20 Dec Surviving the Holidays with Negative Body Image: Tips from an Expert
Written by Elissa “Liz” Woodruff, Ph.D.
For many folks, the holiday season symbolizes celebration and connection – a time to share love, laughs, and often elaborate meals with friends and family. While joyful for some, this time can be excruciating if you are unhappy with your body. From myriad holiday parties to rich desserts and treats to that judgmental family member who comments on your weight or your jean size, challenges abound. If you are tired of internalizing harmful messages and beliefs about your body and you are ready to embrace the holidays, you can do it with a little preparation and a healthy dose of self-compassion.
Body image dissatisfaction is disturbingly pervasive in modern society. While you may feel alone in your body image struggles, rest assured that you are not. Body image dissatisfaction affects folks across the life span of all genders and all walks of life. Over 90% of women and about 85% of men report that they are dissatisfied with their bodies and either wish to lose weight or gain muscle (or both). It is no surprise that body dissatisfaction is rampant given the undue influence that Western culture places on ultra-thin ultra-lean, ultra-unrealistic physiques for all genders. When we don’t fit the images we see plastered on social media, TV and movies, we are at risk for feeling inadequate and dissatisfied with our appearance. At the extreme, this places us at risk for developing eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.
For folks with negative body image, getting through the holidays is a daunting task. Body image issues may reach an all-time high during this season. Folks who feel self-conscious about their bodies may try to avoid holiday parties and family gatherings all together, or at least endure these events with immense distress and discomfort. If you feel preoccupied with your weight and worried about what you are eating or what others are thinking, it may hamper your ability to connect and engage meaningfully with the ones you love.
People with negative body image might hope that the end of the holidays is a time when they can breathe a sigh of relief, but this is hardly the case. Once the new year hits, the diet industry blasts us with tips on “reversing holiday weight gain” or “how to recover from holiday eating.” All of these variables put together can make the holidays and their aftermath feel like a minefield for those who are body dissatisfied. It is possible though to transcend painful effects of negative body image on your experience during the holidays – and maybe even enjoy them. Read on for tips to embrace the holiday season without the haunting influence of negative body image.
- Self-care: I can’t emphasize this enough. Creating a self-care plan aimed at regulating your mood and managing negative thoughts about your body will go a long way. Make sure you get adequate sleep, eat regularly throughout the day without restricting or skipping meals, and stay hydrated. You can also make a self-care toolkit. This might include things like soothing playlists on Spotify, journaling, fidget toys, and essential oils to name a few. Reach out to folks who can support you and who get what you are going through. Meditate and do your deep breathing.
- Set boundaries: Ask your loved ones in advance not to make comments about what you’re eating or about your appearance. If they do, or if diet and weight loss talk commences, don’t be afraid to leave the room. If you are at a party and you become overwhelmed, be sure you have an exit strategy. If you need to leave, that is OK. Additionally, if you are partied out, you are allowed to say no! You don’t have to accept every invitation – be sure to know your limits.
- Tailor your social media: Body toxicity abounds on social media, but social media can also be a haven for body positivity and wisdom. Ditch those accounts that make you feel badly about yourself. Follow body positive accounts such as Jessamyn Stanley and Kai Wes. Consume body positive podcasts and read books like Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon and Embody by Connie Sobczak.
- Don’t restrict your food intake: Do your best to stick to your normal meal plan over the holidays. Avoid skipping breakfast just so that you don’t feel guilty about eating a big holiday meal. Eat regularly throughout the day and be sure to have snacks.
- Reward yourself: Once you make it through the holidays, do something special for yourself. Get a massage or buy yourself a gift. Celebrate your success once the holidays are over.
- Go easy on yourself: A little self-compassion can go a long way. Try self-compassion meditations from Tara Brach or Kristen Neff. Use body positive mantras to help you get through the difficult moments and increase your self-compassion.
- When it comes to the new year diet craze, take an anti-diet stance: Try challenging yourself to resist the urge to cave into diet culture. Stick to your normal mode of eating, nourish your body, and feed it the foods it craves. Avoid looking at labels or counting calories, ditch that scale and say yes to your favorite foods.
- Seek professional help: Reaching out for the help of a therapist or other mental health professional is a well-validated means of improving negative body image and coping with the struggles that accompany body dissatisfaction. Websites like Health at Every Size and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) have directories of therapists who specialize in body image.
Body image struggles are real and they are painful, but they do not have to hijack your holidays. Try out these expert-tips, and they will put you on the path to breaking free of the constraints that body dissatisfaction places on you, your relationships, and your joy.
About the author:
Dr. Liz Woodruff is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 15 years of experience helping individuals and families in their pursuit of healing and change. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety and depression, relationship difficulties, body image and eating disorders. She also has extensive experience working with the LGBTQ+ community. Dr. Woodruff earned her PhD from the University of North Texas and later trained at Stanford University. She has experience in a variety of settings including partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs for eating disorders, drug and alcohol treatment centers, university counseling centers, and community mental health clinics. Dr. Woodruff is certified in Family Based Therapy (FBT) and is working toward advanced certification as an EFFT clinician. Additionally, she provides parent coaching, both one-on-one to parents and in group seminars. She works with adults on a variety of concerns including relationship difficulties, anxiety, depression, and eating/body image disorders. Dr. Woodruff enjoys providing consultation to other mental health professionals and students in-training, and she provides educational talks on eating disorders. Dr. Woodruff is the past President of a Sonoma County based nonprofit organization called Eating Disorder Recovery Support, Inc. (EDRS) as well as past Membership Chair of the San Francisco Psychological Association and the Marin Psychological Association.