Hey everyone, I have a special guest post for you this week. For some, the issue of food is a sensitive topic. The holidays for many people is a time where we are gathering with friends and family, usually around food, and then searching for gym membership coupons by January. But those people who battle disordered eating or have health issues related to food often find themselves dreading these gatherings.
I love this article from our guest blogger, Vania Nikolova, Ph.D., who is the head of health research at RunRepeat.com. To be honest, I wasn’t sure this was the right place for a blog about dieting. But as she shared, this isn’t about dieting, rather than living with a different kind of condition and issues related to it.
So, I hope you enjoy the article, and we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. – Crysta
Surviving the holidays while battling with disordered eating patterns
The holiday season is almost here, and we anticipate the joy of spending time with friends and family and having some time off work. Here are some tips to use year-round and not just during the holidays but also everyday life to help avoid the dread any eating situation.
For many people, these positive feelings are combined with a lot of negative feelings 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.
These are the strategies I use during the holidays:
1. Dealing with the fat talk
Fat talk is all around, not only from your friends and family but all around. It’s almost impossible to go to a café or a restaurant and not here someone justifying their food choices or berating them. This is intensified from the approaching holidays.
Since I am in recovery, I refuse to participate in fat talk of any kind. I suggest you do the same. If you are the person doing the fat 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 judgment?
You can set a clear boundary with everyone. If they start talking about their food choices, calories and weight, don’t get hooked. Politely explain that diet and calories are not topics that you want to talk about. That the reason for you to meet was different and you would like to talk about your lives and not food.
Most people get the hint, and even if they slip up and start talking about how “bad” they have been with their food, they 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?
If this describes your family, the only thing I can suggest agreeing with the person attacking you (even if you don’t agree). Statements like you might be right, work wonders. Repeated enough times they 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.
2. Dealing with emotional eating
The holidays are an emotionally charged time. And sometimes it’s hard to understand where your eating behavior is coming from. Are you happy and plainly enjoying the variety of foods? 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 realize is that all of us sometimes eat for emotional reasons. Emotional eating is part of life. And some of your consumption will be emotional. But this is 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 mindful eating practices.
Tips help you enjoy holiday foods without deprivation and without overeating:
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 shove food in your mouth.
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.
Eat only the food that tastes good. Don’t force yourself to eat something, just because you have put it on your plate.
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).
3. 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. 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.
Holidays are time to spend with friends and family, and food obsession takes your mind off what is actually essential.
Happy Holidays and best wishes!
Vania Nikolova, Ph.D., is the head of health research at RunRepeat.com. She uses her academic knowledge and experience with an eating disorder to shed light on why dieting is bad news.