The December holiday season is a time of special foods, and lots of them. Every year there is discussion in the media about how not to gain weight when tempted by all these treats. I discussed the issue of handling holiday feasts in the November newsletter, so in this newsletter I’ll focus on the other side of the problem – obsession with body size, weight, and appearance. One way the Normal Eating approach is different from other non-diet approaches is that it identifies the obsession itself – the desperate desire to be thin – as a primary symptom and underlying cause of disordered eating and misery around food.
The topic of weight obsession is especially relevant now because this holiday – more than any other – involves contact with people. It’s a December tradition to send out hundreds of holiday cards to renew connections. It’s also a time of numerous parties and get-togethers, both personal and at work. The December holiday season may be the only time of year that you see the CEO of your company, or meet your colleagues’ spouses. Parties given by friends are also occasions for meeting new people and renewing acquaintances.
All this "face time" can kick up great anxiety about your appearance – especially if you weigh more than you did the last time you saw certain people. This newsletter will address the "What do I wear – I feel so fat!" problem, but not in the way you might expect. I’m not about to give you fashion tips! I will take a very different approach in helping you to deal with these issues.
Here are excerpts from two messages posted by Normal Eating Support Group members about dressing for the holidays:
Interesting – as I am packing to go visit family, I notice myself trying on clothes to find something “flattering” and that makes me look thinner. I have not done this in a LONG time – it’s because I know my parents will be looking at me and evaluating me based on how much I weigh. Unbelievable!
I grew up with sooo much pressure on me to NOT BE FAT, which, consequently, made me get fat, or anorexic, and now that I am no longer “fat” it’s like a neverending struggle – or, it was before NE, but I am regressing BIG TIME today. Luckily, I only see my parents 2-3 times a year.
Also, as I was packing, I was thinking that I wouldn’t pack my running stuff because it would take up too much room. WHAT??? Running is for ME, ME, ME, and I LOVE IT and I am shocked at the lack of self love I showed for myself by thinking about not packing that stuff. I am going to need to get outdoors and get the endorphins going more than EVER on this trip!
So I found myself trying to find something flattering to wear to my aunt’s this afternoon, something that would show I’ve lost a little weight…
I had to sit down and talk to myself and ask, first of all, why is it so important that I feel the need to show I’ve lost some weight? I didn’t have a good answer, but I was able to remind myself that my worth and value does not ride on how much I weigh or how much weight I happen to lose.
The real success I felt was in choosing something to wear up top. I chose a long-sleeved v-neck shirt because I thought it would look good in pictures. First of all, it’s too hot today for long sleeves, and then after wearing it for a couple of hours while running to the store and baking in the kitchen and pulling it back into place everytime it slipped too far back, or off my shoulder, or my bra strap was showing, I thought “What is this all about??? I really hate this shirt. Why am I torturing myself like this?” so I threw on something much more comfortable, something that felt more “me”, and I now have a big smile on my face. I realized today, I really don’t like v-necks. They just don’t stay put with my narrow shoulders. I don’t know why I’ve bought so many of them in the past, but I just don’t feel comfortable in them. That’s what finally got me out of the worrying-about-how-I-look mentality.
I just want to be comfortable. If I am comfortable, I am happier, and I am more pleasant to be around and isn’t that what it’s all about anyway??
These posts touch on several key issues:
1. Being around family can trigger old, negative behavior.
You probably can’t stop this from happening completely, but you can at least recognize it for what it is, and not beat yourself up over it. As anyone who struggles with emotional eating knows, when the self-flagellation starts, you eat more. Just accept this as normal, resist it as best you can, and try to laugh at this predictable tendency of all human beings.
2. Heightened concern with how others see us can lead to abandonment of self-care.
This is a very important issue to be aware of, since the core cause of emotional eating is lack of self-care. Over-focusing on pleasing others – allowing the judgements of others to define your own sense of personal value – is a dangerous road.
As you move through the holiday season, try to stay aware of this tendency, and keep asking yourself if you’re doing what you need to be doing for you. Beware of over-committing to parties or other holiday activities? It’s okay to say “no”. You have that right. If you don’t honor and take care of your needs, you will turn to “food band-aides” instead.
3. Anybody whose opinion matters knows that character counts more than body fat ratio.
Would you rather be stuck on a desert island with a kind, loving woman who cared about your feelings, was considerate of your needs, and cooperated in your mutual survival (but was fat), or a selfish, dishonest, nasty woman who tried to grab all the island’s resources for herself (but was slim)? Which is a more important factor in a person’s value – character or appearance?
I think most people would say that character is much more importan than appearance. So what does it say about a person if he doesn’t “get” something so basic, and denigrates another human being on sight because she carries some extra weight? Is this a person whose judgement and values you respect? No? Then why do you care what he thinks?
4. How you feel on the inside affects your attractiveness more than physical measurements.
People who feel good about themselves and comfortable in their own skin radiate a confidence and ease of manner that makes them attractive to others and delightful to be around. They smile when they meet someone because they are thinking more about putting the other person at ease than how he or she is reacting to them. When people are comfortable and at ease, their body language body language conveys this, and causes others to feel the same way – comfortable with them. People like people who like themselves, and feel comfortable with themselves.
If you wear clothes that you aren’t comfortable wearing – that chafe or bind or are in styles you don’t like – you will be thinking about yourself and your clothes rather than the people around you, and that will make you less attractive, no matter what the clothes look like!
Something to Try…
During the December holiday season, you need to be especially vigilant about slipping into bad, old ways of thinking. Even if you’ve been practicing Normal Eating for a year and are doing well, the pressures of the holiday season can push you into a regression. Here are some things you can do to resist the pressure:
1. If you have nothing to wear that fits because you gained weight and didn’t want to buy clothes when you were fat, go buy clothes! No matter what your size, you will look worlds better in well-cut, well-fitting clothes. The best prevention against compulsive eating is to do things that make you feel good about yourself, and buying nice clothes will make you feel good about yourself.
2. Choose clothes that are comfortable and attractive by your own standards, not someone else’s standards. When making selections, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this outfit comfortable to wear? Does it bind, slip, or do anything else annoying? Does the material chafe? Is any part of my body uncomfortable? Is it loose enough at the waistband that I can enjoy holiday treats without being miserably uncomfortable?
- Does this outfit feel like “me”? Does it reflect my sense of who I am as a person? Is it something I like and feel comfortable wearing (versus something I think someone else would like but I hate)?
If the answer to either of these questions is “no”, then look for something else to wear!
3. Don’t over-commit yourself. When thinking about adding an event or commitment to your holiday calendar, ask yourself this:
- If I take this on, will I still have time to take care of “me” – get the breaks, rest, and relaxation I need to be a sane and happy person, a gracious host, and a pleasant guest?
If not, say no! You have the right to do this. It is a fundamental right of every human being to take care of his or her own needs. In fact, it’s more than a right – it’s your most sacred responsibility. You honor the gift of life by enjoying it! You won’t have much fun if your basic needs aren’t met. And no one wants to be around a stressed out grouch, anyway.
4. Focus on how you feel about you, not how others feel about you. If you know you’re okay, then you’ll view rude, invasive comments from others about how you look or how much you weigh as a reflection of their boorishness and insensitivity, not your value as a person. Don’t take in someone else’s judgement of your value as a human being – especially if you don’t respect that person’s values or manners. Your opinion of yourself is the one that matters most.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.
This article was first published in the December 2005 newsletter.