Many people may suffer from anxiety around Christmas eating and worry about the impact that being less restrictive with their eating will have on their waistline. The truth is that Christmas should be a time where you can relax and enjoy celebrating with food and drink without guilt or anxiety about your weight or your diet.
Some of the foods we have at Christmas are foods that we only have at Christmas so feeling anxious about enjoying them is far less healthy for us overall than enjoying them and then rebalancing our diet.
Many people who I see in my clinic expend so much of their mental energy worrying about what they’re going to eat at times of celebration that they have little time for thinking about anything else. While this is totally understandable given the social pressures we have to be a particular size and shape, when we think about celebrations, we should be looking forward to joy and love and excitement, not dreading excess calories and weight gain.
Many people believe that their only options are complete over-indulgence and weight gain or absolute anxiety and control. This is, of course, not the case. While it is absolutely possible, given the lack of routine and indulgence around Christmas to gain a couple of pounds, it is absolutely impossible, to undo the benefits of a well-balanced diet and active life in a couple of weeks.
If there was far less fear mongering about weight gain at Christmas from the diet industry and many more open conversations about how unhealthy it is to be feeling anxious about food at a time that is supposed to be happy, we would be in a far better position.
Many people don’t want to start thinking about making healthy lifestyle choices until January because they believe that Christmas will undo all their hard work anyway. This is of course, completely false.
Many people will gain weight over Christmas and feel so bad about themselves that they fall victim to the predatory diet industry and attempt to starve themselves from January the 1st, only to realise that real life prohibits them from emulating the unrealistically ‘perfect’ diet of their favourite celebrity, leading to feelings of hopelessness and failure.
The truth is that every day is a day where you can choose to eat plenty of vegetables, eat some lean protein, get some fibre in, drink plenty of water, do some movement/exercise that you enjoy and try to get enough sleep. You can even tick all those boxes on Christmas day (and also eat all the indigent foods on top!).
If you are feeling anxious about weight gain over Christmas, try asking yourself why. Will gaining a couple of pounds make anyone love you any less? Will it make you less of a good parent or worse at your job? Will it mean that you are any less valuable as a human in any way? Absolutely not.
Would it mean that you had relaxed and eaten some delicious food and made the most of the celebrations? Absolutely yes.
Imagine a world where everyone put all the mental energy they waste on obsessing about how they can control their weight over Christmas or how to make ‘healthy’ versions of their favourite Christmas foods and instead used that time to think up the perfect gift for their partner, focus on their career or consider how they can help people who are less fortunate at Christmas time. Imagine how that shift in mental energy could change the world!
None of us can deny that poor eating habits and lack of exercise are harmful but a culture that makes people think that enjoying celebration food makes them a lesser person or that gaining weight would make them less valuable and less lovable defeats the object entirely. Being healthy includes being mentally healthy and losing sight of that is to be avoided at all costs.
If this Christmas and in the new year, you aimed to have as many days as you can where you look after your body and give it what it needs rather than taking things away and punishing yourself, you’ll be able to progress through Christmas with a healthier mind and body.
If you are struggling with anxiety about weight gain or eating unhealthy food over Christmas and it is getting in the way of you looking forward to social eating, please take the time to reflect on how detrimental this is to your quality of life. You can seek help from Beat or from a registered Dietitian or Nutritionist with experience of these issues.
Sophie Medlin is a well-recognised consultant dietitian in London with expertise in gastrointestinal and colorectal health. For more information, visit citydietitians.co.uk.