Seems like almost every year around this time, the industry comes out with their usual crap advice for the holidays. Every year I get just as infuriated and feel as a responsible coach it’s my job to address this nonsense. Why? Because this particular nonsense has the potential to do so much real damage in the human psyche.
Every year industry diet and industry fitness “experts” write on ways and means to control your holiday eating or do specific workouts for burning off those extra indulgences. (Hence my mock headlines above.) This is a lot more troubling than most of you will accept. And it is also a huge mistake!
I think the best reference here is the lyrics of the En Vogue song, “Free Your Mind, and the Rest Will Follow.” Well the Industry Gurus in their infinite genius of stupidity do not want you to free your minds. They, in fact, intentionally or not, want to give you cause to be anxious and fearful about your celebrations over the holidays. Creating anxiety about how to control your eating during Thanksgiving or Christmas, and how to workout to burn off the excess creates a huge psychological battle in the minds of those who buy into this nonsense. Cultural traditions of holidays and the good spirits they engender in oneself are now purposely psychologically negotiated with conscious trepidation of “don’t overdo it,” “don’t eat too much,” “don’t gain weight.” In terms of wellness, this is a huge mistake.
People have been connecting food with celebration for as long as recorded history. Isn’t that what the first Thanksgiving was represented by? Appreciation and indulgence in bounty and abundance. See, the diet and training industry have this backwards because of their bodily obsessions. Being prisoner to diet-consciousness and body awareness at these once per year times, violate the human spirit and that natural food-connection we all have: and the resultant confusion and anxiety creates much more psychic harm than good. “Free your mind and the rest will follow.” Indeed.
But what is the mantra of the fitness and diet industry during the holidays? It is dangerously the exact opposite: more like “trap and confuse the mind and anguish will follow regardless.” I get sick of this nonsense every year. If there is one message I can get out there it’s that this is just flat out WRONG.
There are only a select few, shared, heightened, positive cultural indulgences in a year. To “flatten” this experience with weight consciousness and diet consciousness is to flatten the spirit and the intended sensibilities as well.
Most of us have our culturally held traditions in a very specific memory context of childhood. These memory connections are usually positive and expressive. This is important to hold while dealing with the notion that takes that connection away; that notion of diet and body-image sabotage during the holidays.
Diet-Consciousness vs. Food-Connection
At my last workshop we spent a good deal of time going over what is wrong with the diet and fitness industry and their lack of basic understanding of “food connection” in people. Before anyone can be healthily diet conscious they must first be healthily food connected. (You can see some points to follow to reach this in my 2010 Workshop Workbook)
Let’s stop creating guilt and shame to surround the most cherished traditions and celebrations that include food. This intrusion of confusion into the psyche is damaging. This is the equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bath water. You cannot “free your mind” and fully embrace your holidays if your mind is set to consciously be preoccupied with diet and body image at a time when it wants to be free and enjoy human connection. Food connection is tied, even in memory, to that human connection! How do words like “guilt,” “fear,” “worry,” “anxiety,” connect to the word “celebration”” THEY DON’T!!!
The inner turmoil this creates will usually result in a sabotage of both diet and celebration of the holidays, in the most intimate and important ways. Most who struggle/suffer/deny/stress about food or training during the holidays just have that play out down the road anyway. Why is it everyone is led to “trust their beliefs about diet rules during this time, and question their bodies” How about instead learning to “question your beliefs about diet rules during this time, and trusting your bodies?”
Celebrating with food, these special traditions can be a good thing. They are a good thing. Celebration that includes holiday festive food can reconnect you to yourself and positive memories. It’s expressive.
Generating guilt and shame and worry surrounding these traditions is ridiculous nonsense. It’s repressive. We need to get back to our mental/emotional healthy food-connection; instead of the guilt/shame/pressure cycle of diet-consciousness. So for the purpose of this blog here is what you need to know (these are also the emphasis of good coaching relationships as well):
The way you eat is inseparable from your actual beliefs about being alive. Your relationship with food is an exact mirror of your feelings about what and how you love, what and how you fear, what and how you feel, who you are, and how you live! This relationship is either a gateway to freedom, or a self-imposed prison. Your relationship to food not only tells how you relate to the world, but also tells on what level you know and love or respect yourself. So, even separate from holidays ask yourself, is this relationship angry, hostile, antagonistic, fearful? Controlling? Desperate? Confusing? Infantile and Immature? Abusive? Or is it Loving? Nurturing? Indulging? Engaging? Supportive? Healthy? Invigorating? Holistic? Etc. (I think you get the picture)
When people are told over and over again to subtract their enjoyment of food from the traditional celebrations they have known their whole life, then there is no more safe-haven. And then there is no more a place to ground oneself into being and feeling whole; embracing joy. Without being able to psychologically embrace the whole experience of the holidays, including food indulgence, then more is lost than gained. If you want to measure that and judge it on a bathroom scale, then I say even greater is the loss. “Free your mind” indeed.
I’ve been in this industry for decades. I know its strength and weaknesses, its truths and its falsehoods. And to generate an attitude of fear and guilt and shame around the holidays via diet and training consciousness is a mistake; a travesty, really. You can never own or have a truly positive experience with anything that generates fear, stress, or anxiety.
The Industry message seems to be, “Don’t let your holiday experience get in the way of your diet strategy, body-image goals.” To that, I say, “bullocks!”
I would rather put it this way, “Don’t let your diet-strategy, body-image goals get in the way of your holiday experience.”
See, the diet and fitness industry is very myopic and reductionist in thinking. Experts from this industry try to always “reduce” variables to simple equations that are not always true or valuable. The operating mantra of the diet/fitness industry is always the equation of behavior –> outcome. However most of us know this to be quite limited on second round inspection. The truth may be more to the point of thought –> behavior –> outcome. And of course, at an even higher level of awareness is the truth of thought/feeling –> behavior –> outcome –> experience. To create emotional angst around part of the holiday celebratory experience is to negate and dilute that experience. Emotional connection is imperative to a positive experience. Therefore in terms of the holidays a positive emotional connection to food is also a part of the overall experience. It should be embraced, not poisoned with rules or false constructs.
Take my own approach for example. Every year I look forward to the holidays. This time each year one of the big Supermarket Chains releases their “Insider Report” for all the seasonal goodies they offer. We look forward and anticipate its arrival, and we circle all the foods we will indulge in. Then we go get them. All part of the “experience” for us you see. I take two weeks off each Christmas, and I celebrate. I might have hot chocolate or egg nog or Christmas Cookies for breakfast. Whatever. I embrace all of it, especially the food.
I don’t weigh down the experience with morning weigh ins, or double-cardio. I don’t workout at all during that time. I just enjoy and embrace the whole of the spirit of the tradition. Food is part of that connected-experience. I am food-connected, not diet-conscious. Therefore I’ve never had a weight problem or a diet issue, and yet I’ve been practicing this behavior for decades. Some things are more important than diet, weight scale, mirror. Some things are bigger and have been part of who we are. Reduce, flatten, or sabotage those things, and you reduce, flatten, and sabotage wellness as well.
I mean, what is the message here, have a good holiday, but holiday food is the enemy. Create a mindset of “resistance”? I say to do that is to have your holiday experience be one of collateral damage, spiritually speaking. I know many of you are nodding your heads in agreement with that sentence!
The diet/fitness industry would have you believe that this time of year, “well doing leads to well being.” I say bullcrap to that. What I have always tried to teach and coach, and especially so this time of year, is the deeper reality, that “well-being leads to well-doing.”
I’m reminded of the lady who wore a ribbon of achievement she received from Weight Watchers which she changed slightly. It said, “I stayed on my diet and lost 10 lbs over the holidays,” and she wrote underneath that: “and I still feel like sh$t!”
The expression is “Happy Thanksgiving.” It’s not “Happy Thanksgiving, but…”
The expression is “Merry Christmas” It’s not “Merry Christmas, but…”
The expression is “Season’s Greetings.” Don’t allow the industry to prey on you and reduce this emotionally to self-induced “Season’s Beatings.”
Diet consciousness or food connection; and a time for every purpose under heaven.
Free your mind, and the rest will follow! Indeed.
Time to reconnect. Life and food are to be engaged, not resisted. And it’s alright to indulge with food to do that. There is a difference between whole-heartedly honoring and embracing tradition vs. the eating convenience of a Friday night.
Some of you will get it, some of you will not.
Sincerely, Happy Holidays to you all!