Celebrating the holidays.....and staying BODY POSITIVE!

Ugh, there’s still so much Halloween candy in the house and the holiday treats haven’t even rolled in yet! Thanksgiving pie! Christmas cookies! That Williams Sonoma goodie basket that my boss sends to us every year! PLUS all the extra snacking that’s been going on here during the Pandemic! Ugh… the “Quarantine 15” is so real… the whole family has put on so much weight! How do I help my tween/teen navigate all these holiday sweets!?

Does any of this sound like you?

If it does… you are not alone. Take a deep breath. There is no judgment here.

Lots of parents, for lots of reasons, experience anxiety as the holidays set in. Family gatherings (pre-pandemic, anyway) and holiday expectations have always been emotional hotbeds, and yes, some of our charge surrounds the uptick in access to seasonal sweets. The barrage of confections is real and so are your feelings about them… but the best thing we can do for our kids, tweens, and teens is to create an environment where they can enjoy their sweets, savor the season, and move on with their day. 

To support your tween/teens positive relationships with holiday sweets…. 

Get curious about what exactly is freaking you out. Ask yourself the following questions:

Am I worried my kids are going to eat so many sweets that they aren’t going to eat any of their nutritious foods?

Am I worried my kids are going to gain weight from all those sweets?

Am I worried if these sweets are around I (or my partner) will eat too much?

Why does the prospect of my kid gaining weight bother me? 

Would it be hard for me to accept my child’s larger body?

Am I concerned that they will face judgement from others if they gain weight?

Am I concerned that I might gain weight this holiday season? Why?

Again, the goal here is to ask yourself with curiosity… not judgment.. and to see how much information you can collect about your thoughts. 

Do you notice any weight stigma or fat phobia lurking deep inside you? 

Do you notice any concerns about health?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you have a little more work to do. In order to help your tweens/teens manage the holiday treats we need to make sure that your “stuff” isn’t getting in the way. 

But aren’t all of these sweets unhealthy? 

Depends on what you mean by healthy. Sure, the nutritional value of spinach is quite different from that of a snickerdoodle... but ingraining messages in our kids that sugary foods are toxic or should be avoided is no healthier. Even worse, moralizing about health or healthy food can make it virtually impossible for our kids to enjoy a healthy relationship to food in general.

As we try to parent body-positive tweens and teens in diet-culture we have a responsibility to help them experience food in the home environment without judgment. The more we judge food -- positively or negatively -- the more charge we have around it…. The more we fear the bad -- --> the more power food has. If during non-holiday times our kids and teens feel like sweets are scarce or should be limited, they are more likely to sneak food, test the limits, and ignore their body. This can lead them to eat out of opportunity… aka the holiday deluge of sweets… rather than genuine desire.

Stay in your lane and watch your words.

Now that you’ve started to differentiate your personal issues from your concerns about your tween/teen and are contemplating a broader definition of what “healthy” means, you may be wondering what your actual role is when it comes to navigating all of these sweets in your home? 

We like to lean on the Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding as a guide. You as parent get to decide the what, when, and where and your tween/teen gets to decide how much and whether or not. We want to create the vibe that all foods are welcome in the home, but support that with a structure that allows our kids to build eating competence and self-regulation skills on their own. If there are special foods and treats you like to enjoy as a family around the holidays, try to serve them at clearly designated meal and snack times. 

Also, try to keep your comments about food to a minimum -- more “oh man, this is so yummy!” -- less “oh man, I’m going to have to run this off!” Remember, we need to reduce the presence of weight stigma in our homes and model a “no big deal” attitude around all foods to create space for our kids to listen to their bodies, rather than judge them. The more they connect with their internal cues, the more capable they will be of stopping when they’ve had enough and moving on with their day. Sure, we want to protect our kids from feeling out of control around food, but creating opportunities for them to "over do it" on fun foods can actually be enormously valuable. It helps them learn more about what feels good.. and what doesn't... about their eating experience.

So if you’re feeling uneasy as the holiday fare ramps up, it may be wise to spend a little time attending to your own food issues, shoring up your feeding dynamics at home, and getting a jump start with some mini-food exposure activities. Don’t wait for Thanksgiving…serve a slice of pie next to some scrambled eggs at breakfast! If that prospect makes you nervous, notice that and get some support. We’re here to help.

 The Full Bloom Project is a research-informed body-positive parenting resource—designed by parents, for parents founded by Zoë Bisbing, LCSW and Leslie Bloch, LCSW-R, both psychotherapists based in New York City. Click here to purchase a copy of The ABC’s of Body-Positive Parenting.