A Body Image Holiday Wish List

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 ‘Tis the season for gift-giving and celebration, for twinkling lights and familiar songs. But for those struggling with body image, the holiday season can also be a time of body-related worries and distraction. You may wonder whether you “deserve” certain holiday treats or fear that those ever-present cookies and candies could trigger an episode of binge eating. Or maybe you know you’ll be spending time with people who often shame you over various aspects of your appearance and worry about how you’ll respond.

During this time of year when we take special care to show love to others, don’t forget to show your body that same kindness. To help you out, I got a hold of your body’s holiday wish list!

Here are a few of the things your body asked for.

1. Kind words.

If you start feeling down about how your body looks, catch yourself before you fall into negative body talk. Instead, talk about your body with kindness and gratitude. Use the same type of language you’d use to address someone you love.  Just as we can love others even if they occasionally disappoint us, we can accept our bodies even if they feel imperfect.

2. Intuitive eating.

Instead of letting emotions and situational cues guide what you eat and how much you eat, make a special point to listen to your body this season. Pay attention to when your body is telling you you’re hungry and when it’s letting you know you’ve had enough. Avoid obsessing over food or thinking of different foods in black and white terms like “good” and “bad.” Your body knows more than you might imagine about what it needs moment to moment. Slow down and take a listen.

3. Comfortable clothing.

Are you thinking of squeezing into an uncomfortable dress (perhaps over even-more-uncomfortable Spanx?) and donning a pair of wobbly stilettos for that holiday party? One of the nicest things you can do for your body is to dress it in clothes that feel good and allow it a comfortable range of motion. Here is your body’s wish: At the end of the night, may your stomach hurt from laughing – not from an uncomfortable outfit.

4. Physical activity.

If the holidays are stressing you out, one of the healthiest ways of coping with that stress is by getting your body moving. Take a workout class with friends, go for a long walk with a loved one in the snow, or have a dance party in your living room.  Don’t let wintry weather make you forget that your body was meant for moving!

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It seems most families have that one person who can’t refrain from commenting on who’s gained or lost weight or who looks especially good (or especially bad) in their holiday finery. First, don’t be that person!  Second, if you have to be around that person, try to set firm but kind boundaries. Consider the following types of phrases to gently push back on body negativity:

“I’m not comfortable with that kind of talk. How about we change the subject to something more positive?”

“I’m teaching my children that people aren’t defined by their body shape.  Can you help me do that by focusing on other topics?”

“It hurts my feelings when you say things like that. Let’s talk about something else, please.”

6. A break from selfies and from constant posing.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing your holiday exploits with others via social media, but remember that the body monitoring that comes along with posing for all those pictures is linked with nasty psychological outcomes. Snap a couple of pictures if you’d like, then refocus your energy on connecting with others. Ask friends and family members to take a break from photographing every moment so that you can all be more present in those moments. 

7. Quiet times of reflection.

Don’t forget that your brain is part of your body – and it deserves rest too!  Find time amidst all the stimulation of parties, shopping, and cooking to re-center yourself. Take a bath, meditate, read a novel. As the end of a busy year approaches, reflect back on how you have loved and been loved. Remember the ways you’ve added light to other people’s lives over the past 12 months and be grateful for the light that’s been added to yours.

Remember that your body is the home you will have your entire life. Give it the gifts of compassion and respect this season and always. 

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