Holiday Diets - Don't Let Them Fool You

I came across a Facebook post (a breeding ground for bloggers) the other day that encouraged individuals over the month of December to weigh the same at the end of the month as they did at the beginning of the month. With this challenge in mind, the hope was to influence people's food/exercise patterns over the holidays. Naturally, this rubbed me the wrong way and my deep passion for Health at Every Size and the treatment of eating disorders flared up. Let me tell you why!

#1 Our Society Likes to Pretend Set Point Doesn't Exist. Set Point tells us that when we have a healthy relationship with both food and exercise, our weight will stay within a range (yes a range!) that is genetically predetermined. In some ways, our bodies act like thermostats. A house  gets too warm, the cool air kicks in. Too cold? Sit by a vent and wait for the hot air to turn on. When we overeat, our bodies kick in to help use up the extra fuel that it was given. Maybe we start to sweat or have lots of energy. When it's too cold, we shiver and heat moves away from our extremities to vital organs as a way of preserving fuel. Therefore, if we did overeat during the holidays (which is normal) and don't weight the same at the end of the month as we did at the beginning, our bodies with makes the necessary adjustments when we return to normalized eating and exercise. Trust it :)

#2 Why Are We Weighing Ourselves To Begin With... Period? I'm not a fan of the scale... for many reasons. It truly isn't that important to know what you weigh as it isn't a measure of health. Two people could be of the same height and age and could weigh completely different from the other... and both be healthy. Why? Because of set point! Our weight doesn't tell us our cholesterol levels, whether our kidneys are working or what's going on with our blood pressure. When we step on the scale, it can also make us vulnerable to distorted eating, never mind having an unhealthy relationship with one's body. If you don't like the number when you step on the scale, you may think you have to engage in distorted eating to make it lower. If you've been restricting (or other ED behaviours) and you like what shows up on the screen, you'll likely continue engaging in unhealthy behaviours even more. It's a lose lose situation. Hide it, smash it, get rid of it. Remove the temptation that often fuels anxiety and worry around weight. 

#3 Our Choices Will Then Be Determined By Weight, Not Health or Enjoyment. I remember sitting in a restaurant, flipping the menu back and forth numerous times, trying to figure out what I was going to allow myself to eat.  A way to redeem myself for not being 'in control' during Christmas. It wasn't much fun. I remember the anxiety of trying to figure out what was permissible to eat, versus what I really wanted to enjoy. What makes me even more mad, is that this particular restaurant isn't even open any more... making me unable to enjoy what I denied all those years ago (you'd be surprised as to how often this has happened to me!).  The holidays bring a variety of foods and traditions we often don't eat/do during the rest of the year. This contributes to the 'specialness' of these times. It's important to remember that it doesn't last forever, and it will return. You don't have to eat everything in sight because it's only available for a short amount of time, but you can allow yourself to enjoy what is around you in a healthy way, knowing it will return again next year. Have the cookie because it's yummy. If you don't want the Christmas pudding, fine. No problem! That is completely okay too! Just make sure it is because you really don't want it, or because you know it will make sick as you've already had a few, etc. Not because it will throw off the 'weigh-in' at the end of the month.

#4 It Runs the Risk of Promoting Compensatory Behaviours.  Another reason why these diets bother me is that it gets people to link food and exercise in an unhealthy way. There could be a tendency to feel bad/guilty/shameful/obligatory after indulging. Try exercising because you enjoy it, not because you have to step on a scale at the end of the month. Don't like the gym, no problem. Find an activity where you move (because that's what exercise is... movement) and have fun. Build it into your lifestyle all year round, rather than a form of 'punishment' because of something you ate. 

The holidays can be a high risk time for many who are in recovery (or not) from an eating disorder. Go into the next month with a plan. Talk to your dietician and therapist about how to manage family dinners, how to stick to your meal plan, practicing flexibility and so on. Each stage of recovery has it's own challenges. What may apply to one's person in recovery may not apply to another, and that is ok. Remember that diets, or 'food/weight' challenges, don't work. Trust your body and your recovery and use the supports around you!