Food Hang-Ups, Negative Body Image, and Boundaries At Christmas
Firstly, I just want to clarify that I am discussing Christmas, but I am not trying to disregard other religions or cultures. By “Christmas” this is interchangeable with any event where there's lots of excitement and pressure on food.
Anyways, HEY. I hope you are all having a wonderful December so far. I know diet talk/body talk, negative body image, and food talk is super high this time of year (more so than normal). So I've made a resource to help you out.
As usual, this is for people who are experiencing food distress, poor body image, food rules, and thoughts of diets from days gone by… And not designed as eating disorder treatment or in place of an ED therapist or counsellor. If you’re receiving ED treatments, this can be a complimentary recourse, but if you are experiencing major food and body distress that aren’t helped by resources similar to these, please contact your GP or Beat UK here.
Food hang-ups The suggestions in this section can give you some ideas on how to promote food neutrality over Christmas, depending on how far along you are in your Intuitive Eating/healing your relationship to food journey, the suggestions will be varying in helpfulness. Some might seem what you’re already done, some might be far out of your reach.
1. First off, you don’t owe anyone “health”.
I repeat, you don’t owe anyone “health”. I say health as “health” because the definition of health is fuzzy, and it’s different for everyone. What might be health for me, might not be health for you. So never feel like you need to justify eating a certain way, or for your body looking a certain way.
2. Stressing about the amount of calories you’ve eaten?
Remember it’s normal to eat more in December; food companies GO IN on us. We are marketed to stockpile food and eat differently than normal. It’s normal. If you are actively tracking calories; first of all, get that app deleted! I know that’s easier said than done. This deserves a whole resource on it’s own (...*adds to do list*). Even if the issue is that internal calorie counter in your head, remind yourself you “have full unconditional permission to eat” and all foods are fine. For more on working on unconditional permission to eat at Christmas time see here.
3. Worried certain foods are just really bad for you?
Like maybe you’ve seen a lot of shit about stuffing or pigs in blankets online? Or you’re thinking you should be eating a nut roast instead of turkey? Let me just tell you this: NO. NO. NO. Shut down that food police. No people with legit qualifications in nutrition will tell you this. We want you to enjoy food. I see a lot of stuff on Christmas Dinner and how much you would need to exercise to burn off X food or how much salt is in X Christmas food. Honestly, it’s irrelevant. Christmas is one day. Even December is only 8% of the year. It’s fine.
Negative body image
Practice body neutrality and realigning your thoughts
> Maybe you try on a top you want to wear for Christmas, but it’s too small. You start plummeting into self-loathing and feeling like a failure. You think “Right, I’m going on a diet. This has to end”. Think back to what this type of talk has gotten you in the past, and what diets did for you long-term. Download this guide if you need new clothes ASAP.
*There are two ways you can turn a neutral thought into a neutral one:
The first is changing the thought into a neutral or positive statement about the situation. Here are some examples:
→ “My stomach is too big, I’ve gained weight” turns into “I am feeling negative about my body, but that’s okay. It’s normal to feel this way sometimes, I know it will pass”.
→ “My legs are stumpy and I hate them” turns into “I’m not the biggest fan of my legs right now, but I know they’re still how I get around and I’m thankful for that”.
→ “I hate my body” turns into “I’m feeling uncomfortable in my body right now, but everyone feels like this sometimes, I know it’s okay to feel like that”.
Or we can take the negative thought and make it neutral by adding it to neutral things. Here is an example:
→ “My face is too puffy; I hate it” turns into “My face is too puffy, it’s raining outside, my cat is sitting on the bed” and repeat until the thought starts to become mundane and not special.
2. Write a letter to your body
There are two options: you can write an apology letter or you can write an angry letter that details everything you hate about it. If you do the second one, always do the apology one too. Apologize about all the things you’ve ever done to harm your body, such as dieting, restricting, pulling and prodding. This can really help start to rebuild the relationship between your mind and your body.
3. Write a list of 100 things you like about yourself (focusing on non-aesthetic things).
I know 100 things sounds excessive, but try it. Focus on your personality traits, things your good at, things you’ve experienced rather than how you look or how you used to look. Look at this list when you’re feeling down to remind yourself of how great you are.
Diet talk: boundaries
→ Speak to people before you meet up (aka your bubble or family) and let them know you aren’t okay with diet talk
→ “I’m working on trying to accept my body and work on my relationship to food”.
→ “You don’t know this, but I’ve struggled for a long time with my body and disordered relationship to food, so I’m going to need to limit talking about food and bodies. E.g. talking about people gaining or losing weight, your New Year diet or exercise regime, or how “bad” certain foods are”.
→ Inform people you are learning to accept your body, and you don’t want any talk of your body or “New Year, new diet” chat.
→ If people don’t respect your boundaries, ignore them or change the subject. Have conversations starters prepared, such as work, university, or recent films so you can easily change the subject.
→ If the diet talk is getting too much, leave the room and go do some breaths in private.