Suzanne Manser, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

How to Get Through the Holidays Without Focusing on Your Weight

Are you dreading the holidays because you’re worried about gaining weight? Are you already strategizing about what you will and won’t let yourself eat on Thanksgiving? Are you worried about what certain family members will think about your body size?

Welcome to the tribe, my friend. You are not alone. The holiday season is notorious for good foods and bad body images. Instead of prioritizing fun or connection during this time, we obsess about how not to gain weight. Instead of a season of joy, it becomes six weeks of anxiety and low self-esteem.

Let’s change that. I’ve got a 5-step plan.

Step 1.  Get clear about why you want to stop focusing on your weight.

This part is crucial – it will keep you motivated in the hardest moments.

What happens when you focus on your weight? Does it make you feel bad about yourself? Does it make you feel inferior to the people around you? Does it give you anxiety? Does it distract you from enjoying the holiday? Does it distract you from connecting with the people around you?

When you see that focusing on your weight isn’t helpful – and is in fact harmful – make the decision to focus elsewhere this holiday season.

Step 2.  Let’s reinforce that decision. Consider the idea that your weight is not actually important or relevant.

This is a tough belief to come to, especially in our weight-obsessed society.

Our society tells us that our body size is relevant to our beauty and acceptability. The thinner we are, the more attractive and acceptable we are. Our society, and even our doctors, tell us that weight is related to health; the fatter we get, the less healthy we get.

Both of those messages are patently, blatantly incorrect.

Our body size has nothing to do with our beauty, our value, or our acceptability. To reinforce that for yourself, practice body neutrality. Body neutrality reminds us that the point of our bodies is to allow us to live and have every experience we ever have – not to look pretty.

Weight is not a marker of health. Fat people can be healthy and thin people can be unhealthy. While our food patterns contribute to our health to a degree, it’s a smaller degree than you think. Other factors include our sleep patterns, our genetics, and the way we’re treated by our doctors . To learn more about how weight and health are not related, check out these books: Body Respect: What Conventional Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight and Anti-Diet.

Just to reiterate, weight and body size have nothing to do with beauty, worth, or health. No need to focus on them.

Step 3.  Decide to eat the food you want to eat over the holidays. Period.

When weight is not scary, food becomes much less scary. A second helping of mashed potatoes is not the enemy. It’s just yummy.

The way that you eat over the holidays has nothing to do with your worth or health. When you understand this, you can be mindful about what you eat without it being a focus.

The alternative, by the way, is to focus on not eating “too much” food. That’s not helpful – all that does is guarantee that you’ll be focused on food and on how “bad” you are for wanting more of it. Your chances of eating more than you had planned also increase.

Step 4.  Decide what you want to focus on instead of your weight or food.

This part is really important. What would be helpful to keep in mind? What would feel good to focus on?

  • What is it about the upcoming holiday or holiday gathering that is important to you?
  • What do you want to get out of it?
  • What do you want to experience?
  • How do you want to feel?
  • Who do you want to spend time with?
  • How do you want to feel when it’s over?

Spend time with these questions prior to the holiday. Set an intention to prioritize your responses, and plan to keep returning your attention to this intention. The more effort you put into focusing on these helpful thoughts, the less you will focus on unhelpful thoughts.

Step 5.  Be prepared to catch yourself returning to old habits.

Your mind will wander back to focusing on your weight. When you’re not paying attention, it will compare your body with everyone else’s or with your own body size from past years. It will yell at you for eating an “extra” cookie.

When this happens, simply remind yourself that focusing on your size or food isn’t helpful and bring your focus back to the intentions you set. You’ll have to do this a lot; keep reminding yourself why it’s worth it (see Step 1).

Bonus Step.  If you fear gaining weight so much that it eclipses the fun of the holidays, consider your relationship to anti-fat bias.

Why do you fear gaining weight? What does weight gain say about you? How do you think about fat people? Do you see them as lazy, undisciplined, ugly, unhealthy, less intelligent, or just less-than because of their size? 

We all have internalized biases that need to be examined and worked through. Start questioning why weight matters so much to you.

That’s it! Five steps to a much more enjoyable holiday season.

Cheers to good foods and neutral body images!

** For additional strategies and ideas, check out my past holiday-related posts: Surviving Thanksgiving and Intentional Holidays.

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