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.
Recently, I was talking to one of my clients about the need to "deserve" food. This is a narrative I hear from a lot of people (and one that's reinforced by the culture at large). Truly, how many times have you heard someone tell you they deserve to have dessert because they did XYZ activity today. I can hardly go out to eat without overhearing someone say "oh come on, you deserve it!" whether it's to dessert, a second drink, a meal that they would consider "bad". I should make it clear that I fully support their decision to order any of these things if they want it but it has nothing to do with whether they deserve it (they do).
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.