"Undoubtedly food guilt around this time of year is extremely common," Christina Turner, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Mindful Eating Specialist told Women's Health, particularly for the nine per cent of Australians living with an eating disorder. Whether that includes you or not, the factors behind the feelings can vary.
"For some of us, this is a time when we might feel more lonely, isolated and without a close network of family or friends," she explains. "Therefore, food is one thing that we can turn to for comfort, which can obviously lead to guilt and shame."
"On the other hand, some people are stuck on the dieting rollercoaster," Turner adds. "Many of our traditional Christmas meals are high in energy (calories) and of course taste delicious. We absolutely want to enjoy those foods with our loved ones, but if we are dieting, we invariably can feel like we have done something “wrong” or that we have undone our best dieting efforts."
By and large though, she blames diet culture for the stress so many of us feel before, during or after we tuck into our Christmas favourites.
"Diet culture is the system that our current society operates in which idolises thin bodies, equates good health with being thin and often places a moral judgement on food as either healthy (good) or unhealthy (bad), this puts constant pressure on almost all of us, even if we aren’t fully conscious of it."
It can be undoubtably difficult to ignore the little voice telling you to feel crap about the crackling you just devoured, but Turner has shared some strategies that can help you avoid feeling guilty about the food you eat this festive season.
1. Try mindful eating
"If you are at an event and find yourself getting stressed with the food options, use the power of mindful eating to decide what and how much you’d like to eat. A simple pause before eating and checking in in on how hungry or full you are can really do wonders. Using an everyday mindfulness practice like meditation can also be really useful for managing difficult emotions like guilt when they come up. Mindfulness helps us to notice thoughts like “I’m feeling guilty” or “I shouldn’t have eaten that”, but we don’t get caught up in the thoughts. We tend to let troubling thoughts go more quickly and when it comes to food, this helps us enjoy the eating experience (without guilt)."
2. It's ok to say no
"Practice the art of saying no. If certain people or events make you feel really uncomfortable or stressed to the max, it’s OK to say no. Creating boundaries and managing our mental health during the festive period is really important. Having said that, don’t isolate yourself for fear of eating something ‘wrong’ or not in your diet plan. Remember how important it is to enjoy time with the people we love and it’s OK to enjoy good food as part of that social engagement."
3. Do unto others
"Keep your eyes on your own plate and your own body. If we are going to make a dent in diet culture year-round, then we should try to avoid commenting on what others are eating and on their appearance."
If you are worried about yourself or someone in your care, the best thing you can do is talk to someone. Please contact the Butterfly Foundation 1800 33 4673 or chat online.