Spooky season is already upon us, which means the holidays are here! But, what we are told is the “most wonderful time of the year” can often feel like the most stressful time of the year. We are bombarded with events centered on food, more social commitments, being around family, and surrounded by expectations to be in a “festive mood”, spend money, and listen to non-stop holiday music. And with all of these variables (and more) contributing to stress, comes anxiety, which can manifest in our relationship with food.
I wish I could tell you that the spirit of the holiday season would magically make it easy to maintain the healthy relationship with food that you have been working towards. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Despite all this doom and gloom (it is halloween, after all), you CAN navigate the holidays, eat intuitively, AND maintain a healthy relationship with food. Here are 5 tips to thrive during the holidays and preserve the relationship you have built with food and body!
The first to-do on your list is to put the “last supper” mentality back where it belongs - the trash! This diet culture tactic can seriously ruin your holiday fun and make you feel crazy. It’s tempting to skip meals throughout the day leading up to a holiday event when we feel like we have to “save calories for the last supper”. But there is no need to skip meals, even if you know you want to eat a lot of your favorite seasonal foods. Your body still needs regular fuel throughout the day. Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, mood shifts, increased cravings, increased binging, and decreased awareness of hunger-fullness cues - all of which are not very helpful to maintain peace with food when you’re walking into a room filled with food.
Setting a goal to “start over” on January 1st gives your body a sense of urgency to eat all the food and drink all the drinks before they are gone. You may find yourself unable to check in with your body on appetite, hunger, or fullness because you just have to grab some of those cookies in the break room before they’re gone. In reality, you can eat any food year round, so these foods will always be available to you.
Reminding yourself that you have full permission to nourish your body and enjoy all of your favorite holiday foods will help your body trust that it does not have to take advantage of the “last supper”.
One of the most important tenets of intuitive eating is getting pleasure from food! After all, isn’t that what all these holiday gatherings are about - enjoying the company of loved ones and celebrating culture through food? So give yourself the permission that you deserve to truly soak in all the holiday goodness!
This means reveling in any number of helpings of yummy food until your appetite is satiated. Keep in mind that your body doesn’t just reset its nutritional needs every 24 hours - this means that it’s perfectly ok that some days you have more micronutrient dense foods and some days you have more palatable foods. Consider the big picture perspective of nourishing your body, and honor physical, mental, and emotional wellness. You have the right to eat pumpkin pie for breakfast if you want!
It also means honoring your body by listening to your fullness cues. It’s possible that you don’t mind feeling uncomfortably full because you’ve savored good food, but sometimes that may get in the way of being present in the way you want to be. So, you also reserve the right to honor fullness by refusing additional helpings. The phrase “not right now, thank you, but maybe later” is helpful to keep a pushy host at bay. This brings us to boundaries…
Spending so much time with others can be hard for some of us, especially with loved ones who like to serve a side of diet culture with dessert. While boundaries can be difficult, they are a wonderful thing. Especially when it comes to diet culture!
It’s ok to say no! Whether this applies to food, time with certain people, or events, please know that you can set a boundary on your limits. You also have the authority to set those boundaries without justification. You don’t have to explain why you do or don’t want another serving or why you don’t want to participate in diet talk or comment on anyone’s body. You don’t need to tell Aunt Karen or everyone else at the party about your journey with intuitive eating if that feels like too much or unsafe in your environment. Sometimes showing kindness to yourself is simply changing the subject, or opting out of a conversation.
This year, give yourself the best gift of all - compassion. There’s so much pressure to feel all magical and warm right now, but we all know that’s not always true. Sometimes the holidays are stressful and overwhelming, or riddled with a whole mess of other emotions, and the last thing you feel is cheer.
All of the added things in combo with all of the focus on eating can make your relationship with food feel supercharged. That’s okay!! Give yourself compassion to feel whatever you feel. When you feel ready, you can greet those emotions with curiosity and aim to discover how you can care for those emotions.
Consider preparing for the feelings that might emerge and rehearse the coping mechanisms that you can use to deal with these feelings. Have a backup or exit plan from overwhelming situations. It can be helpful to ask a friend or partner ahead of time if you can call them when you need support, get out to take a walk, find a quiet space, practice a breathing exercises, or listen to a podcast or music that can re-center you in your body and your values for your relationship with food.
The holidays can be a season to devote time and care to others. While it is absolutely great to show care for others, it’s also great to take time to prioritize YOU. It can be easier said than done, especially with all the social pressure, but this year may need to be more about you. Maybe next holiday season, or in a few years even, you can shift your focus to others, but maybe right now, you need to focus on you - it’s ok.
Take time to set up the systems you need to fulfill your definition of success - use these tips for inspiration, and add your own. Intentionally set aside time and resources to still nourish yourself consistently. If it’s helpful for you, maintain your routine as best you can.
Create space for rest. This can be challenging amidst all the hustle and bustle, but rest is productive, too. It’s rest that gives you the physical and mental energy to care for yourself. Rest can include stillness, but can expand to exercising your boundaries and practicing your coping skills to create more mental space.
Continue to enjoy whatever self care rituals you prefer, to bolster yourself with the energy to protect your relationship with food and body.
Whether the holidays are a challenge for you or not (either one is normal!), consider using these tips to guide you in preserving your peaceful relationship with food! The holidays are truly about appreciating the company of loved ones and celebrating culture, which we all deserve to enjoy. This year, we hope you can not only survive the holiday season, but thrive, by prioritizing your own body trust and relationship with food.
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