For many people the holidays can be a stressful time of year. December starts to bring a ton of ads and promotions for gym memberships. We’re dreading those upcoming gatherings because of peoples’ unsolicited comments on our weight or body size. Then someone always has to bring up the topic of dieting or not dieting. Someone else wants to share what they’ve been doing and how it’s working for them…but honestly, it’s just not the time or the place for those types of conversations. So, let’s take a look at navigating diet culture during the holiday season.
What is Diet Culture?
So the term “diet culture” has been thrown around and gained popularity for at least the last few years. You can describe it as a western culture belief system that equates thinness with happiness, superiority, health, worthiness and attractiveness. As you very well know, we see diet culture everywhere. It’s plastered all over the web, social media, news outlets, magazines, you name it! Not to mention we often have to encounter it around the holidays. Holiday gatherings can bring a lot of anxiety for some people, but there are ways to lessen that.
7 Ways to Navigate Diet Culture During the Holidays
Wear comfortable clothes. For some of us holiday gatherings are a time to make a fashion statement and look good around everyone else. While you still want to look cute, also consider wearing comfortable clothes. Try to avoid wearing an outfit that you know might make you feel self-conscious after a big meal. This will help you to focus less on your body.
Have a support system. During moments like this where you think you’ll feel stressed after a holiday gathering it can be helpful to already have a support system in place. Someone you can call after the fact who’ll encourage you. It can be a friend, another family member or a professional.
Change the conversation. Family gatherings should be positive and encouraging! You can be the example by your conversation. Talk about sports, how you love someone’s outfit, where you’ve traveled recently or a new hobby (not food related).
Have brief interactions with unsafe people. We already know who bothers us with their comments. Aim to have shorter interactions if you notice that you don’t feel emotionally safe around them. According to a psychologist, pay attention to how conversations make you feel. Do you feel drained or encouraged? Do you feel bad about yourself or empowered?
It’s ok to decline invites. You don’t have to accept every party invitation that you receive. It’s ok to say “Sorry I am not available” if you know in advance that you won’t enjoy yourself and it isn’t a positive environment.
Do a self-check on your own food attitude. While we might get upset with others about their comments, we should also take the time to check our own attitude towards food. Many people have an “all or nothing” approach to food. This can actually be harmful to our mental health and the way we approach eating. It can make you feel guilty when really if you are eating favorite foods that you don’t have on a daily basis, there’s no need to feel bad about that.
Still enjoy your favorite festive foods. Don’t allow the Debbie Downers to interfere with enjoying your food. Usually these aren’t foods we always eat year round anyway. A Psychologist suggested categorizing foods as “nourishing” and “satisfying” instead of “good” and “bad”. We still want to have a balance. Only eating nourishing foods (vegetables) can lead to a poor quality of life while the same can be said for only eating satisfying foods (desserts). Also remember to take the time to enjoy your meal! This might sound obvious, but for some of us we really do eat pretty quickly. Slow down, enjoy each bite and savor the flavor of your food.
But is it ok to diet during the holidays?
This time of year can be a really good time to let go of a fad diet approach to eating. Instead of focusing on weight, try focusing on just creating and maintaining healthy habits. Health is more than just a number on the scale. We can focus on better health by thinking about our sleep patterns, how we handle stress, our physical activity level and what we like to do for fun!
In an effort to sustain good mental health, it is ok to not diet during the holidays. Instead let’s look at some other ways to maintain our health:
- Start a gratitude journal. Focus on what you are grateful for (including your body).
- Find fun ways to eat more fruits and vegetables
- Do fun activities with your family and friends
- Move more. Psst, dancing does count!
- Make time for yourself
- Get creative in the kitchen. Try a new recipe or food