Let's Stop Feeling Bad About Holiday Season Eating
“I’ll eat intuitively tomorrow,” I said to myself while making a salty snack after the kids went to bed. I was spent: They’d had a rough reentry after a weekend at their dad’s and I had a hard time getting them settled. In making sure they ate and didn’t murder each other, I’d neglected my own hunger and was now starving at 8 p.m. But I didn’t want to cook anything and didn’t have anything prepared in the fridge or freezer.
I’ve been working with my therapist on intuitive eating, the idea that if we listen to our body’s cues and not our ideas about food morality (junk food is bad, vegetables are good, being hungry is virtuous, no pain no gain), that we will be happier and healthier. As simple as that sounds, it’s hard considering diet culture is, as my therapist says, “the water we swim in.”
Even though I’m no longer weighing myself, I still have friends who tell me about their COVID weight gain or exercise-based weight-loss goals. Even though I’m not dieting, I catch myself doing what I did that night, putting off my body’s needs for emotional reasons.
Emotional eating is tricky. We eat because we’re hungry, but we also eat because food is pleasurable. Embracing the pleasure of eating without judgment is something I’ve been actively mindful about. Thinking “devil’s food cake is sinfully delicious” means that I’m bad, my choice is bad, and eating cake is supposed to make you feel guilty, not happy. That negative thinking is easy enough to reject, but the other end is harder for me. I make choices when I’m tired, sad, angry, or frustrated that leave my body feeling the opposite of nourished. I’m not my best self when I ignore my nutritional needs.
So, how do we survive this holiday season of eating without feeling guilty or “bad”? Instead of telling myself that I’ll put it off until tomorrow, until after Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Year’s, I need to make a conscious effort to listen to my heart and my gut and find ways to eat in a way that makes me feel “good” without judgment now. I need to meal-plan things I’m excited to cook and eat, and I need to set myself up for success for moments I can’t cook or plan.
More importantly, though, I need to give myself grace this holiday season. I’m not an expert and I’m still new to intuitive eating. There are days I’m going to mess up. Giving myself a hard time about not eating intuitively is just another way diet culture has pervaded all our lives. I’m going to continue talking to my therapist about it and reading and learning more about how to be free of diet culture.
Holidays can be hard for people with disordered behavior around food and bodies, so I’m going to be firm but kind to people who talk to me about their diet and body image. I’m going to be firm and kind to myself as well.