vegan at all, or you don’t like sweet potato casserole, or mushrooms in your gravy, you can decide to eat what you enjoy or feel like eating. This can include nourishing foods and fun play foods. It can exclude foods you’ve chosen not to eat due to preference, ethics, religious beliefs or because they don’t make you feel good.
Remember you can have this delicious Holiday food whenever you want it: You can have a Christmas re-enactment dinner in April if you want to. You can have leftovers tomorrow, or repeat the entire meal in a couple of weeks. Remind yourself that you can have delicious food whenever you want it, this will help you stay present, enjoy it and move past it after you’re satisfied, knowing it can appear on your plate again whenever you feel like it.
Remember you are not alone on this journey: We’re here with you, every step of the way. If the Holidays were tough this year, I know you probably learned some good lessons for next year, and we have a whole other year of episodes and videos that will help you along your journey. I’m also here in the comments, so stop and say hello below!