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Staying Body Positive Through the Holidays

Staying Body Positive Through the Holidays

The holidays are a fun, festive time of joyous celebration, but they can also be difficult for a lot of reasons. Whether you’re facing this season without a loved one, dealing with difficult relatives, or dreading the busywork that comes with prepping a Christmas dinner, the holiday season can make many people anxious.

If you exist in a larger body, much of that anxiety can stem from comments you know will come up during family get-togethers. “Are you sure you want to eat that?” “Cousin Susan has gained so much weight this year!” “Do you really need a second slice of pie?”

Those comments are hurtful, and hard to avoid. So, what can you do to make your holiday gatherings more cheer and less jeer?

I had the lovely opportunity to attend a body-positive workshop last week led by body image coach Jamie Earnhardt. Jamie offers body positive classes and coaching sessions in Asheville, North Carolina, and helps women ditch their food fears and body shame, focusing instead on self-love and acceptance.

Jamie spoke at length about intuitive eating and how our bodies send us signals, but those signals are just information. The information is neither good nor bad; it simply makes us aware of how our bodies react to what we ate. Indulging in sugary treats isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but if your tummy protests or you get blurry vision from the blood sugar spike, your body is giving you a clear indication that maybe the choice you made wasn’t such a great one. You can then use that information the next time the food presents itself, which is a good way to get off the emotional-eating roller coaster. 

This time of year, however, it’s important to remember that everyone emotionally eats. We’re all indulging in nostalgic desserts from our childhoods or wowing the family with our rich recipes. Whether we’re sampling our co-workers’ creations at the office Christmas party or frying everything we can think of in oil for Hanukkah, we’re all emotionally eating, and that's okay. There’s no reason to feel guilty about enjoying the season. It’s a magical, nostalgic time, and that’s why we love it so much.

When you give yourself permission to enjoy food, you end the cycle of Eat = Guilt = Stop = Deprived = Last Supper Mode (aka Eat All the Things!) = Guilt = Eat.

Whether you’re just beginning your intuitive eating path or you’ve been practicing intuitive eating for years, dealing with unwanted comments at social gatherings is something that happens to almost all of us, regardless of size, so you’re certainly not alone this holiday season.

Jamie’s first tip on dealing with these situations is to address the comment. When your outspoken uncle points to cousin Susan and declares, “she’s gained weight this year,” try asking “what do you mean?” Redirecting the comment back at the speaker can help set boundaries and show that you’re not interested in indulging in such talk. It also puts the responsibility to reply on them instead of you.

You can also redirect comments by changing the subject. Simply avoid the comment and instead compliment the food, the décor, anything to get the conversation moving onto another subject. Saying something like, “Isn’t it great that Susan got that promotion this year?” turns the negative comment into an opportunity to compliment her instead.

Complimenting your friends and family more is a great thing to do this holiday season, but be sure to point out nonphysical attributes, at least in regards to weight or body type. When people feel empowered, they’re less likely to talk bad about themselves or others.

At the end of the day, self-preservation is essential for staying body positive throughout the holidays. Put your needs first and let go of the guilt, the deprivation, the binging, the need to jump on the scale every morning, comparing yourself to others, and the negative thoughts. Rally your chosen family – those friends and loved ones who support you and make you feel good – and allow them to be there for you when you need them.

Wear something you feel beautiful, confident, and comfortable in. This could mean going to the party with your makeup full glam, with no makeup at all, in that favorite dress you rarely find a reason to wear, or in those cozy leggings. When you feel confident and comfortable in your own skin, you’re more positive, which can help you set the mood for the event instead of that judgmental relative.

At the end of the body-positive workshop, Jamie had us each take an index card and write “I am allowed…” at the top. We then had to list things that we were allowing ourselves to do over the holidays. I wrote that I am allowed to enjoy myself, to feel safe and comfortable, to feel beautiful, and to offer my body what she needs. Another participant shared what she wrote, which was to take up space. I liked that one so much I wrote it down on my own list.

We’re all allowed to take up space, to exist. Whatever size, shape, or weight our body is, we are allowed to take up space. Whenever you’re in a situation that makes you uncomfortable or self-conscious, take comfort in that fact. We’re all perfectly imperfect and beautiful in unique ways, and why would we want it any other way?

If you’re in the Asheville area and are interested in Jamie Earnhardt’s body-positive services, consider enrolling in her Food and Body Rebels small group. The upcoming eight-week programs are scheduled to start January 11th and March 15th. For those not in Asheville, Jamie offers one-on-one coaching via Skype.

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Interview with Kathryn O'Halloran