Just kidding, all I want for Christmas, is... to successfully avoid all mention of diet-culture, fatphobia or weight shaming. Oh, and a lot of new active wear, a couple of good books and a bluetooth speaker. And a financially stable boyfriend. And a new car. I'm sorry but is that really too much to ask? We have arrived at the festive season which, as well as being the most wonderful time of the year, is also the time where we start finishing every other sentence with something along the lines of 'I'm going to be so fat after this', or 'the diet starts on Jan 1st', or 'I might as well just BE a pig in blanket now' (I've definitely said that one). As with many religious festivals around the globe, Christmas is celebrated with the help of certain traditional foods - mince pies, mulled wine, nuts, crisps and nibbles, Christmas pud, cheeses and chutneys, cake and gingerbread, with perhaps a brussel sprout every now and again just to double, triple check that... yep, they're still gross. After all, we all know that Jesus' first taste of food was an icing-sugar covered stollen bite. Yet, Christmas culinary joys have been marred by our fear (stirred up and heightened by companies and brands) of arriving at January 1st looking more like a brussel sprout than a string bean.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a study (2000) of adults showing that the average holiday weight gain was 0.37kg (just under 1lb). Being an American study, the 'holiday season' includes Thanksgiving too so as Brits, we have even less to worry about. But actually we have nothing to 'worry' about at all. Our weight fluctuates all the time by up to 2kg every day. This day-to-day fluctuation is all water. Every gram of carbohydrate requires 3g of water in order to be stored as glucose and be used for energy. This is why we might feel particularly bloated after a high-carb meal - our body is busy converting that bread or pasta into energy for us to use, and whilst that process is happening our body will retain more water. High sodium intake also ramps up our body's water retention. Lots of Christmassy dishes have a lot of salt in them so that might also contribute to feeling bloated or uncomfortable. But this is not weight gain in the form that we've been taught to fear - it's water. Plain old water. The most essential thing for our survival.
Even if you are super on-it with calorie counting or macro tracking, remember that the daily guideline intake for a woman is around 2000 kcals and for a man is 2500 kcals (and this is usually an underestimate). In order to store an extra pound of fat in one day, you'd have to eat 3500 kcals extra and not do any kind of physical movement to expend any of that energy off. You might feel a bit bloated or stodgy when you wake up on Boxing Day, but you'd need to be eating a significant amount more than normal for an extended period of time (like 2-3 weeks) to start noticing a visible difference. The whole month of December is just like every other month of the year, and food remains food, whether it's Christmas food or not. Likewise, your exercise routine (whatever that looks like) doesn't have to change radically just because suddenly it is Christmas. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, regardless of what those gym companies, or those IG influencers selling their meal plans and workout guides are telling you, or the media going off on an 'obesity' freak out, we need to fight back! Remember that dieting is scientifically proven not to work (see my previous blog posts). Please don't panic and purchase a ludicrously expensive gym membership that you try and persuade yourself that you'll use daily, or book in a year's worth of PT sessions (unless they're with me) to 'compensate'.
Oh and 'compensate' is another word that can we can all drop in the food waste bin (😎). I've finally managed to start thinking about food as something I can eat without immediately planning compensatory activities or behaviours. It's great and I recommend you try it if you're not there yet! No other species on this earth 'compensates' for eating food. Food is essential to our survival... obviously? But humans in westernised and wealthy societies have turned food and eating into such a complicated mess. This realisation has made me really question my whole understanding of food and has helped me to let go of a lot of the anxiety/emotion/history that surrounded food all my life. This whole blog journey has challenged me to rethink so many long-held and baseless beliefs and I've found it enormously empowering. I'm not advocating an 'I'm not a food person - it's just fuel to me'-type attitude, but realising that we can just trust and listen to our bodies to establish what sort of thing we need to eat and when, is liberating. The fact that this sounds so radical, or perhaps even scary is a testament to the messed up food/exercise world we've created for one another. So, please find lovely ways of moving or exercising that make you feel all warm and glowy in your bod over the Christmas period, but ONLY if you want to. Not because you feel as though you have to. Because you don't.
It's interesting that I've managed to come to a lot of these conclusions for myself in such a relatively short period of time. 6 months ago I was still a mess around food and exercise. A year ago, I was legitimately ill. I worry that my blog posts come across as all preachy and sermony or that I have it all figured out. Please know that that is not the case at all... It takes daily, sometimes even hourly, conversations with myself to make sure I make the right choices, or refocus on the important stuff. But what definitely helps is surrounding myself with literature, Instagram accounts and most importantly friends who are on a similar mission to break free from diet-culture. I've mentioned it before, but especially as emotions run high over the Christmas period, please just take the plunge and purge your social media from any and ALL influencers (or maybe even friends) who are spreading a message about food or exercise that doesn't make you feel good or positive or happy. Let's all support one another to stop caring about sugar-free, gluten free, high protein, vegan joyless alternatives to a mince pie, or a new workout calculated to burn off a Christmas dinner exactly. Or Sonia Christie's sorry attempt at marketing her weight loss services:
And even if you've got absolutely no intention to avoid your usual workouts, stop concocting cardboardy 'healthy' versions of Christmas treats, or panic over Christmas weight gain, there is still one thing you can do to make my Christmas wish come true. As much as you might internally feel like a pig in a blanket or a stuffing ball (why do both of those things sound so cute?!), please try and avoid expressing these thoughts out loud. I've definitely said ALL of the one liners about feeling fat, feeling like I need to go and run a marathon, or workout every day for a year etc. etc. but I never considered how it affects the people around me, or simply perpetuates diet-culture. When other people say any of the above, or make comments about step counts or earning their Christmas food I immediately tense up. You don't have to suffer with an eating disorder to be affected by other people's language and attitudes towards food, but I can tell you that it's a horrible feeling to have all of your fears about food being reinforced by throw-away comments from your friends or family. I don't need to know how 'naughty' you've been for eating a little extra food than you might on a regular day, or how you've already done 3 workouts today so it's 'okay' that you're have dessert. Can we all promise each other to try and avoid these little comments from slipping out of our mouths this Christmas? We might be in the company of someone with an eating disorder who will then go away and struggle for months off the back of a single comment we make. Or with a child who then develops their own disordered relationship with food.
I do apologise for another rant - I seem to find it absolutely impossible to write a blog post unless I'm sufficiently riled up by something with a G&T in my hand... Anyway, I hope you feel a little bit more empowered to stand up to diet culture or silly comments about food/weight gain over Christmas. And if not, I hope this has made you think a little bit differently, or take another perspective into account for a couple of minutes. I'm always interested in having a discussion, hearing your opinions, answering questions or justifying what I'm saying! Please do get in touch if you want to - firstname.lastname@example.org