Let me start this with the proclamation that I LOVE food. I love coming up with a menu and inviting people over — adding my name to a spreadsheet of what I’ll bring to a potluck is riveting. Searching Pinterest (and The Everygirl!) for a recipe gets me so excited. I look forward to gathering around the table, munching on whatever finger food we have, and catching up with friends or family.
However, my thought process around food wasn’t always this positive, and every Christmas, I get anxious for the multiple food-related gatherings I’ll attend. For those who struggle with disordered eating, are in recovery, or have a negative relationship with food, holiday events that revolve around a buffet table are less than ideal. Along with the actual physical presence of food, it is always a topic of discussion.
If food-related gatherings at the holidays are stressful for you, you’re not alone. Here, I’m giving you the rundown on how I’ve changed my mindset and started loving these events for what they are: quality time with loved ones.
Remind your family and friends of etiquette
Every year, I remind my family that this is a hard time for me and my eating disorder. I let them know that comments such as “I’m going to have to run this all off tomorrow!” or “I didn’t eat all day for this!” are triggering and upsetting to me.
I also remind them to watch how they speak about food like referring to certain foods as “good” or “bad.” Those who have never suffered from disordered eating rarely understand the negativity of giving foods an emotion or quality.
Additionally, I let everyone know that my body and eating habits aren’t up for discussion. I’m talking a “you’ve lost/gained weight!” comment from my uncle I haven’t seen in months, a “there is too much/not enough food on your plate!” from my grandma, and a “are you sure you want a second helping?” from a friend. While these comments are almost always good-natured, they are frustrating and irrelevant to someone else’s (or my own) experience at this event. Let these people know that these comments make things more difficult for you, and if they’re supportive, they’ll be more than happy to oblige.
Make your own plate
As nice as it can be, don’t let others decide the size of your plate or what you put on it. If you want to eat a larger helping than what someone else deems appropriate, go ahead, but if you’re not feeling so great that night, you can eat less than others. Starting small can sometimes ease the tension, just as some people might be in a different place and can handle a larger portion. Go with your gut (literally!).
Create your own gatherings that don’t involve a meal
Not every event has to involve a five-course dinner. Ask your friends or family to go ice skating (my personal fave seasonal activity) or see a new movie (there are so many good ones out right now!). Start new traditions that don’t include everyone bringing a dish and sitting around a table of food for hours.
Ask friends or family to put away the scale
If you’re traveling somewhere, they might keep a scale in their bathroom. This can be tempting and scary, especially before or after eating a meal. Ask this family to put that scale in a closet or out of view of any of the guests. It can seem weird, but you’ll feel so much more comfortable every time you go to check your makeup to not see that scale. (Another attempt from me here to get everyone to throw out their scales!!).
Start non-food related conversations
It can be easy to sit around the table only talking about and focusing on what you’re eating. Instead, try to start conversations about what you’re grateful for, your favorite holiday movies, what you’re excited for in 2019, or a cool article you read recently.
Dress for comfort
Here at The Everygirl, we obviously love fashion — the holiday party outfits are basically the best part! While finding the cutest, most Instagrammable outfit is obviously on the agenda, make sure it’s comfortable and something you feel confident in. You can’t deny that when you look the part, you feel it. Having some confidence in yourself can change the entire outlook of the day and make you feel better about going into a tough situation.
Also, as a beauty lover, I can’t help but spend hours in front of the mirror before an event. While that’s insanity for some people, it calms me down, and I feel like a million bucks all night.
Practice compassion with yourself
This is stressful! If you aren’t able to talk to everyone at the party or be entertaining, don’t put yourself down. Allow yourself some time on your own to process your thoughts and be there for yourself. Take some time to sit down away from the kitchen or talk with a close friend or family member who will get your mind off of it. There’s no need to push yourself to do something that will make this experience harder for you.
Indulge in self-care
My issues with food have always stemmed from a place of perfectionism, and this is a common trait. I always give myself time for self-care before and after events with food that make me uncomfortable. Beforehand, maybe I’ll spend a long time doing my makeup (something that relaxes me!) or write in a journal. After, I might go for a walk or watch an episode of a funny show on Netflix (I recommend Grace and Frankie always!).
Let us know — how do you cope with food gatherings during the holidays? Do you have any tricks for shifting the focus from food to quality time at these events?
This story was originally published on December 12, 2018.