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  • Emily Van Eck

Holiday Stress, Boundaries, And All The Pie

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

I hope you're all being safe and cautious in the next month and avoiding large gatherings with family as much as possible. And when you are gathering, I hope you're being cautious, getting testing, isolating yourself before you visit, and of course wearing masks when you're together and/or gathering outdoors. There is my disclaimer.

The holidays and the stress that goes along with this extremely long season can be triggering. Family expectations around how we are to act, talk, spend our time, and eat is annoying and often makes the opportunity to reconnect fraught. If you are anticipating having to navigate the food and body-talk environment over the holidays, I'm so sorry. It is difficult, but it can be easier. Here's what I wish for you - I want you to enjoy the foods you love this time of year without fear or anxiety, without restriction, without guilt, and definitely without having to hear anyone's opinion about your weight.

Imagine a room full of people talking about how rich the food is, and how they're gonna have to do a cleanse for the next two weeks to make up for it - sound familiar? Moralizing food around the holidays (i.e. "I'm gonna be bad and eat this cheese dip"; "ooh my favorite guilty pleasure") is commonplace. Family members seem to think it is their responsibility to comment on our weight and monitor what we're eating. If you're trying to break free of the dieting cycle and become more in tune with your body, you'll need some boundaries to protect yourself from all this nonsense.

Here are my tips for creating a peaceful and joyful eating environment for yourself this holiday season.

1. Do not skip meals. You do not need to earn your food or punish yourself because you had a big meal last night. At the same time, it is okay to practice self-care. So, if you are going to a dinner party at 6pm where you know there will be lots of amazing food as soon as you get there, it might make sense to eat lunch around 1 or 2 so will be ready to eat (but not too hungry!) when you arrive. If you get hungry again before the party, have a snack. It's ok. Arriving overly hungry can cause you to eat quickly without savoring the tasty treats, or eat more than you wanted.

2. Browse the selections of food before making your plate. Then choose the foods that look best to you and that you know you'll enjoy. You can use gentle nutrition as a guide here, but mostly just for creating a balanced meal, not for depriving yourself of anything because it's too "fattening" or "has too many calories" or "is too processed". That said, you do not have to have a balanced meal if you don't feel like it! You can eat all mac 'n' cheese if you want. Choose foods based on how your body feels in that moment. If you are overly hungry (skipped breakfast and lunch) you are likely to be too hungry and make rushed choices. Tune into your body.

Another awesome tip for those of you who struggle with "overeating" at holiday gatherings - if you can also pack up a to-go container at the same time, do it. You are less likely to overeat if you know you have some goodies for later on if you want them.

3. Wear comfortable clothing. Most people get a little stuffed at these holiday parties. It is totally normal, and totally okay! So this year, consider expecting it and preparing for it rather than squeezing yourself into something that is going to be uncomfortable. This will make your evening better overall and will make you more likely to enjoy the covid-safe dance party later (this is from lots of personal experience).

4. Stay Present. Even though food is a major part of holidays, it is not the only part. And another reason why talking about how guilty you feel when eating this food is majorly lame. Engage with the people that are with you. Reconnect with old friends and loved ones. Talk to people who's lives you find inspiring.

Another idea to help you stay present is to practice gratitude when eating and tune in with how your body is feeling. Notice the smells, flavors, textures, and satisfaction you get from the foods you've chosen. Take your time - savor it.

5. Do not - I repeat - DO NOT - tell yourself you are going on a diet in January. This will not help one bit, but will completely impede your ability to make progress becoming peaceful eater. And likely cause you to eat even more during the holidays than you would otherwise. Plus, loving your here and now body is a way better goal than hating it.

6. Respect your boundaries. This one is particularly important around the holiday season because family is often a major trigger for dysfunctional food behavior. Moms and grandmothers are notorious for it, but dads, siblings, and the rest can also somehow feel entitled to comment on our eating choices and bodies. Practice what you will say to them to shut them down.

This also means that you do not have to finish your plate if you don't want to and can say "no thank you" to second servings. These decisions should be 100% up to you and how you are feeling in the moment. Your aunt can get over it.

When someone complains about the detox they'll have to go on next week, you can explain that your liver does an excellent job of detoxing for you. Or "Yes, the food is a little rich, but how often to we get to spend this time together? Maybe talking about how guilty we feel is a total waste of time? Did you steal that food? That's a reason to feel guilty." Practicing good boundaries about how others speak to you or around you is a strong step and a practice of self-care.

And as far as others commenting on your weight - just no. Comments about weight gain or loss are perpetuating diet culture, fat-phobia, and disordered eating, however well-intentioned. Walk away, ask them not to comment on your body, or when they tell you look great and ask you if you lost weight, you can say "nope, I just look great."

Take good care and have a wonderful holiday.

If this message resonates with you and you'd like help working on intuitive eating and your relationship to food, get in touch with me. I'd love to help.

Emily Van Eck Nutrition

Meet the author

Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN 

Here on the blog, I use the intuitive eating principles to dispel oppressive diet bs and make cooking easy and joyful. I want food to be pleasurable for you! 

As a registered dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor in Austin, Texas, I helps my clients find joy with food, peace with the kitchen, and feel comfortable in their bodies. 

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