Healthy Body Image During the Holidays
All the festivities, love, laughter, friends, family, and presents truly make the holidays the most wonderful time of the year. Lighting everything up as daylight gets shorter, bringing greenery into our homes when everything outside is gray and brown, and joining together in community when it seems there’s nothing to do when it’s so. damn. cold. It’s all incredible. It really is
This time of year is also full of amazing[ly unhealthy] food. Loads of it. And if you’re anything like me, this messes with your head. And how you feel about yourself. And how much you love (don’t love) your body. And do I deserve another cookie? Hell yes, I do. And then 5 minutes later you instantly regret it and your mind is a cacophony of critical thoughts that somehow end up with you questioning your career path.
Yeah. Holidays are hard if you struggle with body image.
I’ve battled with poor body image since I was about 5 or 6 years old. From 11-16, I struggled with bulimia. After that, it wasn’t until I was about 19 that I finally started to recognize how beautiful my body - all bodies - are. And even though I’m healthy and in love with my body now, the holidays still mess with my brain.
We hear friends and family talk poorly about their bodies as they eat a piece of pie. We hear, “Oh my gosh I look pregnant in this picture!” from at least one person after taking the family photo. We compliment someone for not eating Christmas cookies and showing self-control. We all obsess over our weight and our bodies this time of year, and these comments can really be a trigger into the mental trap of negative self-talk.
So, if you’re struggling with your body image this time of year, I first want to let you know - YOU ARE SO NOT ALONE. And yeah, you’re 100% allowed to struggle with this if you’re a man.
I’ve gathered some tools in my tool belt over the past few holiday seasons to help keep me mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy during all of the festivities, and I’ve also come up with a list of simple things we can all do so we don’t unknowingly trigger those who are struggling.
How to be helpful and aware:
Don’t pressure anyone into eating (or not eating) anything. We simply just don’t know the internal struggles people are going through with their relationship to food.
If someone has lost weight, don’t automatically assume it’s a good thing and congratulate them. This feedback can spiral someone if they’re making unhealthy decisions to lose weight (binging/purging, drug addictions, stress). Have a normal conversation with them, listen first, and if it sounds like they are happy and healthy, then congratulate them.
If you hear negative self-talk, “I look like a cow in this shirt,” instead of getting awkward and half-heartedly saying, “Ohhhhh yeah right, no you don’t!” give them a hug and remind them their beauty and worth are sooooooo beyond skin-deep.
Do your best to not give too much praise if someone is showing “self-control” and not diving into the desserts/second helpings, etc. This can further solidify that praise and worth come from being skinny.
Basically, enjoy yourself, spread loving kindness, AND be aware that our words, actions and reactions affect others, and we don’t know everyone’s pain.
Things that help if you’re struggling:
Remind yourself it’s okay to struggle with this. It’s not going to heal overnight, and that’s perfectly fine. Give yourself permission to not be a perfect human without pain and suffering. We’re all messed up. It’s okay.
If you feel comfortable, share your struggles with someone you trust. Chances are, they feel it to some degree, too. The simple act of sharing cuts the weight of the pain in half.
Make your own decisions about what you eat. Others will tell you their opinions about what you should eat, but do your best to stand your ground and make YOUR choice. You totally have the right to do that.
If a piece of cake, or a second plate is tormenting your thoughts and you are going crazy over whether you should allow yourself to eat it or not, write your thoughts down. Write it in the notes app of your phone, or even email/FB message/text it to me. Wait a few minutes and reread it. Giving it a few minutes helps the emotional brain settle down, leaving space for the logical brain to step in. Make your decision from there.
If you’re feeling over emotional about anything and you tend to overeat when you’re emotional, write your thoughts down. Holy shit, if people could only see the notes app on my phone. But, getting it out and holding just two minutes of space does wonders.
If you’re struggling with binging and purging, whenever you feel the need to binge or purge, write down what you’re feeling. Hold two minutes of space, reread, and make your decision from there.
Take deep breaths. All of the time. Because there will be some nutritionally unhealthy choices around the holidays. That’s the way it is. And guess what? It’s okay. Your worth is so incredibly beyond the perfect body or weight. Even though it really doesn’t feel like it at times, it is.
And lastly, listen to the mantras by the artist Beautiful Chorus. Find them on Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music… however you get your music. I’m personally obsessed with their album, Wheels of Light. Whenever the mind starts to get dark, play these mantras. Absolute healing.
Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing if we all lifted each other up in support, awareness, and love this holiday season? And every season? I think we can do it. It all starts with self-love, so show yourself tons. Thank you so much for reading; I hope you can take something away from this article!