Happy December, friends! This month is full of all kinds of exciting things! In addition to Christmas, it’s also my 25th birthday this month. I shamelessly love birthdays, so it’s safe to say that I’m excited. I’m also a sucker for all the fun sentimental pieces of the holidays like decorating, lights, parties, and egg nog in my morning coffee. It’s a good month in the world of Kirstie.
The beginning of December ALSO means that there’s about to be an influx of diet-focused messaging intended to keep people “on track.” Unfortunately, while trying to help people “eat guilt-free” this holiday, many of these messages actually promote feelings of guilt. This may not surprising because guilt and shame are commonly used as motivators for change. I’m sure everyone reading this has seen “before and after” pictures for a weight-loss program. In fact, I’m sure you’ve seen more than you can count. Messaging like this “works” by causing viewers to feel unsatisfactory with their bodies. It works by telling people that they’ll be happier and healthier in a smaller body. It works by sending messages that people with smaller bodies are more successful because they try harder. This is called weight stigma. It’s also called fat-shaming.
Unfortunately, shame as a motivator for ANY kind of change is actually not very effective. I’m sure you can imagine, but most of us enjoy hearing “You’re doing great!” more than “You’re not working hard enough.” In psychology, encouragement is also known as positive reinforcement, and insults (even to yourself) are known as positive punishment. (To be clear, the “positive” part means that it is present not necessarily that it is encouraging. More on that here.) Resoundingly, we respond better to positive reinforcement than positive punishment. In the world of eating disorders, this form of therapy is known as compassion-focused therapy (CFT). It helps clients reframe self-talk from destructive to compassionate. (As an aside: I had the privilege of learning a lot about CFT at the BC Eating Disorders Community of Practice days in Vancouver this weekend. So good!)
It’s worth re-affirming that these health writers are not likely not actively intending to shame you. I’m certain they are trying their best to help. However, if you finish a “eat guilt free this holiday” article actually feeling guilty, I recommend seeking an alternate source of advice.
As a dietitian, I am perhaps unnaturally excited about food, but I always stress to my clients that nutrition is not helpful if it comes at the expense of other areas of our health such as interpersonal relationships and mental health. Nutrition will be most helpful for us if it is founded in self-compassion and a healthy relationship with our food.
On that note, to help you truly eat guilt free this holiday season, I’d like to share…
The Ultimate Guide to Guilt-Free Holiday Eating!
A lovely dietitian colleague named Christin Morgan gathered tips from over 30 non-diet dietitians and therapists to share with YOU! Here’s a sneak peek:
Here’s my contribution:
Embrace the fact that food has many roles for our bodies! In addition to providing us with nutrients, food also offers us opportunities to get together, nurture our relationships, and satisfy our taste buds. In terms of our overall health, the emotional stress of applying food rules can definitely outweigh nutritional benefit. While there are many ways to “eat smart” over the holidays, it’s important to allow yourself grace to enjoy the rest of the season too.