5 tips for navigating the Yuletide season

NEW YORK • The holiday season is typically an indulgent time, especially when it comes to food and drink consumption.

But for people who struggle with food and weight-related health problems, this time of the year can be stressful.

Here are tips from experts to help you navigate the season.

1 BE HONEST ABOUT WHO IS SAFE FOR YOU AND WHO IS NOT

The holiday season is one in which people find themselves reconnecting with family and old friends they do not often see.

Gravitate towards those who are grateful and happy to see you and away from the people who are apt to make cutting comments.

“In general, we know who’s going to be emotionally more safe for us,” said psychologist Leslie Connor from Wilmington, Delaware.

She recommends keeping interactions with “toxic” people as brief as possible.

How can you identify toxic people? Pay attention to how conversations make you feel.

Do you feel drained or do you feel energised?

Do you feel bad about yourself – or empowered?

2 HELP OTHERS BY CREATING A WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT

“I encourage people to be supportive and not ask probing questions or give unnecessary advice,” said Professor Emeritus Ed Abramson at California State University.

Comments about weight will serve only to make someone with an eating disorder or issue more defensive and create barriers to communication.

Prof Abramson said: “If you do want to say something, basically, what you want to communicate is, ‘How can I help you?'”

If you do have a gaffe and comment on someone’s weight, “you can always apologise”, he added. “But if that’s not appropriate or it doesn’t seem to work well, gracefully focus on something else.”

3 SET BOUNDARIES AHEAD OF TIME

Ms Whitney Catalano, a registered dietitian who works with clients to improve their relationships with food and their bodies, recommends telling the people you trust about your recovery before holiday gatherings, so you can set expectations and conditions for socialising.

She suggests saying something like: “Just so you know, I don’t want to get into it more than this, but I’ve been healing my relationship with food and I’m particularly sensitive to diet talk or body talk right now.”

Ask them to refrain from conversations about dieting or body image. You may have to wait to have this conversation in person, but try to do it right off the bat so you do not have to think about it.

Friends could be more amenable to your requests than family members, who may feel entitled to comment on your body and weight.

Ms Catalano said it is important to be direct and honest with your relatives, even if they are the ones who taught you to hate your body or fear food in the first place.

4 NO FOOD IS ‘BAD’ FOOD

Certain foods get demonised, such as starch, gluten and fat, Prof Abramson said, “and that gets exacerbated when someone has an eating disorder”.

“But a balanced diet can include occasional foods that are problematic.”

If you are struggling with allowing yourself to enjoy “bad” foods during the holidays, try to redirect your thoughts to the benefits of the meal.

“Food is not just fuel. It’s also cultural, celebratory and delicious. You are allowed to eat foods just because they are delicious or emotionally nourishing,” Ms Catalano said.

5 GO AHEAD AND BE THE JUDGE

Ms Catalano warns against setting strict limits on food consumption during the holidays.

“The best thing you can do to prepare for holiday dinners is to eat full meals leading up to the meal and centre yourself right before eating so you don’t go into it anxious.

“It’s normal in diet culture to restrict or starve as a way of ‘earning’ the big holiday meal, but this will only cause you to overeat and feel way worse,” she said.

NYTIMES

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