Advent season is my favorite. Every year I cajole my husband into getting a Christmas tree as early as possible. Preferably before Thanksgiving. There’s nothing more magical than waking up to a quiet house, a rich cup of coffee, and a glowing tree. Each December I know these mornings are numbered and I do my best to cherish each one.
Some days I only have a few minutes of uninterrupted time before my daughter wakes up. Other days I have a full hour to rest and absorb the awe of advent.
If you are like me, settling into rhythms of self-care during the holidays is a challenge. The moments I have before the Christmas tree each morning might be the only intentioned time for myself all day.
Whether it’s purchasing gifts, holiday parties, studying for finals, or helping our kids study for finals, this month typically fills our calendars with a lot of “extras” we do not often give ourselves to.
For those who are currently in the throes of disordered eating or are seeking recovery from eating disorders, this season poses an additional layer of anxiety. Wonderfully decadent food is everywhere. Our friends and neighbors participate in diet talk—hoping for new bodies and new meal plans come January. It can be an excruciating and long month.
For years, I dreaded the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas because food was unavoidable. Social interactions revolving around food were unavoidable, too. Holiday prep started early for me: I’d work out longer and restrict as much as I physically could for weeks leading up to Thanksgiving or Christmas.
In the anorexic phase of my eating disorder these compensatory activities comforted me minimally. The stress of eating big meals overwhelmed me and flooded my brain.
In the binge-eating phase of my eating disorder, I was equally stressed. My efforts to restrict always backfired and I inevitably found myself at the dessert table sneaking far more pie than my body could handle.
If eating, negative thoughts about your body, and being around food are generally pretty hard for you, I would encourage you to seek the help you need in order to heal. Counseling, meeting with a non-diet dietician, and reading through books such as Intuitive Eating can help. If you are struggling in these areas, my hope for you is threefold: 1) that you would be able to dig deep into understanding your relationship with food, and 2) that kindness and compassion for yourself will grow, and 3) that you will experience real flourishing as you develop trust with your body.
I’ve been there know how painful the holiday season can be in particular.
I am far from perfect. My journey with Intuitive Eating and my relationship to my body is not perfect either. However, as I write this blog and remember what past holidays felt like, I’m realizing that something wild and miraculous has happened over the past several years. I’m not afraid of food at Christmas anymore but instead see each eating experience as an opportunity for self-care. I don’t have the luxury in my schedule to get massages or spend hours at coffee shops. But I can choose to eat each meal in a way that nourishes my mind, body, and soul.
Now, when I say eating for nourishment I don’t mean eating solely “healthy” foods and I don’t mean eating solely “comfort” foods either. When I am eating as a form of self-care, I pay attention to what would feel good in my body as well as satisfy my taste buds. I attune to my hunger and fullness cues. I linger with my meal as a way to enjoy it.
Eating as self-care may not come naturally to you if you aren’t in the rhythm of practicing it. That is absolutely ok. It might take time to learn what your body needs and trust its instincts. That’s ok too.
As you move into the next few days and the holiday season comes to a close, I’ll leave you with a few final thoughts that continue to help me in my own journey with food and body:
1. You don’t need to pay for what you ate at any holiday party.
2. You don’t need to restrict or participate in compensatory behaviors both before or after an eating experience.
3. Holidays, the days leading up to holidays, and days following a holiday can all be normal days of eating regular meals.
4. You are the expert of your body. You know what makes it feel good and alive and thriving.
5. Your body is on your team. It doesn’t have be a certain size or perform a certain way in order to be acceptable. It’s actually perfectly acceptable as it is RIGHT NOW.
6. You don’t need to start a diet in January.
7. Your body needs you to offer it care. Explore what that might mean for yourself.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year