Christmas should be a time for enjoyment and relaxation - but for many, it’s marred by guilt and shame over food.
When you pass the age of about 13 and Christmas is no longer the mega-exciting highlight of your year, you quickly come to realise that the best thing about the entire festive season is the food and drink.
But this joy is often short lived - especially if you’re a woman.
Every year, as sure as Last Christmas being piped into supermarkets way too early, the Christmas calorie shaming begins. Reams of articles start being published: “this is how many calories are REALLY in your favourite festive drinks/Christmas sandwiches/roast dinners”. This year, women’s mags have even been ranking Starbucks’ Christmas drinks by calories – adding guilt and shame to the Christmas menu.
Retailers including Matalan have also been criticised for releasing Christmas jumpers with the slogan “Xmas calories don’t count”. The company was eventually forced to remove the item from stores.
It doesn’t get much better after New Year, either: if anything, it gets worse. Resolution plans almost always include diet and fitness goals; celebrities, magazines, websites and weight loss companies alike all monopolise on this, pushing products they say will get you that body you’ve always dreamed of.
The problem is so prevalent that the British Dietetic Association (BDA) has released a list of potentially harmful diets we’re likely to be exposed to in 2018. “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” warned spokesperson Sian Porter.
The regimes include the now ubiquitous Raw Vegan diet, the “Alkaline diet”, a range of supplements from Katie Price, the “Pioppi diet” and the “Ketogenic diet” – all of which involve restricting certain types of food.
The fact that the BDA has been compelled to release the list in time for the New Year is evidence of how prevalent conversations about food and diets are during the festive period. Last year, celebrities including Gogglebox’s Scarlett Moffat, Davina McCall, ‘Body Coach’ Joe Wicks and Geordie Shore’s Charlotte Crosby all released fitness DVDs during the same period – with Moffat’s being released on Boxing Day itself to capitalise on that post-Christmas dinner guilt.
And when February rolls around, the “you’ll probably have given up on your diet/exercise plan by now!” articles start popping up – thus completing the cycle of shame.
“It’s the age-old trick of mainstream media,” Eve Simmons, co-editor of Not Plant Based, a site designed to “alleviate food anxieties using medical experts and qualified dieticians” tells stylist.co.uk. “Not only is it astronomically lazy and concerning that we can’t seem to dream up original content, but it’s also potentially hugely damaging to everyone - not just those who suffer or may be vulnerable to developing an eating disorder.”
Simmons says she’s “constantly approached” by young women “desperately seeking recovery in a world which scares them off the food that they are trying to reconnect with”.
“Despite their commitment to recovery and how far they have come, it’s a constant battle to navigate their way through these toxic and, more often than not, inaccurate messages,” she says.
Eating disorder charities also stress how hard these kinds of narratives can be around the Christmas period. SEED, a charity offering peer services for those with eating disorders, has even produced a guide to coping with Christmas; last year, Beat set up a helpline for those struggling during Christmas.
Enough of making women think about calories and diets every time they eat literally anything.
Enough of making us feel worthless in order to sell exercise DVDs or gym memberships.
Enough of treating fat women’s bodies as if they’re a problem to be solved.
If you want to tone up or get fit, and New Year resolutions are what you need to motivate you - that’s great. What isn’t okay, however, is an oppressive narrative that makes women feel bad for every frappe and roast potato we eat over Christmas, and that shames us so much we feel compelled to starve ourselves or buy products to change ourselves when January rolls around.
There are things you can do around Christmas, though.
“It’s about communicating what works for that family - which could mean that family can spend Christmas Day together,” a spokesperson from Beat says.
“Planning is hugely important – talk about what you are going to do on Christmas Day and the period thereafter, and when and how food will be involved. Once meals are over put food away and find activities that don’t revolve around food – wrap up warm and go for a walk, play games, or find a good film to watch.”
Over Christmas, Beat will be offering help to those with eating disorders and their families – on a freephone helpline on 0808 801 0677, via live chats and message boards, and on their Twitter account @BeatEDSupport.
“My main advice would be to concentrate on you, and remember that you are worthy just as you are,” Simmons adds.
“Coming from someone who almost lost everything at the hands of trying to look a certain way, it is SO not worth it, and I’m so much happier now that I can enjoy a pig in a blanket and roast potatoes (in goose fat) without freaking out.”
We’re all perfect as we are, basically – and there’s nothing any body-shaming jumper can do about it.
For information and help on eating disorders, visit eating disorder charity BEAT.