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Just Because Christmas Is Over Doesn’t Mean You Have To Go On A Diet

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Just Because Christmas Is Over Doesn’t Mean You Have To Go On A DietAlamy

With Christmas comes festive food, celebratory drinking and the inevitable pressure many face over feeling you’ve somehow ‘overindulged’.  

Bridget Jones’s Diary – which, yes, can be classed as a Christmas film – sees Jones keep track of what she eats, get comments on her body shape, and resolves on multiple occasions to lose weight by changing her eating and exercise habits. While it’s a brilliant rom-com, the messages it promotes around body image and diet culture are unhealthy.

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UNILAD spoke to PhD Nutritionist Laura Thomas who founded the LDNCentre for Intuitive Eating about the pressures Christmas and the New Year place on people’s relationship with food, how social media and advertising can exacerbate the issue and what you can do the rest of the year to help combat such negative attitudes.

According to YouGovAmerica, in 2019, 46% of New Year’s resolutions saw people pledge to lose weight. In Britain that same year, 47% of people wanted to increase their fitness levels, 44% lose weight and 41% wanted to improve their diet, as per Statista. But why?

‘I think diet culture has a lot to answer for, but more so than that, capitalism has a lot to answer for from the perspective that it’s packaged up really conveniently. Like in the run-up to Christmas, we’re encouraged to indulge in lots of delicious foods and drink delicious drinks, but then as soon as the festive period has peaked and gone past, what else is there left to try and sell people if we don’t try and make them feel guilty about all the things that you were encouraged to do for the past four to six weeks?,’ Laura noted.

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The festive season highlights the ‘manufactured’ nature of the problems surrounding diet culture. Often ‘the latest diet plan, or fitness equipment, or outfit, or cookbooks,’ are held off for release until January to target those who may be feeling ‘guilty’ in some way for ‘overindulging’ at Christmas.

Laura said:

I was looking at the statistics the other day, the diet and wellness industry is globally projected to be like 300 billion dollars in 2021, so it’s like we’re being this idea that there’s something deficient in us and that we’re flawed, is entirely fabricated to make us feel bad about ourselves so we’ll buy things, and it continues to perpetuate that cycle.

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Laura noted a quote by Naomi Wolf, which she thinks resonates with many today: ‘A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one’.

Over half of women find themselves more stressed during the festive season, according to a survey by YouGov, and Laura explained how women are particularly targeted during the Christmas period in relation to their weight and body image.

‘This idea that women in particular […] If we’re too busy worrying about the size of our butt or how many calories we are consuming, then we literally don’t have the brainpower or energy to engage in more meaningful things, whether that’s within our own families or relationships, or hobbies, or the wider global, political social justice issues which are impacting our society,’ she said.

Laura explained how studies have actually proven that women don’t have ‘the cognitive capacity to engage’ when we spend ‘too much time viewing ourselves as objects which is what we do when we diet’.

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Social media adds even more pressure to the festive season and is a daily battle for users across sites, particularly Instagram, with ‘access to celebrities and their lives, and their frankly really messed up and disordered way of eating and exercising’ which ‘just gets normalised,’ Laura noted.

‘The most obvious example is the Kardashians – they have access to trainers and people cooking their meals but then they also have plastic surgery, and advertised that lollypop which is a hunger suppressant and they’re seen as aspirational and like it’s attainable. But these disordered behaviours which would have been stored away historically, we now have access to that so that’s one way that social media kind of distorts things,’ she said.

However, over time, the bodies, diets and fitness regimes portrayed over social media have become even more unattainable, because of apps like photoshop, and FaceTune. ‘So what you’re seeing most of the time isn’t even real or it’s highly staged, whereas that used to be contained to magazines or tv or traditional media, you’re now bombarded with these highly stylised images and we get sucked into it,’ Laura reflected.

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‘We see these perfectly curated feeds – which normalise disordered eating and exercise habits – and we are constantly bombarded with them. It’s just always in our face.’

Scales (Alamy)Alamy

Social media and the pressure to change one’s appearance ramps up even further in the lead up to New Year and post-Christmas, despite how the festive season should be a perfect opportunity to ‘normalise rest, recovery and recuperation and taking a break’.

Laura explained:

Instead we receive these messages, not just social media but media as a whole, which sets up the expectation that we need to compensate for enjoying ourselves. We can’t just enjoy ourselves and not feel bad about it or feel guilty or shame or go down this spiral of essentially trying to atone for this crime that we haven’t committed but has been manufactured.

A study revealed that humans have evolved to eat more over the winter months, with lead scientist, Dr Andrew Higginson, having noted how, ‘this suggests that New Year’s Day is the worst possible time to start a new diet’.

‘I think the problem with the idea of the January reset is that it’s this all or nothing approach. We do this complete 180 with food and nutrition which isn’t sustainable, and it doesn’t come from a place of self-care. We might call it that but it’s actually coming from a place of trying to control and manipulate our bodies, trying to perfect what we’re eating, which just doesn’t exist’.

Laura admitted there is ‘nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look after yourself,’ but that ‘one thing that is helpful to keep in mind is the intention behind it’.

As a nutrition professional, Laura noted how even she has no idea how many calories certain items of food contain, and how she doesn’t think it’s practical or necessarily safe to count.

‘If someone I was working with did want to make some positive changes, I’d be thinking more about small incremental things you can do, like from a nutrition perspective I’m always thinking about how we can add things into our diet rather than take things away,’ she said.

Tape measure (Unsplash)Unsplash

So, before you resolve to start a diet or embark on an intense course of exercise to alter your appearance or body this new year, question yourself as to whether your resolution is ‘coming from a place of self-loathing or a place of self-love and self-respect?’

Laura stated:

Christmas is only ever a period of over-indulgence because the rest of the time our baseline is, ‘If I eat that I’m bad, I’m naughty, I can’t have that it’s not good for me.’ So if we were to eradicate that general mentality of good or bad foods, or good or bad diets, then what we do is we give ourselves the permission to have whatever cake in July just because that’s what we want and that’s what feels good.

What ends up happening, is we treat the year on a macro-level, like this huge binge restrict cycle, right? So we save ourselves up all year, and ‘binge’ in Christmas time, and then feel like we have to restrict and compensate for that again.

Instead, Laura advised seeing Christmas food as ‘less of a big deal’ so as to not build up to it by ‘restricting’ yourself for the rest of the year.

‘I think again it’s a capitalist thing, eat as much as you possibly can, buy all the food, buy all the drink, indulge, because it lines someone’s pockets. But if we were a bit more in tune with our bodies and what we needed, then we might find that the pattern kind of levels out a little bit,’ Laura noted.

Laura questioned anyone considering a New Year’s diet to ask ‘who’s profiting and who’s benefitting from making you feel this way about your body?’ To help ‘externalise the anger that we feel instead of directing it in at ourselves’.

‘If we think about babies and young kids;  we come into this world, knowing our bodies are good. But they think they’re great and they just walk around with this sense of pride. But along the way, we internalise these messages about our bodies that the way they look and function, the colour of our skin or whatever it might be, that there’s something flawed about that, but that idea has come from someone who is profiting off us feeling bad about ourselves’.

If you do still want to make a resolution in relation to your diet, body image or weight, then as a ‘nice alternative to diets’ Laura advised to ‘learn about intuitive eating’ which can be a ‘really positive step’.

Laura explained how intuitive eating is fundamentally based on ‘tuning into your hunger and fullness cues’.

‘It’s a framework that helps you build a healthy relationship with food, whereas diets, they just teach you how many calories are in a piece of food. So you can find a way of eating that works for you, and lifestyle which isn’t rooted in restriction and deprivation, which ultimately backfires and results in this binge-restrict pattern that we often see,’ she said.

Bridget Jones (Universal Pictures)Universal Pictures

So if you’re about to snuggle up, munch on some leftover mince pies or Christmas dinner and stick on Bridget Jones to mark the end of the season, be aware of its ‘problematic’ nature, which could lead to you feeling guilt-tripped into a New Year’s resolution surrounding weight.

‘I think the thing that’s so interesting about Bridget Jones’s diary, is I remember reading the book and then watching the film, and there’s such a disconnect. In the book, she’s portrayed as being a really big girl, but then in the film, she’s a size 12. So it’s really problematic from that perspective because if you’re watching and you’re a size 12 or 14 or 16 or even higher, how must that make you feel about yourself when you see this woman as a size 12 who is portrayed as having this supposedly hideous body?’

So instead, watch it and swoon over Mark Darcy’s awkwardness, and feel comforted by the brilliance of multiple aspects of Renee Zellweger’s character, but also ‘have an awareness of how problematic some aspects of the film are so you can challenge it and build up a resilience against it.’

If you want more support surrounding your self-image and body confidence and are interested in intuitive eating, you can visit the LDNCentre for Intuitive Eating’s Instagram and website

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article and would like to speak with someone in confidence, call the BEAT Eating Disorders helpline on 0808 801 0677. Helplines are open 365 days a year from 9am–8pm during the week, and 4pm–8pm on weekends and bank holidays. Alternatively, you can try the one-to-one webchat

Topics: Featured, Body Confidence, Instagram

Credits

YouGovAmerica
  1. YouGovAmerica

    Exercising more and eating healthier are this year’s most popular New Year’s resolutions

Poppy Bilderbeck
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