The holidays can be a delicate and challenging time for many people, especially when it comes to body image. For those who feel this challenge, you may find yourself struggling with your body image more than usual during and after holiday gatherings. This can lead to heightened self-assessment and a surge of insecurities during and after holiday gatherings. The convergence of group gatherings with a spotlight on food is often postured as joy-filled family reunions (and hopefully they are for many!). However, this can create an environment where it is hard to escape unscathed by diet culture or an eating disorder voice in your head. These may tell you that – as a result of how or what you ate and comments exchanged between family or friends – you need to closely evaluate and scrutinize your body post-gathering.
Triggers for Holiday Body Image Struggles
If you find yourself feeling at odds with your body today or in the days and weeks to come, first be assured that you’re not alone in this experience. Many of us can resonate with this struggle around the holidays. The holiday season and its gatherings can introduce a myriad of triggers, stirring a whirlwind of emotions that impact our self-perception: a family member’s comment about “needing to be rolled out of Thanksgiving dinner because they ate so much,” another dinner attendee’s commitment to skip dessert as part of a determined effort to “stay on track,” a comment or question in your direction about your body, eating habits, or workout regimen, or maybe the fact that you’re recovering from an eating disorder or historically struggle with your body image in general, so merely being in the presence of a group of people on a food-focused holiday is overwhelming.
Whatever the case, when you find yourself struggling with the way your body looks, feels, or both after a gathering, how do you deal? Explore the tips below for some strategies for dealing with post-holiday body image struggles.
8 Tips for Dealing With Post-Holiday Body Image Struggles
1. Dress Comfortably
If you are feeling physically uncomfortable after a gathering, put on something that makes you feel good or neutral about your body. I like to put on sweats or leggings and an oversized sweatshirt when I am struggling with my body image after a holiday gathering. I find that doing so helps me focus less on my body overall because nothing feels tight, revealing, or in need of adjustment.
2. Follow up the gathering with an activity you enjoy
Planning to engage in something you enjoy that either uses your body in a way that you are grateful for or doesn’t focus much on your body at all can be a great way to break out of negative thoughts about your body. Following a gathering, engage in activities that either make you appreciate your body’s capabilities or divert your attention away from it entirely. This could involve attending local events like holiday markets or light displays, watching a game or movie, participating in activities with your children, tackling a puzzle, going for a leisurely walk, or engaging in reflective journaling. By investing time in activities you genuinely enjoy, you create a positive outlet that could help dispel some negative thoughts about your body.
3. Remember that all foods are morally neutral
The food you ate at yesterday or last week’s gathering is not “bad.” You are not “bad” for eating two plates of mashed potatoes and three servings of mac ‘n cheese. You may catch yourself starting to ruminate on the “extra” food you ate or the desserts you had that fall outside of your norm; it’s important for you to recognize that these thoughts are not indicative of any moral wrongdoing. If shame starts to creep in, remind yourself that all foods are morally neutral, allowing you to see and experience food you enjoy without assessment and guilt.
4. Remember that you do not have to burn or earn the food you eat
If you ate more than you typically do and you’re struggling with the urge to do some extra movement or restriction the next day, try to remember that while your eating disorder voice or diet culture may sneak in to try to (re)convince you that your food intake and output is purely transactional, this is a lie.
5. Reflect on what and how you are feeling
What is it that you are feeling, specifically? You may be feeling guilty, self-conscious, uncomfortable, anxious, fearful, sad. Try to put specific words or phrases to what you are feeling about or towards your body post-holiday gathering.
6. Reflect on what triggered how you are feeling
Think about your most recent gathering and consider what felt most triggering to your body image. Are you feeling guilt or shame in response to a specific food you ate? The quantity of food you ate? Are you feeling self-conscious as a result of comments from others or conversations you were directly or indirectly part of? Do your best to connect the feeling to a trigger, and make note of these things so that you are aware of where these feelings originated, which will help you better prepare to process and make a plan.
7. Make a plan
When you have a list of what occurred at your last gathering that contributed to a struggle with your body image, list out upcoming gatherings that you plan to attend. Use your most recent gathering experience to determine what may trigger body image insecurity. Working through this list and coming up with a plan with your therapist or dietician can be helpful, too!
8.Reframe the Gathering Experience
When you are feeling upset, stressed or otherwise unsettled about the way your body feels or looks, consider and use the above tips and then take time to reflect on any positive aspects of the gathering that come to mind. Consider the connections you made with family and friends, the conversations you did enjoy, any activities you did that were relaxing or enjoyable, and the overall experience. Taking a few minutes to reflect on any part of the gathering that did feel positive can be one way to help you approach future gatherings with less anxiety and remember some of the positive aspects of a gathering where you experienced some triggers.
Making the Most of Your Holiday Season
Navigating the complexities of body image during the holiday season requires both self-awareness, compassion, and strategic coping mechanisms. The potential triggers presented at and by holiday gatherings can evoke heightened self-reflection and body image insecurities, often fueled by societal expectations and the internalized voices of diet culture. Recognizing these struggles and determining the strategies that will help you deal with them can help you get off of the body image rollercoaster and actually enjoy many parts of the holiday gatherings you have this season.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC
All images via Unsplash
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