You know how the week between Winter Holidays and New Years' can feel like the longest morning after ever?
An emotional void between food and body shame for having eaten more cookies, candies, and rich meals than you'd planned on and waiting with anticipation for January 1 when you'll get back on track.
You're frustrated that you weren't able to get in as much exercise as you'd hoped over the holidays and you've seen how your body has gotten softer as a result. You grieve your pre-holiday fitter, trimmer, self.
Ah, what happened? You were going to eat clean this holiday season, only sticking with foods that were allowed on your wellness lifestyle plan. And you were going to get your workouts in come hell or high water - no matter how busy the season became.
If you're feeling all these feels right now, I get it. This was my reality the last week of December for MANY years.
No matter how I altered the cookie recipes to make them healthier (read safer. eaten with less guilt) or how I tried to restrict my intake or how diligent I was about getting my workouts in, I'd still feel the food guilt and body shame all while making promises that starting January 1, I'd get back on track and my body would get back to normal (read lose weight).
Why does this last week of the year get to us like this?
It's taken me a master's degree, advanced training in Intuitive Eating, and years of self-reflection to understand why I felt like this year after year, and how the diet-wellness industry is banking on everyone getting back on track come January.
Here's what I've come to realize.
When you enter into the holiday season with conditional permission to eat (i.e. it's only for a few weeks, this is the healthier version of the cookie/meal, as long as I get my workout in I can eat whatever I want), you set yourself up for the food guilt and body shame that ultimately comes when you end up eating beyond those conditions. In reality, conditional permission to eat during the holidays can set you up for last super feasting this last week of December.
I'd find myself eating well beyond fullness and even bingeing on the rest of the cookies, sweetbreads, chocolate, cheese balls with crackers, just to have them gone, out of the house, never to tempt me again in the New Year. Sound familiar?
This is a natural response to conditional permission, which if we're being honest, is just another fancy term for restriction. From a physiological perspective, here's what's going on in your body any time you don't allow full, unconditional permission to eat all foods - at any time of year.
When you restrict food (either amount or a specific type like carbs or fat) your body goes into protection mode - meaning it will survive (barely) on the safe foods you give it, but it won’t thrive and your mental health can suffer.
Once the restriction has gone on long enough and you just can’t stand it anymore - you say…
“Oh, it’s just a bite or two - no biggie, I won’t eat the whole thing. Tis' the season for over-indulging…”
You will have more than two bites, you will eat the whole thing. Maybe not right away, but come the last week of December as soon as the house is quiet, the lights are dim, you’ll sneak that guilty pleasure and eat the whole thing - standing up in your kitchen, maybe over the kitchen sink, maybe in front of the refrigerator the food will be gone.
You'll feel like a complete failure with your holiday clean eating plan the next morning with the food guilt and body shame thoughts getting louder by the minute.
You didn’t fail. Your body’s physiology and psychology were saving you from holiday deprivation, and conditional eating prison.
The guilt and shame you experienced are because restriction creates fear around food. When you take a couple of bites from the holiday food that wasn't part of your plan - jam’s off, the fuckit mentality marches in and you’re left feeling completely out of control and desperate to get back on track.
Regardless of what time of year it is, these restrict-overeat/binge cycles can feel like being on a swing - the harder you pump your legs, the faster and higher the swing goes up and back. Similarly, the harder you try to restrict your food the more chaotic your relationship with food will be...depriving and bingeing, swinging faster and higher each time.
How do you get off the swing? How do you stop the restrict-binge cycle?
Stop pumping your legs, stop restricting food! Give yourself full unconditional permission to eat any and all foods any time of year. If having cookies, chocolate, and cheese balls in July is no big deal, it won't be a big deal in December either.
As you start allowing full unconditional permission to eat all foods, any time of year, you'll develop a more grounded relationship with food. The eat it all so you can get back on track mentality won't be a part of your New Year's celebration.
Now you're thinking, "shoot it's already 2 days into the last week of December, I'm frustrated and disgusted with myself, and I'm reading this while standing over the kitchen sink polishing off the gingerbread! How do I stop this shit storm?"
Stop. Take a mindful minute to consider, what if this year, this last week of December became the most important week of your entire year?
What if this year, you made the difficult, conscious choice to let your body be just as it is right now? What if you gave yourself permission to still have cookies, chocolate, cheese balls with crackers in January and any time of year? How would your life look different by the time December 2021 rolls around?
Learning to tune in to your intuition and desires around food and your body while at the same time tuning out the food rules and weight stigma instilled by diet culture is one of the most radical, rebellious acts of self-care you can perform - especially in January.
It takes grit and hard work to stand up to impossible thin ideals created by a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s daring and bold to resist or even call out the fatphobia and weight stigma that amps up on January 1st.
We both know that lifestyle wellness plans don’t work during the holidays or any time of year in the long-term. Guilt, shame, and self-loathing don’t work either...been there done that. I have a feeling you’re ready to try something new - that’s why you’re here.
As you head off into the New Year, stay curiously compassionate toward yourself and your relationship with food and body. Allowing full unconditional permission to eat all foods and divesting from diet-wellness culture doesn't happen overnight.
Here are a couple of resources to help get you started.
Second, join the private Savor Food & Body Facebook Community where I'll be hosting weekly training and Q&A sessions on the principles of Intuitive Eating - just to help you get grounded in your relationship with food and body during the national dieting month of January. Join HERE.
Happy New Year!