One common New Year’s Resolution is to to lose weight or change something in your body shape in a definite way. Humans are like the Earth – we have cycles, we need cycles. And, we need markers to timing those cycles. So, celebrating the beginning of a new year is a very important marker that gives us the sense of renovation, renewal, which means that we accept the reproduction or continuity of life but we also hope for something new and better.
In a society immersed in a Diet Culture, the beginning of a new year also highlights the conflicting relationship we have with food, because food is an inherent part of the celebrations and rituals of this time of the year while plays an important role in our body weight and health. Diet Culture includes the mainstream and sometimes medical discourses about weight control, and it spreads some myths about how we can individually control our eating habits and consequently our weight. Most mainstream diets don’t take into consideration all the complexities involved in the definition of a person’s body weight and shape, and in the cultural relationships between emotions and food. So, at the end of the year, when there is this hope for better days, there is a very powerful appeal for you to evaluate your body “imperfections” and to make a decision about them. Behind this appeal there’s also judgment and punishment, because, if we part from the idea that you individually can control your body weight and shape if you don’t, what does this imply about yourself? The emotional effects that come from this implication are terrible and create another cycle – one that is not part of our natural cycles, but part of a collective mental health issue.
Emotional Eating is a term that we use in clinical settings to evaluate how a client’s eating behaviour is triggered by specific emotional needs and/or is responding to those. It is not a disorder and it is not a symptom of a mental health disorder, but it can be part of a mental health assessment. The way we eat can give us some clues about our emotional needs. And, emotional needs that are dysregulated and/or invalidated are in the basis of many mental health disorders. This means that emotional eating is simply part of life, but sometimes it is an indicative that something in our mental health is not well. An example is restricting yourself for an entire day in order to fulfil the anxiety provoked by an extreme negative body-image, and then binge eating at night or a few days later after realizing that starving didn’t make you lose the weight you wanted, feeling angry and a deep urge to self-punish. This kind of cycle reveals how very difficult emotions such as anxiety with body-image and guilt for not loosing weight are being addressed by an eating behaviour.
However, Emotional Eating is just a fact of life and cannot be eliminated! Celebrating with big dinners and gathering people around the table is the main mark of the Holidays at the end of December, which also usually includes drinking more alcohol and consuming more caloric, sugary meals. These meals are part of the joy, lightness, and abundance that we love to share at this time. For many cultures, independent of religion, cooking elaborate, beautiful and delicious meals and serving in abundance for a family and friends gathering mean the recognition of good fortune in life, which means that we are grateful for being alive and blessed by the goods of Earth – and as a Brazilian with a strong Portuguese heritage, I can definitely confirm that as a fact in Latin cultures including the North and South hemispheres. So, what I would like for you to take from this article is a sense of self-acceptance and self-compassion in facing the appeals of the Diet Culture. There’s much more in between our bodies and food than you can control by yourself. This doesn’t mean that you cannot make a decision to change your eating habits, maybe you do need to improve the quality of your meals or you need to address some of you emotional eating. Still, you can do this from a more realistic perspective and accepting your limitations and your possibilities.