Your anti-diet Christmas survival guide
Christmas, the season of mince pies, Harry Potter movie marathons, chocolate galore and an excess of gin and selection boxes always available in the cupboards. But along with all of those festive treats, often comes a tremendous amount of baggage called, guilt. We've already begun to be bombarded with dieting messages to make sure we don't go too crazy at Christmas and if we do, not to worry because there's a ton of diets on hand to fix us afterwards.
I'm here to break this illusion we have going on because, f*ck diet culture any day of the week, but especially at Christmas.
We spend the beginning of the year losing the weight we gained after Christmas, we spend Spring prepping our bikini body and we spend all Summer trying to take the perfect Instagram shot of our success, just for the cycle to begin again. How totally and utterly boring, am I right?
Indulging is often recommended, even encouraged by influencers and beauty industries online. But here's the catch, you can eat dessert but only on cheat days, or why not make a healthier option instead? or you could just have a smaller portion? The emphasis is always on 'how much' we indulge. Fair enough, health should matter in our food decisions but not to the point that we hate ourselves for straying 'off track' because there is no set 'track' to follow. A lot of people are going to tell you that you should feel guilty for eating and drinking over Christmas, and you should start restricting afterwards to quickly reverse the damage of weight gain. Why? the same reason as always of course. Those people want to make money off your insecurities. The same diet narrative repeatedly pops up - new insecurities are invented all the time to keep us reaching for this unattainable goal. Think about it, do you remember crying over your cellulite before someone told you to? Do you remember as a child, worrying about how many calories you ate? No, because we were taught to fear fatness. We were not born hating our bodies.
Here are things to remember during the festive season...
There's no need to earn your roast dinner
This whole concept about earning food is so toxic. We NEED food to survive. You don't need to spend the previous week running every morning or eating better so that you can have one day of cheating. Restriction is dangerous and unnecessary. Rather than having one cheat day, I'd much prefer to eat freely all the time because restriction creates this rigid structure that makes us feel guilty if we mess up and you'll stop craving all the foods you can't have if you just let yourself have it. Restriction tends to lead to bingeing and that's not healthy either. I remember my body would just crave all of the sugar I hadn't allowed myself and I'd eat SO much to the point I'd feel sick and like I was going to burst. I would feel disgusting the next day and eat as little as I possibly could to survive just to make up for it. Wouldn't it make more sense to just let myself have those little things each day? No bingeing and no restriction is the recipe for balance.
Let's be honest, you're not going to wake up and have gained masses of weight. It's perfectly natural for your weight to fluctuate, and whilst we may feel like our body needs some nourishment and exercise during and after the festive period - it is not a requirement to make up for all the food you've eaten / going to eat.
You don't need to diet after
The whole diet industry rests on this ideology that we'll be happier, prettier, healthier if we lose weight. No matter how much weight you lose, your life will go on the same. You'll still argue with your partner, have an off day, get spots, mess up at work, have a bad hair day etc - your life won't magically get better. Weight gain doesn't make you less worthy of success and happiness in life! We ALL indulge at Christmas, we're allowed to have fun, we're allowed to partake in social situations that revolve around food, we're allowed skip the gym for a while. This is your reminder that it's ok to live a little.
Christmas doesn't have to revolve around food
Food is a big thing associated with Christmas because that's how we tend to celebrate events but it doesn't have to be that way. If you relieve the pressure of having to celebrate with food this may help your mental state. You can celebrate being surrounded and laughing with your loved ones, giving to others and being kind instead. Get dressed up, go for a frosty winter walk, buy special gifts, make homemade gifts, get cosy and watch movies - there are so many festive things to do that don't revolve around food.
Weight gain isn't the end of the world
Ok, so your tummy might feel a little softer, your clothes might feel a little tighter, you might go to bed feeling a little too full, you might feel rather hungover. Ok. The world is going to carry on turning regardless. Along with that weight gain, you probably gained memories of laughter, love, kindness and friendship which is SO worth it.
You don't need to swap your chocolate cheesecake for a fruit salad
Health is great, nourishment is great BUT it's goddamn ok to just opt for a good ol' fashioned pudding. Don't feel pressured to skip something that you enjoy because you feel like you should. These diet messages mean absolutely nothing - they only have the power that you give them. If everyone decided to stop caring about what their body looked like and stopped embracing these diet messages, those messages would just stop, and we'd forget that we're supposed to hate our body. The messages have so much power because we blindly listen and accept them. This advert says I have too much cellulite - so I must do, right? Why? Because Sally the advertising manager wants her Christmas bonus so she's selling us a fake message to consume her products? NOT TODAY SALLY.
Be cautious to those around you
Linking food to moral value isn't just negative for yourself, it could harm others around you. Ditch the phrase "I feel so fat" after your meal and talking about "guilt-free" or "naughty" food because it creates this whole negative energy surrounding food. We massively feed off the energy around us and I found that when I was with people who didn't care about food, didn't make an issue of it and just 'ate' whilst they carried on with their day made such a different to my attitude - I too, just ate. Using these phrases helps no one in the situation - you are simply shaming yourself and probably someone else too. P.s. how about one of our communal New Year's resolutions could be to stop using the term fat as an insult?! Fat isn't a feeling or an insult, it's a description and we don't need to fear it.
Don't compare yourself to people on your feed
Your feed may be full of people who go to the gym on Christmas morning, or have opted for a 'healthier' dinner, or still have abs after their roast dinner. Or, you might see some people showing off their food babies and promoting body positive messages. Either one can have a negative impact because we're prone to comparing our physical selves. Previous Christmas' I've looked at women's bodies as validation of my own - my food baby is bigger / smaller than theres or I've eaten 'better' or 'worse' than them. But it's key to remember that each body is different! Some people are prone to bloating, some people have a faster metabolism or a different body shape so don't let this trick you into feeling guilty for what you've eaten. You could eat the exact same as someone else on your feed and still look completely different so please don't beat yourself up for looking bigger, smaller, more bloated, less bloated, have more rolls, less rolls, more stretch marks, less stretch marks, more cellulite or less cellulite than her. Have that self-awareness to know when you're beginning to feel this way and stop that behaviour - turn your phone off or cleanse your social media.
Guilt and restriction are different to nourishment
We need balance. If we've consumed a lot of food, alcohol and maybe we're lacking in daylight or movement then our body probably needs some nourishment. Eating your vegetables, going to the gym and making yummy nutritious food is not punishing your body for indulging, it's taking care of your body from all different angles. Just as our body craves chocolate sometimes, our body craves greenery too. Taking care of your body is good! It's the diet mentality that we must eat 'better' now to fix the damage we've done to our body, that is unhealthy. My biggest advice around the Christmas period is to just listen to your body and tune in with what it wants so that you keep your body and mind harmonious. Eat in tune with your hunger, know when you're full, know your nutritional needs and your pleasure desires. If you fancy a colourful salad or a big Buddha bowl - it's ok and if you fancy chocolate cake or a bottle of wine to yourself - it's ok.
Christmas can be a difficult period for any of us, but especially those of us with eating disorders or disordered eating habits. My best advice if you're suffering with an eating disorder this Christmas is to set boundaries and manage expectations. Expect to be in situations involving food and set boundaries with the people around you. Tell them how you're feeling and how they can help e.g. ask your family and friends not to talk about their meal in 'good' and 'bad' terms. Know that it's ok to remove yourself from a situation that does not feed your well-being, you're allowed to be selfish. Also, follow people online that promote these kinds of messages as daily reminders or maybe even make a goal to take a few minutes each day to give yourself a pep-talk. Yes, you may have to tackle some fear foods and be surrounded by topics that make you anxious and a little scared - but you're ok. Food is just food and Christmas is just a day.
I hope this anti-diet survival guide has given you something to think about and you feel mentally prepared to face the diet shitstorm! We're all in this together and we will not spend all of January hating our bodies! We're going to eat that roast dinner, nut roast, chocolate gateau or whatever it is you love and we're not going to feel an ounce of shame because food is just food and Christmas is a bloody fun time of year! Put on your sequin dress, watch a few Christmas movies in your new pjs, maybe get merry and dance around the kitchen, embarrass yourself in family games, watch your grandparents nod off halfway through the day, and fall asleep content.
I'm proud of you.