By VANESSA HAMPTON
This is my absolute favorite time of year. We are surrounded by Christmas decorations, seasonal music, holiday cheer, and food…a lot of food. Many of our gatherings are centered around eating and, while we love celebrating together, it can be a stressful time for many of us that try to make healthy eating our norm.
When I began my journey in fitness, I started first by addressing my food. I completely changed my eating and made a commitment to myself about my food choices. The most difficult part of this was not my will power or changing my habits. The most difficult part was the peer pressure from the people I worked with and other people in my life surrounding my food choices.
With a career in Finance at the time, I worked in an office environment. It seemed like it was always someone’s birthday or some occasion for everyone to bring in cake or other foods that I was trying to avoid. The temptation of those foods was not the real challenge for me. The real challenge was that, when I would choose not to eat what was offered, it seemed almost offensive to some. I eventually stopped participating in the celebrations at all. I would make a quick appearance and then go straight back to my office to eat the food that I had committed to and knew was a better choice for me.
I experienced the same thing outside of the office. When I would meet friends or family for dinner, I would receive criticism for not indulging in the less healthy options at the restaurant, as everyone else was doing. It was hard. Really hard. At first, I found myself avoiding social situations that involved food so that I didn’t face what I perceived as judgement. I just didn’t understand how I could possibly be in the wrong for trying to improve my health, but somehow I still felt guilty for not doing what others wanted me to.
It wasn’t until later that I found confidence in my decisions. Over time, and after sticking to my commitment, some of my coworkers began to tell me how much they admired my willpower and strength about my choices. Some of them even thanked me for being a silent inspiration to them. They told me that seeing me stick to my commitment was causing them to decide to make better choices for themselves. What I realized is that the criticism I faced was coming from a place of insecurity from the critics, not something I was doing wrong. Their insecurity was founded in not making choices for their own self that they could feel good about. Unfortunately, we all too often judge others based on insecurities about what we wished we could change in ourselves.
I know that, as adults, we tend to think that peer pressure is a thing of the past from our school days, but it is definitely not. Besides being faced with criticism or pressure at parties or at the office when we make healthier choices, some of our friends and family show love through food (my husband is one of those people) and feel rejected if that food is not accepted. This means that they can sometimes get pushy about it (often times without even realizing it ) because they want that “love” to be recognized. You may even find, when you think about it, that you do that yourself to some extent. Being on the receiving end of that pressure is when it’s challenging not to give in. Of course, we don’t hurt someone’s feelings or make them feel like we don’t accept their thoughtfulness and love!
If this is something that hits home with you, try being open about it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling someone that you are going to decline their food or their sweets because you have made a commitment to yourself to make healthier choices. Recruit them to help you! Tell them that you are building a team of cheerleaders that lift you up and support your choices so that you can accomplish your holiday eating goals. Explain to them that you want this Christmas season to be different for you because you want to make good choices despite all of the temptations. I promise you will have friends that want to help. You may even inspire others to do the same!
In the end, it is a choice…your choice. You have a choice in food…even during the holidays. You have a choice in the actions you take that you know will make you feel successful. You also have a choice to decide that your health is more important than the possibility of hurting someone’s feelings or receiving a criticizing look or word. Just remember these guidelines:
Practice grace and understanding for both yourself and others. Be kind but firm in your commitments and remember that, by doing so, you may be helping someone else do the same. Don’t try to completely restrict yourself in your holiday food choices but set your own boundaries while remembering that moderation is key. Finally, show love from your heart and through your actions … not through food.
Vanessa Hampton, owner of Body Balance with V, is a personal trainer, yoga instructor, and CrossFit coach (CrossFit Cool Springs, Brentwood). Follow her on Facebook or Instagram @bodybalancewithv or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.