In my last column, you met Amy, who shared how much better the holidays have been for her since she let go of an eating disorder. But eating disorders aren't the only food- and weight-related issues that can cause you to miss out on the joy and excitement that this season is supposed to bring.
When I met Dan, he was an accomplished man who was happy with most areas of his life except one: his health. Dan's lifestyle was best described as sedentary. Except when he was trying to lose weight, he didn't move around much at all. Dan looked defeated as he described feeling imprisoned by torturous diets of no carbs, no sweets, barely any calories and unpalatable foods. To him, the holidays were just another time to feel either more deprived or out of control — followed by feelings of frustration, disappointment in himself and anxiety.
"I was miserable during the holiday season," he told me. "In order to not gain weight, I was continually on a restrictive diet, and, as a result, I often felt anxiety and fear over making it through the parties and family gatherings that should bring joy. I'd eat less during the day and save up for a nighttime event. I denied myself at first. But, at some point, I would always give in and lose control.
"I just couldn't understand how I could successfully control every other aspect of my life and couldn't get past this seemingly insurmountable roadblock. I was so focused on this one small aspect of my life that it consumed everything else. It made me feel angry and ashamed."
Today, Dan has a different approach: "The answers were simple. … Stop the rules. Don't diet. If I really want it, eat it, and don't forget to really enjoy it. Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Move as much and as often as you can. As a result, I got my life back. I'm no longer anxious about the holidays. Before attending a party or event, I plan to eat something healthy beforehand. While at the party, if I see something that I really want, I eat it and savor it. There are no more rules, anxiety or diets. There are no more attempts to control my mind. Just family, friends, fun and festivities. Something so elusive became so obvious and simple!"
It's interesting that Dan's statements don't mention weight. He stopped focusing on weight and focused on the work he needed to do. While he didn't have an eating disorder, his lifestyle was indeed disordered. Today, not only is Dan having happy holidays, but he's also doing it as a leaner and healthier person.
Steve's problem wasn't an eating disorder either. It was perfectionism — although he thought he was far from a perfectionist. "How could a perfectionist's life be so filled with failure?" he thought.
Steve was overweight and unfit. He was having problems with relationships and work. And he was filled with feelings of loathing for himself. As you might imagine, the holidays were just more of the same. Steve believed that thinking about himself to any extent meant that he was selfish and should be punished. With a belief system like this, it would be impossible to enjoy anything, not to mention the holidays.
"Life is very different now. I've learned that perfectionism makes you feel like a failure at everything. It can destroy relationships and get in the way of any success,'' he said.
"I began to see that only letting go of my belief system and accepting life as imperfect was going to bring me happiness and peace. Once I achieved this, working on my health and weight became easier. It's not only okay to make myself a priority in my life, but it's absolutely essential. Now the holidays are a time to celebrate the joy that I have in my life the rest of the year."
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at [email protected]