• The festive season typically means more social events and more indulgence in food and drink

  • If this fills you with dread and triggers body image issues, it might be time to reach out for support says counsellor Gabriela Morris

  • We have therapists available to support you here

Holiday season is upon us. With it comes party invitations, family gatherings and plenty of eating and drinking. But, not everyone is able to enjoy the prospect of it all. 

You normally love socialising with friends, you enjoy swimming and playing sports. But maybe you've not done it in a long time, because of the fear of being judged, the humiliation, feeling uncomfortable, comparing yourself to the 'perfect' bodies of your friends; it's just too painful to face. And so, you stay at home.

And you justify this to yourself every time. I wasn't feeling well, something else came up, I didn't want to go in the first place, nothing fits me, looks good on me...

Of course, sometimes it is OK (and needed!) to cancel and prioritise what's best for you. 

But if you regularly find yourself dreading a party because you don't like the way you look and you end up canceling at the last minute, it could be a sign of a bigger issue.

And why should everyone else have fun, while you hide away and limit yourself to wearing oversized hoodies all year round? You also deserve to have fun and enjoy wearing whatever you like!

It's not always possible to cancel invitations to family gatherings, and part of you wants to see your loved ones.

The thought of being judged for how much or how little you eat, the auntie you don't see often observing how much weight you've put on and little nephews laughing and pointing while singing who ate all the pies makes you wish the earth swallowed you up. I get it.

The answer is to accept yourself as you are, love yourself as a whole person with so much more to offer and work on what triggers and hurts you the most.

But before you do that, I see you. I see you reaching out for a packet of biscuits and not stopping at two or six. I see you feeling worthless, uncomfortable, unhappy, angry, reckless or feeling any other emotion that is way too painful to feel. This could be a sign you're an emotional eater.


Identifying emotional eating

So many of us use food as a comfort. It's possible it has been used as a reward since we were small children.

Ask yourself these questions to see if you're an emotional eater:

  • Do you eat more when stressed?
  • Do you eat when you're not hungry?
  • Do you use food to calm yourself or when you feel bored or anxious?
  • Do you overeat?
  • Do you use food as a reward?
  • Do you eat if life gets out of control?
  • Do you eat because food makes you feel safe, comforted?

In therapy we explore each of these and see if you can find a healthier coping mechanism.

It's not easy to cope alone, but because of the shame we find it hard to let people in.

It can be way too painful to sit with our thoughts and food can be our quick fix, distraction, moment of feeling good, while creating an unhealthy cycle. It's never too late to ask for help and support.

To help to break the cycle it helps to identify the difference between physical and emotional hunger.

Physical hunger manifests gradually, while emotional hunger is driven by emotions and feelings and sensations we feel suddenly and can be overwhelming.

But this isn't about losing weight

Identifying if you are an emotional eater could help you unlock and work through a range of difficulties. It could be a fruitful avenue of exploration. But, this isn't just about losing weight. It might not be about weight at all.

Your size and shape don't reflect your value as a person.

Working on body acceptance issues will help you see yourself in a different light, focusing on what your body can do and why it deserves love and care as well as what are your strengths as a whole person. Yes, a WHOLE PERSON. Because, you're not just your body. You are so much more.

You can spend weeks avoiding all the wonderful treats, in order to fit into someone's standard of body image for Christmas, only to be hit by the January pushing on the sale of the gym gear and slimming clubs offers, depleting you of the joy of spending time with family and friends and being present.

You're here to live and enjoy your life with everything around you and to be mindful, walk outdoors, laugh and play, and eat with joy.

Managing negative self-talk

Have you tried to observe your thoughts and the constant negative narrative? Imagine listening to a TV broadcast filled with murders and disasters all day long. Do you think this will affect your mood and perspective on life at the end of the day?

You know the answer. And just like this would offer a distorted view of the world, listening to your negative narrative shapes the way you view yourself, resulting in a negative body image. 

Challenge yourself to turn around every negative thought about your body to something positive. We are always ready to say something when we hear our friends slander themselves. Yet when it comes to ourselves, we are ruthless, unforgiving, critical, lacking any form of compassion. 

The problem is usually much more complex and requires unlearning unhealthy habits and challenging our beliefs that often stems from our childhoods. 

If you are feeling helpless and would like to finally start living a more contented life, maybe it's time to search for a therapist that can help you explore your negative unhelpful and unhealthy patterns. 

Therapy often leads to a higher level of understanding where your issues come from, so it gets easier to address and make healthier choices for yourself. 

You may discover some unhealed wounds that are keeping you in a constant loop of feeling worthless. 

Be gentle and kind to yourself, just that alone can help to break the cycle of constant self abuse.

When shame weighs you down

A difficult relationship with food and body image can also prompt feelings of shame. It's an incredibly difficult feeling. In therapy we can also work on identifying shame and learning how we can build enough resilience to move through it. Therapy will help you develop more critical awareness about how shame keeps a hold on you. 

This will help you for yourself, but will also help in your relationships. When we gather the strength to be vulnerable and we become aware of our shame triggers (and what gets under our skin!) we feel more confident and prepared to deal with other people's unhelpful comments and projections. 

If you're feeling overwhelmed and you are not able to enjoy life and do things that bring you joy, reach out, find a qualified counsellor who will be able to support you in your journey and help you adopt healthier coping mechanisms and tools to take control. 

Don't wait for a new year resolution, there's never a better time than now.

Gabriela Morris is a verified Welldoing therapist in Dorset and online

Further reading

Mirror images: how body dysmorphia distorts reality

How CBT changed my relationship with my body

Dear body, a love letter

5 New Year's resolutions to support a healthy relationship with food