This time of year can be difficult for all sorts of reasons. Financial struggles and societal pressures to keep up appearances, visiting family members that you can’t stand, and then all the rest. But there’s something else that many forget about if it doesn’t apply to them, and that’s the anxieties and fear around food. Dealing with any form of disordered eating is difficult 24/7, 365, but when eating plays such a large part in celebratory events, the season to be jolly is the last thing you’d want on your plate — if you can pardon the pun. Whilst we can’t put your anxieties entirely at ease, here are a few things to remember if the holidays are filling you with almighty dread:
You deserve to eat, full stop.
Zero explanation really required, but regardless of what your ED may try and tell you: you deserve to eat.
You don’t have to earn food.
The idea of compensating for our food, or doing something (like exercise) to earn the food that we’re going to eat, is alarmingly mainstream in our society. Mindsets and behaviours like these actively encourage disordered eating and leads people away from the fact that, when all is said and done, we need food in order to survive. It also feeds into the whole ‘good food and bad food’ rhetoric, which perpetuates diet culture and messes with the way in which we’re naturally predisposed to eat.
No food is bad food.
This kind of revisits the previous idea of what foods are considered as better or less than in the diet culture hierarchy. The more we buy into those notions, the less we actually enjoy the food that we’re eating, which can impact us just as significantly physiologically as diet culture tells us that not being on a diet can. The holiday season is renowned for luxurious desserts, large feasts, and overindulgence, so it can be scary for some people, so it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as bad foods. Merely, there are different food items that offer different levels of nutritional value — and whichever types of food you choose to eat, that’s totally fine.
You don’t need to count your food.
Diet culture coaxes us into fads, plans and programmes that puts stress on our body both mentally and physically. With most (if not all) of these diets that we buy into, we’re made to count. Whether that be calories, points, syns, macros— you name it, we count it. And when we’re busy counting out those things, we become obsessed with what we’re putting on our plate in one way, whilst simultaneously becoming severely detached from it in another. It would seem silly if you thought that a complete stranger (who also happens to be profiting off of your insecurities, ahem) could possibly tell you when you’re hungry and when you’re full — it’s best to trust your gut (literally) and stick to letting your own body make the decisions.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
This is a multifaceted reminder, so you can take from it what works for you. Whether it’s guilt, anxiety, or just general panic, there’s a myriad of feelings that can come from sitting down to eat. Many people worry about eating too much, or eating too much of the foods they feel that they shouldn’t be, and we bombard ourselves with reprimands when our appetite doesn’t stick to the script. If you’re feeling those feelings, remember to take it easy on yourself and be kind — you’re doing the best you can. Working towards eating intuitively allows you to enjoy your food in a mindful way, allowing your body to make it’s own decisions of when to start, when to stop, and everything in between. Food doesn’t have to be torture.
Don’t compare your plate to someone else's.
Comparison is the thief of joy, in all senses of the word. Yes, that means food is included in there. If you’re prone to paying more attention to the food on your cousin’s plate than you are to the food on your own, there’s no wonder that your brain goes into panic mode whenever it comes to meal time. Try and be as mindful as you can, and actively try to focus on your own food, ignoring how (or how much) another person is eating — Everybody’s different. Not only will it take some of the stress off, but you’ll be more likely to enjoy your meal. These kinds of comparisons often accompany the underlying fear that you’re being watched as you eat, leading many to suffer extreme anxiety when it comes to eating in front of others. However, it’s actually said that the only people who are inclined to watch others eat are the same as those who suffer from disordered eating, i.e., those who worry about it happening to them. Coincidence? Definitely not. Take it from us that everyone else will be too busy digging into their own grub to be focusing on you eating yours!
It won’t be easy, but just know that every day you’re conquering the fears around food, you’re taking one step further into recovery. There’s no quick fix, but try and think back on these reminders any time you feel that your ED is trying to tell you otherwise. You are deserving of all the food, fun, and festivities. Remember that.