Help! My holiday meal was heavier and more indulgent than usual. What should I eat now? I need to start new!
With the Holiday season coming to a close, the pressure to change what we’re eating in an attempt to “get back on track” is high. This pressure is undeniably felt more strongly for those who also experience systemic weight stigma. But the urge to “get back on track” is a rhetoric designed to fail as New Year’s Resolutions inundated with suggestions to “cleanse,” “detox,” and “start new” often leave dancers at risk for damaging their relationship with food.
A whopping budget of nearly 72 billion dollars unfortunately gives the diet industry lots of power over how we feel this time of year. Many dancers cannot help but feel overwhelming amounts of guilt in the aftermath of what is commonly a more indulgent meal. But since we know that diets don’t work within a year of starting and that weight cycling comes with countless negative health implications, how can we move past these valid feelings and discomfort? This article will break down 3 critical considerations for dancers attempting to strategize their post-Holiday eating plans.
#1: Don’t Try To Compensate
Your body can handle more indulgent food. In fact, it does this in the same biological way as it handles the food you eat all year round. Contrary to popular belief, any “cleanse,” “detox,” or need to “work off” a heavier-than-usual meal will not support your body’s metabolism in the way diet culture promises. Let me explain:
When we eat, digestion begins in the mouth. Saliva initiates the breakdown of carbohydrates and prepares the partially-digested food to be moved along your digestive tract. The various nutrients from your food: carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals are broken down and metabolized throughout this process. The fate of these nutrients is determined by your body’s needs: some are used immediately and others are stored for later use. You can learn more about your metabolism here.
But attempting to compensate, for let’s say, a higher-than-usual caloric intake, by severely reducing the amount you’re eating or pushing through an unbearably intense workout, risks putting your body in a state of negative energy balance. The result? A reduced metabolic rate as your body works to conserve energy in an attempt to survive a self-imposed famine (your body translates this negative energy balance as famine). Hormonal imbalances also ensue, leading to appetite dysregulation (hello cravings!) and energy deficits (hello fatigue!)
From a psychological standpoint, compensating with a goal to increase your “willpower” over certain foods is also set to fail. Willpower is merely a guise that diet culture uses to shift the blame when the inevitable happens: the restrictive diet fails. The same goes for the good ol’ “in moderation” suggestion (read more about this here).
Bottom line: the more you attempt to compensate for your holiday (or vacation) eats, the more likely you are to damage your relationship with food.
#2: Be Gentle With Yourself
It’s normal to feel a sense that you “overdid it” this time of year. Heck, you might have truly eaten very differently than you normally do. Think about it: the holidays don’t happen every day and it’s possible that certain foods not often available were suddenly all over your weekly menu. Rather than ridiculing yourself for these experiences, reflect upon them. Did you enjoy these foods? Do you wish that they could be around more often? Do you feel sad that it’ll be a whole year until they come around again? These are all valid experiences and feelings, make room for them.
Are you still “feeling” last night’s (or last week’s) meal in a way that isn’t comfortable? If so, consider what is truly underneath these feelings. Truth bomb: “feeling fat” or “feeling heavy” is not a true feeling, but rather, one that is socially constructed by diet culture. This mindset is not only rooted in body dysmorphia but is also pathologizing and stigmatizing to those in larger bodies. Consider professional resources to work through lingering body dissatisfaction and body dysmorphia (here is an option specific to dancers).
#3: Focus on Permission, Not Punishment
Just as we encourage permission to enjoy your favorite foods all year round, the same goes for now. Your holiday experience shouldn’t come with the need to obsessively plan your current or future eating and workout routine. Your body deserves nourishment, always. The same goes for rest.
#4: Reconsider Your Upcoming Resolutions
These specific feelings are what make this time of year super vulnerable to the messaging of diet culture. While there is nothing inherently wrong with creating New Year’s Resolutions, you can craft those resolutions in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling discouraged after 2 weeks.
First, remember this: resolutions that involve changing your body could be setting you up for a system designed to fail. Also, caution with resolutions to “healthify” your meal plan as these might be a guise for restrictive dieting. Are there any non-body-related changes you’d like to consider in the New Year? Jot them down and check out this article for more guidance on how to build sustainable New Year’s resolutions. And then, here’s a detailed list of some of my favorite New Year’s Resolutions for dancers.
#5: Make Your Nutriton Focus Way Less Obsessive
So, let me guess… you’re still feeling the urge to “get back on track,” even after I laid the facts straight? As tempting as it might be, turning to a “clean eating” meal plan or gulping gallons of water right now will likely land you back in a situation where similar to your Holiday, you’ll be feeling physical (and mental) discomfort after eating. This is because “overdoing it” is a normal response to deprivation. Instead of fueling the fire, consider these actionable micro-tips to fuel your body sustainably:
- Eat enough calories to support your body’s metabolism. Learn more about your calorie needs here.
- Understand what deprivation is and how to avoid it, especially in realm of “clean eating.”
- Consider a gentler and non-obsessive approach to boosting the nutrition throughout your day in a way that supports your energy needs. Learn more about it here.