Five tips from six experts: Surviving christmas & new years without dieting

For many, the temptation to diet is particularly high during this time of year with the combination of summer, swimmers and new years goals which for many of us is a tantalising trifecta.  We are delighted to share some advice from six expert therapists who are well known for their work in supporting people to establish a healthy relationship with food, exercise and their bodies. Thank you to each expert for sharing these tips so generously. Do you notice any themes?

Kerry Beake, Kerry Beake, Nutritional Counsellor, Director at HAES Health

  1. Give yourself the gift of TRUST.
    By giving yourself permission to learn to trust your innate body wisdom we start ditching negative emotions like worry, fear, doubt, guilt and shame that disconnect us from our body, our food and importantly our joy.
  2. Give yourself the gift of PEACE.
    By giving yourself permission to experience peace and calm, where we consciously take the time in our daily life to be mindful, our mind and our body is actually better able to function. We also start to better hear that inner body wisdom. When we let go of the noise, the criticism, the expectations, the rules and become more mindful our overall health and wellbeing improves.  
  3. Give yourself the gift of CONNECTION.
    Connection to ourselves first and foremost. And connection to those around us, our family, friends and community. Make this time of year when we invest in truly being with others. Research shows that above all else, our relationships matter and we live longer and happier. Smile at others, make eye contact, laugh, share and enjoy the gift of ‘presence’.
  4. Give yourself the gift of PURPOSE.
    Find or rediscover your passion and purpose. It can be too easy to get distracted by things that we think we have to do, of that we tell ourselves we can’t do until… Find ways to do more of those things that bring you joy such as watching a sunset, or reading a book. And for those bigger dreams, hold onto them tight and just chip away at them until you achieve them. 
  5. Give yourself the gift of TIME.
    Finally, give yourself the space and time to change. Old patterns of behaviour and thinking don’t suddenly disappear or change. Allow yourself the time to take this journey and if you need help navigating this, seek out help from someone who can support you. I wish you well and a fabulous holiday season and New Year.

Jodie Gale, Soul-Centred Psychotherapist + Eating Psychology Specialist, Director at Jodie Gale

Dieting is often an attempt to fix something that has never been broken. It’s important to remember that your precious body is the home for your soul; the part of you that is whole and unbroken. Instead of dieting, whatever your soul calls for, nourish that!

  1. The focus must be on health and not size. When I work with women to help them stop their chronic dieting, I start by making sure they are including all food groups and that they are getting a good macronutrient balance. I also ask them to include foods into their day that they find pleasurable – otherwise they end up bingeing on those foods and they end up feeling shame and like a failure. Changing our thinking around food and weight can be challenging especially when there are so many food rules out there: for example, ‘carbs and fats are bad’. There is no such thing as good or bad (this in psychology is known as black and white thinking), food is just food and besides, it’s not just about what we eat but why, when and how we eat.
  2. It’s important to remember that focusing on body size, weight and dieting is what Dr Anita Johnston calls a ‘red herring’ – it’s misleading and a distraction from what is really going on. So instead of going on yet another diet, perhaps ask yourself, ‘what’s really going on here?’ 9 times out of 10, the underlying struggle is not with weight, but with self-worth and not feeling good enough. If this is the case, redirect your New Years’ weight loss goals towards your inner world; developing your sense of self and raising your self-worth.
  3. It’s virtually impossible to go online without being bombarded with diets for the New Year but it’s important to remember that the majority of people who diet or restrict certain food groups, end up bingeing. This season, don’t be seduced by the false promises of yet another diet. Rather than dieting and restricting, focus on nourishing your whole self; body, feelings, mind and soul.
  4. If that harsh and critical voice inside your head is tyrannizing you with thoughts such as, ‘you are fat’, ‘you need to lose weight’, ‘you are disgusting’, ‘you can’t go to the party in that dress because you are too fat’ etc., imagine if you were speaking to a younger part of yourself or another child in that way? Seriously, would you say to a child, ‘you can’t go to the party because you are too fat’? Of course you wouldn’t. Each time you speak to yourself in this way, you will feel even more down about yourself (and may end up at the fridge soothing how bad you then feel!). It’s time to start speaking in a loving and kind way to yourself, speak to yourself as you would to someone you love. And… If you are not taking care of your body as well as you would like to and you do need to make some positive changes, make them in a caring, compassionate and kind way.  I recommend going to Self-Compassion.Org by Dr. Kristen Neff.
  5. Being around others obsessed with dieting can be triggering. It’s challenging but consider setting boundaries with friends and family. This might look like, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking – we are smart, sassy, gorgeous, creative women and I notice the conversation always comes back to talking about weight, dieting, clean eating – next year, I want to focus on truly nourishing my whole self so I don’t want to talk about and participate in this toxic industry anymore’. Start a conversation with other women about how poisonous this practice is to our women and young girls.  There is a great campaign called, Fat Talk Free by Delta Delta Delta.

Nikola Ellis, Yoga Therapist and Director, Adore Yoga

  1. Relax: The holiday season can be stressful, even when you’re having fun! When we’re stressed, we’re more likely to experience negative feelings and it’s harder to make good choices. Practice a simple relaxation exercise every day during the Christmas and New Year whirlwind. Try listening to a recording of a deeply relaxing Yoga Nidra – here’s a free recording to get you started.
  2. Move (gently): Gentle, mindful movement helps you connect to your body in a positive way. When you have a positive connection with your body, it’s easier to care for yourself with compassion. A simple 15 minute gentle yoga practice each day is all it takes to feel more connected to your body. Here’s an easy 12 min practice that will help.
  3. Meditate: If you find meditation difficult, don’t despair! Lots of us find it hard to sit in silence and focus on the breath. Don’t struggle on if it’s stressing you out – find a different meditation technique instead. Try a 15 minute walking meditation: Find a place where you feel safe and comfortable and start walking slowly and purposefully. As you walk, try focusing on the feeling in the soles of your feet as you take each step.
  4. Connect: Surviving challenging times is easier when you feel supported. Make sure you connect with the people you trust the most and allow yourself to be supported by them – they really want to help!
  5. Sing for joy! Singing is an effective way to create feelings of wellbeing, connection and inner peace. Singing in a group with others is even better. Try joining a community choir, singing some Christmas carols or busting out your favourite tunes in the car.

Sarah Harry, Yoga Instructor and Director at FatYoga and Body Positive Australia

  1. Dieting will eventually make you heavier! Gold standard research tells us that you will regain the weight and sometimes a little more (and watch out for the “lifestyle change” it’s a tricky diet in disguise!)
  2. One GREAT diet is a “media diet” see if you can unfollow anything which doesn’t make you feel like you are good enough. You deserve to feel good this year! Try following @bodypositiveyoga (that’s me!).
  3. Have a look in your wardrobe! Is there anything there taking up space and making you feel bad because it doesn’t fit? If so move, donate or gift it. A resolution to wear comfy clothes which fit (including underwear!) is a positive move away from dieting.
  4. Use or learn about self-compassion. If you are struggling, put one hand on your heart and say to yourself “things are hard right now, but I am doing what I can”.
  5. Make a “Body Peace” (TM) Box – put things or poems or write down pieces of music  or candles or anything which makes you feel body positive in it so you can pull it it if you are tempted to get back on the diet band wagon. Be creative!

Dr Keira Buchanan, Clinical Psychologist & Director, Centre for Integrative Health

  1. Set up your environment as one that protects you from toxic and harmful messages. If you were an alcoholic trying to abstain from drinking, you wouldn’t have alcohol in the house and you certainly wouldn’t go to a bar. Through identifying and removing (or limiting your exposure to) anything that might interfere with your resolve to not diet, you’ll stand a better chance of adhering to this resolution. Reframe from buying women’s magazines and ‘unlike’ or ‘unfollow’ any sources of harmful messages on social media.
  2. If you get tempted to go on a diet, ask yourself what it is in your life that you’re hoping to be different. Rarely is it weightloss itself that people are looking for. Rather, weight loss has been sold to us as the answer to all our dreams and the solution to all our problems. What is it that you’re hoping to achieve or resolve through weight loss. Is there another way of getting what you want without losing weight?
  3. Develop a sense of self-worth that doesn’t include your weight/shape. Research has shown that levels of body dissatisfaction are not related to our actual appearance but rather, how invested we are in our appearance. If your self-worth is completely defined by how you look, chances are you are going to be unhappy no matter how you look. Instead, try to develop a sense of self-worth that is defined less by how you look and more by other things (i.e., the work that you do, the type of friend/partner/parent you are, your intelligence/kindness, etc).
  4. Educate yourself on the sociocultural origin of dieting as a means to oppress women through delving into the works of powerful and inspiring woman such as Susie Orbach, Clementine Ford, Germaine Greer, Naomi Wolf, and many others.
  5. Most importantly, treat yourself with compassion. Unlike self-esteem, which is about “what is good about me?”, self-compassion is “What is good for me?”. Rather than striving to improve yourself, try improving the way you treat yourself. Deprivation, exercising til exhaustion, and the scrutiny of self-monitoring are no way to treat yourself. Treat your mind and your body well, not to obtain any particular outcome but rather, because you are deserving of love and care just like all human being.

Sarah McMahon, Psychologist & Director, BodyMatters Australasia

  1. Set goals that promote health giving behaviour but that don’t focus on weight loss. After all, sitting at a low body weight does not necessarily make a person healthy- there are a lot of people we would describe as “skinny” who engage in unhealthy weight loss practices. Health is a much broader concept then what you weigh. Focus instead on other things you can do to be healthy. Have you always wanted to learn to scuba dive or dance? Do you want to build your nutritional literacy? Now is your chance to pursue something that actually is healthy.
  2. Start living like you would after “the after photo”- what would you be doing differently? Would it mean more socialising, dating more, playing with your kids at the beach? Think about the things you have put on hold until after weightloss… and start doing them now.
  3. Find some good books to help reinforce why dieting is never a good idea. We have suggested some here.
  4. Review the year and take what you can to learn from it- we have put together a template for you to consider here.
  5. Embark on our Body Image Challenge to shape your mind rather than your body… join our BodyMatters FaceBook community for our Christmas gift for you: 101 body image challenges, posted daily on Facebook for 101 days, starting in the new year.

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