You hear it all the time; “I am being good this year and not going to have xyz bad foods, so I don’t gain any weight.” This is the time of year when people join Weight Watchers and go on diets, so they can stay in control during the holidays. For some it works, and that holds out hope for everyone else. For the majority it not only does not keep them in control; the guilt, deprivation and old familiar patterns lead to giving up on the idea and then really over indulging since they blew it anyway. By the time New Year’s rolls around, they have put on nearly 10 pounds – twice the average holiday weight gain. Have you ever done this or know people who have? What happens in January when the holidays are over? Does this process get repeated?
For Julianne (not her real name), this is just what happens every year. She promises herself she will be good at Halloween, but isn’t. Then she becomes determined to do better at Thanksgiving and doesn’t. This leads her to take more drastic measures and go on a more rigid diet before Christmas, restricting herself as severely as she can so she won’t gain more weight. Yet for reasons she can’t explain, she still blows her diet and can’t seem to stick with it as she should, and by Christmas Eve she is gorging herself on candy canes and anything sweet she can get her hands on. For the next seven days, she is in full binge mode, knowing that she starts her diet again on January 1st. And then her annual cycles of dieting and bingeing begin again. She is in her late 50s and ashamed that at her age she is still doing this. She wonders why she never learns and can’t get herself to do as she should. She wonders what is wrong with her.
Nothing is wrong with her. She was never taught how to eat normally or how to recognize what really drives her to make the choices she does. She just assumes she is bad, and the harder she tries to be good the more often she feels like she fails. Sound familiar?
So here are the 3 things she has learned in our sessions so far this year as she successfully navigates the holidays and all the food she loves to eat. She let me share this with you if I didn’t use her name, which I fully understand. Her lessons are a bit painful to face, yet they are fairly common.
1. She does not like candy canes. She was so obsessed with eating what she couldn’t have before her next diet began, that she ate food she didn’t even like. She realized she didn’t even taste her food or know what she really enjoyed, because she was driven by a greater need to get what she could while she could. Now she focuses on what really gives her pleasure and satisfaction, and she finds she doesn’t want all that sugar or to overeat. This has been amazing to her.
2. She has been dieting and bingeing every holiday since she can remember, and her mother did the same thing. Her mom still struggles with food and her weight. Dieting doesn’t work. She just believed it did and was the thing to do because her mother did it. She can choose her own beliefs now, and she is learning first hand that eating with consciousness of what feels good to her body is a better way to go through the holidays.
3. She was very hard on herself and that judgment caused her to overeat and choose foods she knew were bad for her, reinforcing how bad she was. It was a vicious cycle of self-hatred, self-restriction, rebellion and guilt that spiraled into food binges she couldn’t stop. She is learning to see herself with compassion, non-judgment and greater understanding. The more she does this, the less often she finds herself drawn into the cycle or wanting to eat food she doesn’t need.
You may see yourself in Julianne’s lessons or you may be getting other insights. No two people have the same internal beliefs, emotional reactions, subconscious drivers or backgrounds. Yet what most of my clients share is a belief in dieting to lose weight and that when you eat foods you shouldn’t have on a diet you are being bad. Yet they can never be good enough to reach or sustain their goal, so they give up and dig in. This holiday, consider doing what feels good to your body and your head, rather than striving to be good. You may just enjoy the food more and end up weighing less.