Can you believe that it’s already more than halfway through November? It feels like this year is flying by and there hasn’t been much room to slow and down and breath. Thanksgiving is in less than a week (what?!) and while I am excited to go home and spend time with my family, I am also acutely aware that this can be a really challenging time if you’re struggling in your relationship with food. I’ve been talking with a lot of my clients recently about the upcoming holiday and wanted to share some of my thoughts about navigating food on the holidays.
One of the biggest thing diet culture takes away from us is our ability to “go with the flow” around food. Anyone who has ever been on a diet or restricted food in any way knows that it comes with a lot of rules. Eating is typically done by a schedule- breakfast at this time, snack exactly X hours later, no eating after one particular time. The meals and snacks themselves are meticulously planned, leaving you measuring out tablespoons of nut butter and counting out crackers at your kitchen counter while you long for the days when you could just reach in the box and grab as many as you wanted. There’s a meal plan and rarely deviation (or least rarely deviation without guilt). There’s structure and rigidity.
For some people, structure and rigidity are what they crave. I get it. I love structure- I like schedules and lists and rules to be followed. Historically, I have never been one to toss aside the directions- I like to make sure I’m following the rules step-by-step. And dieting/restricting gave me so much of that structure that I craved. There were things to count, things to schedule in, workouts to plan. There were calorie counters and mile trackers and meal plans to create. And for awhile, that was very comforting. Until it wasn’t.
There’s only so long you can meticulously plan every detail of your life before it starts to get a little….stale. Only so long you can spend your days neck deep in calorie counts and workouts before you start to get oh I don’t know….cranky, tired and miserable. There’s only so long that you can eat grilled chicken and steamed broccoli before you start to realize that you actually want a bowl of pasta.
This was my own experience- but I also see it reflected in my client’s lives all the time. The rules of dieting can be comforting- and moving to intuitive eating, where there are no boxes to be checked can be really difficult. Sometimes it can feel like being lost without a map. You just have to take it turn by turn and hope that you end up where you’re supposed to be. And while that can certainly be unnerving for awhile, eventually you realize it’s kind of…fun. You discover new things along the way. You realize that there’s more than one way. You might make a friend. You might get lost in your thoughts and have an epiphany or two. You learn and notice all sorts of things that you wouldn’t have had you been glued to the turn-by-turn directions of your map.
Last night, I had a full homemade dinner planned. It was something I liked and something I had all the ingredients for. But when it came time for dinner, all I wanted was boxed mac n’ cheese. So I made that instead. There was nothing stressful about that decision. I didn’t worry about it. I asked my partner if it was okay if I mixed up the plans and then I made it. Eating is more fun when there’s room for flexibility (and in case you haven't heard, eating should be fun). When you don’t have to force yourself to eat things that don’t really sound good for the sake of rules or organization or “health” (frankly, I think it’s a lot healthier to eat what sounds good but that’s a conversation for another day).
Ditching the rigidity and structure of dieting can send us into a spiral. But if we open ourselves up to the possibility of fun and flexibility, we can shift our perspective and move toward a healthier relationship with food.
P.S. If you haven’t heard already, I created a new program called Finding Freedom. It’s a 30-day challenge with daily prompts to shift your mindset around food and body. Plus, it’s entirely self-paced so you can do it at your own speed. Learn more and sign up here.
Tomorrow I'm leaving for my first real vacation in so many years, I can't even count. I'm heading to Las Vegas with my sister and our partners and I'm so excited for good company and good food. Besides the odd weekend away here or there (mostly for weddings and/or family events), I haven't been anywhere just for pure fun in so long. And it's a very weird feeling, mostly because I am always always doing something. Even on my days off, I'm cleaning or writing or working on my business or learning or doing something to stay busy. The last time I laid in bed all day and relaxed was when I was sick (which wasn't that relaxing at all). My partner is always poking fun at my inability to sit still. So going on a trip that likely won't involve any work at all (probably, maybe) is an odd (but good) feeling. There's also something different about this trip...
Historically, I haven't been very good at vacations. When I was younger, my travel anxiety was so severe that I couldn't really go anyway without throwing up (I was a lot of fun!!!) And then when I got older, I was so entrenched in diet culture that I couldn't enjoy the food I was eating or the sights I was seeing because I was so stressed out about calories and when I was going to make it to the gym. The last time I went away for an extended period of time, I was still pretty caught up in diet culture and as anyway who has been in the depths of dieting or disordered eating while traveling knows, it's not particularly fun. Honestly, is there anything more depressing than looking out the window at a beautiful place from a hotel gym? Is there anything worse than looking at all the delicious food options but instead, opting for something "lighter" or "cleaner" or whatever bullshit term you want to use to describe less-delicious food (not to say that all stereotypically "healthy" meals are not delicious- just that when you only allow yourself a very limited range of foods when you're surrounded by so many enticing options, it gets pretty sad). I thought that I was "in control" but in reality, I was being totally and entirely controlled by my disordered relationship to food. I thought that I was keeping myself in "check" but truthfully, I was just ignoring my body's inner wisdom and intuition.
My vacations (and life in general) were pretty rooted in deprivation. Rather than enjoying all the delicious and appreciating where I was, I was thinking about all the things I couldn't have or couldn't do because I was too worried about eating "too much" or not being able to go for a run. It makes me sad to think about it now but like so many other things about recovery, that sadness is tinged in gratitude. Gratitude that I can now order whatever I want guilt-free. Gratitude that I can pack a lighter suitcase because there's no need for workout clothes or sneakers. Gratitude in knowing that I can nourish my body and my soul, whatever that means for me in the moment.
Unlike every other vacation I've been on since I was about 15 years old, my prep for this vacation hasn't involve altering my food or movement at all. There's been (and will be) no restricting to compensate for all the tasty food I'm going to eat in the next week. There's been no extra workouts. There's been no trying to force my body into a size that it doesn't naturally want to be at just so I can look "better" in that dress. I'm not worrying about any weight I may or may not gain. I trust my body to take care of me. I trust that my body will know what to do if I eat more than normal. And that's the big difference between this and every other vacation: I trust my body to take care of me. I don't have to worry about what's going to "happen" to it because I know my body has my back (no pun intended?). So here's to a week of body trust, intuition and fun. What a radical concept!
Talk to you when I get back,
Cover photo by louis amal
I used to believe that I would never be able to have a guilt-free, stress-free holiday. I just didn’t think it was in the cards for me. I always thought that I would be forcing in an early-morning run before depriving myself of food all morning until the holiday dinner. Fortunately, the past few years I’ve discovered another way to do the holidays that make it much more enjoyable and allow me to focus on the things that really matter. Because I never even knew what such a thing would look like, I’ve decided to recap my Thanksgiving Day here. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday- my favorite foods, a focus on gratitude and seeing all parts of my family (mostly). Here’s what my day looked like:
Took the opportunity to sleep in after working the previous few weeks and goodness gracious, did that feel good. My body definitely needed the sleep and I was happy to be able to give it what it needed.
After savoring the deliciousness of the clean sheets and comfy blankets on the bed at my parent’s house, I finally got up and moving. I started my day with a coffee, strawberries (which were surprisingly good for out of season) and a toasted English muffin with peanut butter. I did my morning routine of breakfast, shower and getting ready except that while I’m at my mom’s house, it tends to take 12 times longer since we take a lot of breaks to talk.
I got to my dad’s house where I was having Thanksgiving dinner and helped him prepare (which mostly means I sat at the kitchen counter and talked to him- moral support). The only part I had to prepare was the salad (which is really the least important part on Thanksgiving)- spinach, feta cheese, toasted pecans and pears. I snacked on some veggies and cheese & crackers since by this point, I was getting pretty hungry.
Dinner time (even if it’s only 2pm, I always refer to the meal on Thanksgiving as dinner). Thanksgiving foods are my favorite so I got a little bit of everything- turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, a roll with butter, corn and salad. Even though the salad was delicious, I wasn’t really in the mood for it so it was the only thing left on my plate. What can I say? I am all about that stuffing.
My grandmother traditionally brings a banana cream pie to whatever holiday we have but this year, my stepmom ended up making it so I had a piece of that before heading over to my partner’s house to have dessert with his family. Not the most Thanksgiving-y food but it is one of my favorite things!
By the time I got to my partner’s house, I was ready for dessert round two. I had a slice of pumpkin pie and a sweet potato pie bar (I don’t know exactly what it was but it was good). And because they still had some veggies and chips out, I snacked on those while I played games with his family.
I didn’t end up leaving my partner’s until pretty late and I was tired- but still a little bit hungry by the time I got back to my parent’s. I grabbed two chocolate chip cookies his grandmother made (I’m fortunate that they sent me home with a plate of dessert) and headed up to bed.
And that was my day! There were no workouts, no food stress and lots of dessert. It took me a long time but I'm so grateful that I can enjoy the holidays now without food shame or obsessing over calories. Especially since this means I could have a pizza night with my friends the next night and then another full Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. Food isn't the main event during the holidays but it is easier to enjoy this time of year when you're at peace with food and your body. Wondering how to get there? Check out my holiday group coaching and sign up now! It starts next week and if you struggle with food this time of year, you definitely don't want to miss it.
For all my American readers, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and for all my non-American readers, I hope you had a great weekend!