#022: The holidays—coping with people who trigger you

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Find strategies to get you through every social event this festive season

The holidays are coming … along with the parties, get-togethers and celebrations that happen during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year.

Perhaps there are certain people whose behaviour is guaranteed to drive you straight to the buffet table, or lead to a binge in the attempt to cope, or recover.

Listen in to discover strategies to put yourself back in control of how you feel, and a selection of techniques to choose from to make your festive season way more enjoyable, no matter what those other people do or say.

Click here for your FREE Guide: 8 simple strategies to break the binge eating cycle

View the full episode transcript

I promise I’m not a horrible Christmas Scrooge!! But I have felt and watched and recognise the different sorts of pressures that can mount over the holidays. And I reckon all of us could do with a bit of support set up in advance as we go through the inevitable ups and downs.

Welcome to the YoYo Freedom Podcast.

This is the place to learn actionable, step-by-step tools and strategies to help you stop bingeing or overeating and start feeling relaxed and confident around food, 

so that you can show up for your life on your terms.

I’m Gemma Keys and I know first hand what it’s like to feel out-of-control around food and trapped in the pain of binge eating and body-shame.

There is a way out. 

Keep listening to discover your path to food freedom.

Hello and welcome.

Strange though it feels to say, the holiday season is a-coming. So in this and the next few episodes we’re talking food and the holidays.

If you’re here in the UK, it’s mostly a run up to Christmas in the shops, and it’s still pretty early for us, but I know many of you are listening from other places. Canada has already celebrated Thanksgiving and I know in the States it’s toward the end of November.

Wherever you are, the holidays are likely to be here—or nearly here—so it’s a good time to start turning your attention towards what’s happening at this time of year and ways to get through with the most ease and maybe even enjoyment!

Everything we’ll discuss can be applied to any situation and any time of year, but it usually the case that the holidays have a certain mix of people, places, travelling to visit or having visitors, individual or shared traditions and rituals-–it’s like everything’s in there at once.

AND almost always, to some extent, it feels as if we have a little less control, routine and structure, and choice than in usual day-to-day life—which is why it’s worth thinking about them in advance.

Now, as I say this it’s as if I can almost hear a kind of little snigger or snort coming from you but, one of the most challenging parts of the holidays can be people, right?

And, when it comes to food, it’s often what happens with The People that’s likely to send you right off the rails.

It might be people you adore but perhaps aren’t used to being in that close proximity with for so long.

Or people you don’t adore quite so much … 

Family and friends and friends-of-friends—everyone’s thrown in with a mish-mash of political and social and religious or spiritual views, with ideas about what they like and what should be going on, how big or small the celebrations should be, special traditions or what other people should be wearing (I’m always the scruffy one here), how much money’s spent and how much effort is put in. All the different people with opinions and expectations and commentary and all the things.

And, as well as all the food that comes with special celebration times, among the people around you, you may well be faced with people who comment on your body or weight or life, what you eat, your choices and, you know, just like to put their two pennies worth in so you know what they think. There may be people who want to be waited on, and people who want to over-help. Or you may be out of your own territory and comfort zone and not quite know what to do to help out or entertain or get involved or whatever.

Even before that, the holiday season might be scheduled up with things like work dos and parties and & expectations of glitz, glamour & fun.

Sometimes it actually is super-fun but it may also leave you feeling a little depleted or strung out, juggling days at work, extra spending, kid’s performances and Christmas carols or whatever, other religious or faith-related events. It could be staying up later, drinking more booze and bubbly, eating more buffets or party food, or just planning the next position of that wretched naughty festive elf that seems to be a thing now and seems a great idea before it begins to torment parents everywhere..

I promise I’m not a horrible Christmas Scrooge!! But I have felt and watched and recognise the different sorts of pressures that can mount over the holidays. And I reckon all of us could do with a bit of support set up in advance as we go through the inevitable ups and downs.

So, back to people—this is an episode for you if any of these ring a bell:

  • Auntie Suzie won’t take “no thank you” for an answer as she offers you a warm, home-baked mince pie for the fifth time in an hour and seems to take it as a personal affront if you don’t eat one
  • That mate of your friend has had a couple too many glasses of mulled wine and starts laughing at his own inappropriate jokes which are made in very poor taste
  • Your granny comments on your weight and outfit and asks what you’re gonna do to find a nice young man or woman
  • Uncle Fred finds the most comfy chair and there he stays, expecting his every whim to be met and to be waited on hand, foot and finger
  • The kids run around shrieking on a sleep-deprived, tired-&-wired sugar high and seem to trash every room they go into before the inevitable tears
  • And there’s noise and chats and “debates” & maybe a few of those old family issues come to the surface to create tensions, fallouts, or that kind’ve very LOUD silent sulking or withdrawal

Not everyone’s holiday looks like that, of course, but maybe a couple of those sound familiar—or, simply gather up a list of your own. I mean, sometimes just thinking about Christmas and New Year makes me want to crack open a bottle of Baileys just to calm the anxiety buzzing around my body!!—and Bailey’s isn’t bad at all, but for me it always, ALWAYS leaves me feeling awful for at least a few days so I just know I’m so much better without it.

And it makes so much sense. These times of year are bigged up so much, expectations are high and, at the same time, your levels of resilience are probably  lower than usual because of all the planning, organisation, extra events, spending, cooking and cleaning and all the rest of it—and secret eating or bingeing or sneaking some chocolate money offers a way to get a break, to escape or to rest, or to create a burst of pleasure and enjoyment.

If you binge through the festive season, you are in no way alone!

So, back to the people. I’m guessing there’s probably at least one person who crosses your path and says or does something that’s pretty much guaranteed to awaken an invisible hand that virtually pushes you to eating food that, when you look back, you really wish you hadn’t eaten.

The first strategy to deal with that person, is to expect them to do what they always do—to expect it to happen.

It’s so funny, isn’t it, how our expectations of holiday celebrations is so charged. Often, we look forward to it, and really want it to be wonderful. And do you notice how that version of wonderful can be a vision of, by some miracle, the annoying people behaving differently this year?! Surely, they’ll realise the error of their irritating or rude behaviour in previous years. I mean, perhaps there’s gonna be personality transplants and everyone’s gonna get on like a house on fire.

Hmmmm—I expect some people hope that about me too, especially my husband who loves parties and being with loads of people whereas I’m much more of a “let’s go out for coffee at 9am and I really love filling up my hot water bottle ready to hunker down by about 8:30 at night, so I’m not exactly his ideal party buddy!

And more than likely, none of us are going to change that much this time round either. Whoever the person is who’s flicked all your switches in previous years is probably going to keep on doing and saying exactly the same things this year. And, by expecting it, you’re giving yourself the gift of letting them do whatever they’re gonna do while you get to choose how to respond.

Now, whenever they do or say the thing, your go-to, default reaction is almost certainly gonna be the same too—at least to start with. So don’t be surprised if you’re gritting your teeth or left gaping in shock and horror. In fact, remembering your own reaction is exactly the information you need to start looking after yourself, supporting yourself without needing to rely so heavily on the food to get through …. 

You know what I mean right? Grabbing a couple handfuls of Quality Street chocolates and eating them on the loo … and then going back for the tin, or necking a glass of wine to take the edge off the aggravation, and then you’ve got the munchies for the rest of the day.

So make a list. Who is it who gets to you? What are they gonna do—because that’s what they ALWAYS do? Where and when are the situations you feel maxed out by or frustrated or wiped out or irritated? Get them out of your head and noted down so you can take a look. 

Maybe even smile to yourself as you go. “Yup, it’s gonna happen, it’s coming!”

Now that you’ve got a starting point, choose one example. You’ve got space between now and when it’s gonna happen right now, and that creates a little breathing room to think it through with more ease and calm. 

Looking at the bare facts of what the person is likely to say or do, what’s coming up for you? What do you think about it? How do you feel as you imagine the last time it happened? What did you do back then? 

Maybe it was straight to the food, or maybe it was the start of feeling irritated and frustrated and those feelings simmered all day until, when the evening came, those leftovers didn’t stand a chance.

There’s no judgement here. It’s just an opportunity to trace through what happens and how it effects you, so that you can see it more clearly—sort of upping your awareness.

And then you can start playing with it a bit. For example, what are some other possible interpretations of the behaviour or actions of that person—perhaps an opinion someone else might have about what they do. 

Like, are you someone who (like me) has been on so many different diets and health kicks over the years that it was almost impossible to get it right as far as what I was or wasn’t eating at any one time, let alone when I binned it all off and started eating everything in sight. My 2005 it was probably low fat and counting points, by 2010 I was adding up Slimming World syns instead. In 2015 it was low carb high fat and keto. In between, it was juicing or plant-based or caffeine free or just whatever I was trying at the time that seemed to be The Answer. At the time, I was bound to have thought someone else was being a food-pusher when they kept asking me if I wanted another slice of cake, but it’s way more likely they were just making a huge effort to be kind and polite and inclusive and not make a big deal about my “eating rules”.

So, there are different ways to look at exactly the same situation—like look at it through different eyes to see if a different interpretation might feel better for you, even if the behaviour itself doesn’t change. 

Because being offered a piece of cake can shift from being perceived as an act of disrespect or trying to force you to eat something you don’t want to, to being a gesture of being kind and considerate. And, if you were to think about it like that, what might happen?

You might decide to smile and say, “Oh, I really appreciate the offer but no thank you.” Maybe you’d like to play a little internal game and count the number of times the cake is offered. Will a total of 7 be reached today or not? With something like that, the energy of being offered the cake can really change. 

And there may also be some things that’ll never feel ok, like sexist jokes or something else that flies in the face of your value system. If and when that happens, how would you like to think about it? What would you like to do? It may be to walk away. It may be to say, “I really don’t like that and think it’s putting people down,” and ask the person to stop. From this vantage point of imagining the situation coming up, what response would feel right to you?

When you’ve examined the action or behaviour that’s felt so triggering in the past, and played with ideas to reinterpret it, or simply decided it’s still unacceptable but also may well hold some degree of inevitability, you can make a plan of what to do next.

Because, from here, you’ll know what you’d LIKE to think or feel or say or do, and you can start planning for it.

For example, 

  • If Auntie Suzie asks me if I want a mince pie more than once, I’m going to say, “no thank you” in a different way each time and see how many times I can keep going.
  • Or, when my granny comments on my body or weight or outfit, I’m, going to remind myself that it’s her way of trying to look out for me, and say to her, “oh granny, I love you but my body is my business.”
  • And as for Uncle Fred’s expectation of being waited on, you might decide that, when he says he’d love a cup of tea you want to pat his shoulder and say, “of course, do help yourself, everything you need is right beside the kettle!”

There’s no right or wrong behind any of these—they are purely about finding ways to help you feel a bit more empowered, to find what feels right for you and that’ll lead to you feeling a bit better no matter how anyone else behaves.

So why not experiment with that yourself.

Expect the behaviour you dread to happen.

Play around with it to see if there are any other ways to interpret it or view it.

Decide in advance, if thing X happens, they I will practice thinking or do this other thing Y.

That might be calling someone out. It might be really loving on yourself and reminding yourself that you’re an beautiful and valuable and irreplaceable person. Or maybe remind yourself that frankly you’re doing great, and have a little ironic laugh to yourself about your adverse circumstances given some of the people you’re dealing with. Or it could be thinking, “they’re doing their best in the only way they know how,” or “everyone has their own thing going on in the background.” 

Or it might even be to make up your own little game and have some fun with an someone else’s words or actions that used to drive you crazy.

So, to wrap up, why not start planning for those holiday people and their special ways now? Chances are, Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year or whichever way you might be celebrating—or not celebrating but getting a bit of time time out from the norm—chances are you’re beginning to think about it already. Why not let those thoughts serve and support you this year? Start imagining—start visualising exactly what it’s going to be like to feel better, to be kind to yourself, to feel more empowered, to look after yourself, to have an action plan for when The Person does The Thing they Always Do!

Mentally walk through it. Maybe laugh to yourself or give yourself a high-five.

Just like with athletes visualising every moment of a race or game in their head, this process really can have a significant impact on what actually happens in the main event. It can change the way you react to the people around you and, if you do tend to eat more in response to those people, it can help you find new ways though that feel good for you.

That’s it for today’s episode. Thank you for listening.

I hope you’ve found this episode helpful. Subscribe to The YoYo Freedom Podcast for more insight, tools and support as you pull back from bingeing, overeating or yoyo-dieting and step into your most authentic, vibrant life.

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Thank you so much! And Bye-bye for now.

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