Just like that, Christmas is upon us! The end of the year is a wonderful chance for reflection and contemplation. It is also an opportunity to consider our hopes and dreams for the New Year. Here in Australia the weather is warm, the tropical fruits are in abundance, the beaches are full, and long days are spent with family and friends. For so many of us, Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
But for so many others, Christmas is a very difficult time. If emotions and traumas are going to be triggered, it is often at key times like Christmas that it will happen. It is for this reason that having a strong network of support and connection is so important. In this month’s blog I wanted to run through a few key issues that may crop up, and how we can address them in a way which best serves us.
1. Holiday eating and guilt
Christmas is a time of feasting! Baked hams, roasts, cheese & crackers, trifle, pavlova, cakes, ice-cream, cookies, alcohol… there is SO much food going around and it is ALL there for your enjoyment and pleasure. But, if we enter the Christmas season with a strained relationship with food, it can be a really difficult time. The media is overflowing with tips on how to “stay on track” during the holidays. Gyms are gearing up for their “how to get your body back after Christmas” campaigns, and there are subtle (or not-so-subtle) reminders everywhere about the “importance of looking after yourself” during this time. All of these tactics are NOT with your best interests in mind. You must remember this. Even those who claim to be watching out for your health are NOT looking out for you… they’re looking out for wellness culture, diet culture, and the diet industry. Christmas food and eating is the epitome of what food is all about – it is about connection, love, comfort, companionship, intimacy, joy, pleasure, fun, and relaxation. There is NO guilt in experiencing any (and all!) of these things. In fact, it is a terrible shame when we feel that we can’t or shouldn’t be allowed to experience these things. Let food be your friend this Christmas. Enjoy your food mindfully, thank it for the pleasure (and nourishment) it brings, and remember that food nourishes not just the body, but also the soul. Food consumed in a state of relaxation is food which can TRULY be metabolised – it is this food which our bodies can use to satiate us, feed our cells, fuel our brain, and make us happy. So eat the food! Drink the wine! Enjoy it all, and don’t feel guilty for giving your body what it wants (and needs!). There is NO need to make up for eating food – ever. There is no need to feel guilty for “over-indulging” because there is no such thing. We choose to eat and drink what our body asks for at any given time, so trust your body, trust your intuition, and let your body do the rest. It’s more than capable!
2. Good vs. bad foods
Closely related to #1 is the notion that Christmas is full of “bad” foods. Nonsense! Christmas is full of nourishing foods! Foods that uplift us and feed our soul. There is no such thing as good or bad foods. All foods fit. This is even true at Christmas time! When we eat mindfully and intuitively, we soon come to recognise those foods which make us feel good, and those which don’t so much. But, this is VERY different to having a list of foods on a “blacklist” simply because someone out there has told us that grains are evil, or sugar is the devil. If you know there are certain foods which don’t serve you so well, then of course your body will tell you if and when they should be avoided. But, unless you have an allergy to a certain food, or a serious medical condition requiring some foods be avoided, there is no need to panic over eating any particular foods. Eat what your heart desires, and move on. Our body is our best teacher and it will soon let us know if something wasn’t such a good idea. We learn for next time. Or we weigh up the benefits and decide to eat it anyway! In the same way, the more that we allow ourselves to eat without restriction during the year, the less likely we will be to “binge” during holiday times. If trifle is just trifle (because it’s not a special “treat” reserved for once a year), then when Christmas day rolls around, we are much less likely to eat 5 bowls of it. It is so much easier to listen to our body cues when we aren’t coming from a place of deprivation and, in some cases, starvation.
3. Beach bodies
Ugh… the dreaded “bikini ready beach body”. I can’t express how much I detest these terms. My biggest tip here is to do a social media cleanse – UNFOLLOW! Get rid of the all the “fitspo” “inspo” “mumspo”, whatever accounts that you follow which make you feel inadequate. Buy swimsuits online if you can’t stand the fluoro lights and the small sizing in the shops. Follow body positive, fat acceptance, body liberation activists. Don’t become a victim to the patriarchal, patronising, over-sexualisation of the human body (and in particular, the female form). Be proud of your shape, curves and achievements. Remember what your amazing body DOES for you every single day. Remind yourself that your body is not for everybody’s viewing pleasure, but instead it is an incredible vessel which carries you through life and houses you. It is not easy to switch to a positive body image. It takes time and work, all year round. But don’t get disheartened by feeling that you need to LOVE your body. That’s not what body positivity is about. It is about acceptance and appreciation for our bodies, and an acknowledgement of the fact that it is diet culture, weight stigma, and fat phobia which fuels the thin ideal. Surround yourself with body positive people. Get your hands on Linda Bacon’s books “Health at Every Size” and “Body Respect”. Don’t listen to poorly constructed, fat phobic research which tells you that your body is unhealthy based on its size. Enjoy the beach – you are worthy of wearing your favourite bikini. Your existence on this Earth and on a beach is JUST as valid as someone who looks like a swimsuit model. And always remember that, for the majority of people who have that “perfect” bikini body, they are engulfed in a world of food restriction, health obsession, excessive exercise and stress over how to MAINTAIN that body. Live your true life, embrace what life is really about, and wear the bikini NOW! We only have one life!
4. Family time
Being around family over the Christmas season isn’t pleasurable for everyone. For some of us it is a beautiful time of connection, re-connection and bonding. But for others, it is a time of stress, anxiety and obligation. It can be the time of the year when old feelings of rejection and lack of worth re-surface, or when you feel like you are back in high school being treated like a child. If this is how you feel about holiday times with family, then it is an opportunity to practice self-care, self-compassion and mindfulness. If you aren’t familiar with mindfulness and self-compassion, check out https://www.mindful.org/how-to-take-mindful-snack/. You might also want to read through Kristin Neff’s website at https://self-compassion.org/. Taking a moment to breathe, acknowledge how difficult a situation is for you, and become curious about why it is difficult, is much more powerful and healing than trying to convince yourself that your feelings are unfounded overreactions. To feel is to heal – so let yourself feel whatever emotions come up for you. They are all valid, and they are all ok. Engage in self-care practices before and during family time as much as possible. Do things which lift you up and make you feel calm. Burn scented candles, have fresh flowers in the house, wear your favourite clothes, start the day with a short meditation. Whatever it takes to help you get through the day! If you have a family that is particularly critical about your weight and appearance (and who you feel judged by), then arm yourself with the tips above. Decide in advance how you want to approach diet and weight talk. Will you engage in the conversation and share your knowledge/views? Or will you change the subject and remind them that there is SO much more to talk about than your weight? Or will you find it easiest to just excuse yourself and leave the room? Plan your strategy and know that the power is always yours.
5. Lost loved ones
Christmas is also a very difficult time for those who have lost loved ones due to death, tragedy, divorce, separation and so on. The first Christmas without a loved one can be especially emotional and triggering, so again, pull out your self-compassion and self-care tool kits at this time. This is also a really important time to see your therapist (or engage the services of a therapist/counsellor) who can help you through this difficult time. You don’t have to do this alone. Find your tribe of people you can be honest with and talk to. Journal about your thoughts and feelings. Grieve in whatever way feels natural for you, remembering that everyone processes loss in very different ways. If you want to use food as comfort, then do so without guilt and self-judgement. Be kind and gentle with yourself, always, but especially now.
There are so many other challenges which might pop up at Christmas time, but I hope this gives you some support and guidance. Regardless of the challenges we face, when we stop and listen to our inner voice, we will often find the way. Be kind, compassionate and gentle, and enjoy the holiday season wherever and however you can. I want to wish you all a very happy Christmas, and a New Year filled with peace, joy and nourishment. Thank you for your support during 2018, and I can’t wait to share 2019 with you all.