Although the holidays provide us with an opportunity to connect with our loved ones, the season can be strife with stress and challenges – especially when our holiday gatherings tend to involve both people and food.
The holidays can be down right brutal if you’ve attempted to leave the world of diet culture behind or if you are living with or attempting to recover from an eating disorder. The combination of food and people at holiday gatherings is just a recipe for disaster and I’ve come to expect some form of diet culture to reveal itself at just these sort of events.
In my experience though, its helpful to plan ahead for these types of situations. If you find yourself fearful of what the holidays might bring, here are a few ways to plan ahead accordingly:
Treat holiday eating experiences like any other eating experience. Although culturally our holiday gatherings have been built up as food-focused events, it can be incredibly helpful to remember that both Thanksgiving and Christmas fall on regular days of the year. From a food-perspective, its helpful to keep in mind that your body still benefits from consistent and repetitive nourishment. Even if others around you modify their eating habits because of the festivities, it’s okay to treat Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas supper like any other meal.
Remember. A meal is a meal. The foods you have on these days are foods you can have on any other day, at any other meal. The meal itself is not special – the experience of bringing everyone together may be.
Establish some pre-gathering ground rules. Getting together with family can be stressful – especially if someone you care about focuses conversation on food or diet-related talk. It can seem intimidating to lay down some ground rules, but you have just as much right as anyone else attending the event to enjoy the experience as much as you can.
A friend of mine on Facebook recently shared the following image on Facebook – which I then reshared. It might be a helpful reference if you aren’t quite sure how to broach the topic with your friends or family.
Before the event takes place, consider suggesting a variety of topics to discuss that aren’t food-related. And if you need to, don’t be afraid to ask someone you trust to broach the topic on your behalf if a less direct approach won’t work for your crew. Its helpful to think about this in terms of both conversation starters and conversation changers. Your support person may be able to not only help start conversations off, but may be willing to change the conversation too if necessary.
Use the buddy system. That person you trust in dealing with conversation dilemmas might also be the person you identify as your go-to support person throughout the day. It should be someone who can help you make supportive decisions and can be tagged in as needed if situations arise that are just too difficult to tackle alone.
Create a list of non-food activities you can participate in throughout the day. Although food can often feel like it’s at the center of attention throughout the day, in reality, there are many other ways you and your loved ones can enjoy your time together without disrupting your commitment to regular meals and snacks. Our family loves to break out board games in between eating opportunities, but if not everyone is in the mood to play when you are, consider other activities that work for you. Puzzles, word searches and coloring books are all easy project that travel well from house to house.
Start a new tradition of your own. Gratitude is at the core of Thanksgiving – it’s truly meant to be a day where you reflect on all that you have to be grateful for. This holiday season, why not consider all the aspects of yourself you can be grateful for. Your inner-strength to make it through tough holidays. Your resolve to recover. Your ability to identify a friend and to ask for help when you need it. The possibilities are endless because everyone I’ve ever met along this food peace journey has so many amazing talents and skills actively present – sometimes we just have to change our perspective to see them.
Write down your gratitude in a journal or on scrap pieces of paper that you can collect and read again next year as part of this new tradition that is uniquely just for you.
The holidays can be tough, but by changing your focus and by choosing gratitude, play, and support, you can make the holidays uniquely yours. This year, you will survive the holidays and maybe – just maybe – even find a glimmer of hope throughout.