Image Source: Heather McBride Photography, Philly
Are you ready for the holidays? From your tía's unsolicited remarks on the pounds you've put on or lost since last year, to the pressure to eat more, for many who struggle with body image, nutrition, or even disordered eating, this season of nonstop gatherings can be particularly challenging, especially considering some of us haven't been able to get together with family for two years. Since COVID, your hard-earned boundary-setting powers can be rusty, or maybe you've never confronted your family about their hurtful comments around your appearance and your nutrition choices before. The holidays are not just about food, but let's face it, it does play a major role in these two months of fiestas, especially if you're part of a Latinx family.
"I grew up in a very Dominican family, and December was such a huge month for partying and drinking and eating so much," Latinx nutritionist, intuitive eating expert, and anti-diet advocate Dalina Soto (aka @your.latina.nutritionist on Instagram) told POPSUGAR. "All of these events are supposed to be happy and fun, but then you have la tía or la abuela commenting on your body and your food choices, and it's so hard because everything revolves around food."
According to Soto and the no-dieting movement, intuitive eating is "a self-care way of seeing food and your health," she explained. "It's all about finding what works best for you and your body in a nonrestrictive way."
And speaking of restriction, there is so much restriction culture and dieting pressure around the holidays that Soto even designed a master class focused on navigating las fiestas. We asked her for practical tips to navigate the season, set healthy boundaries with your family, and actually enjoy pastelitos without stress. That's the whole point!
Take "Holiday Foods" Off That Pedestal
The holidays come once a year, yes, but the expert reminded us that we can eat that "special" food any other time of the year. Wait, what? Maybe you need to stop and reread that: you can eat that delicious traditional food any time of the year. You can either make it yourself or find it in one of the many Latinx stores and restaurants in your city.
Thoughts like, "I have to eat everything right now because I'm never gonna be able to have this again until next year," can lead you to overeat and stress even more. This Nochebuena can be an excellent opportunity to ask your grandma for your favorite holiday recipe, so you can start making it yourself at home any random night. When the time comes, you would not have been dreaming about that dish for weeks ahead of the feast.
Keep Your Eating Routines as Normal as Possible During This Time
Soto insists that you stay away from an all-or-anything mentality and stop giving food so much power. "You are allowed to live your life in November and December regularly like you do the rest of the year, and you should continue to eat and move your body normally," she said. Why not work out and have a healthy breakfast before Nochebuena, just as you would any other day?
One of the most popular dieting trends around this time is to "detox" before or after the holidays. But, according to Soto, that can make it worse. "If you're not nourished, and you go to a party hungry because you decided to do a fast prior to getting to this party, do you really think that you're just going to have one pastelito? No! You're going to have 10 because your body's starving because you just fasted." It's important to have your usual breakfast and lunch before these events. It takes off stress, anticipation, and, more importantly, hunger.
There is power in saying, "No quiero más tamales." As hard as setting boundaries can be, especially for many Latinxs who grew up in environments where one wasn't encouraged or allowed to talk about feelings, Soto suggests reminding yourself that boundaries are for you more than they are for your family.
If you don't even know where to start, Soto recommends using "I" statements to emphasize how you feel. She suggests starting with something like: "Mira tía, when you ask me if I'm going to eat all of this or that I feel bad because I like your food. I came here to enjoy your food and spend time with the family, and your comments don't make me feel good."
Another important detail is finding the right moment. You don't want to put someone on the spot in front of all the family to share this feeling because it could bacakfire and cause the other person to become defensive. One way of avoiding this is by thinking about who in your family usually makes these comments that upset you or forces you to eat more than you want to, and you can talk to them before the party. In that conversation, Soto suggests sharing with them that you are in the process of learning how to eat better, to listen to your body and feel better mentally and physically; that you're working with professionals on this process — if you are — and that their comments don't help at all. If this sounds too hard or uncomfortable for you, Soto urges you to give yourself permission to just walk away from that person or that uncomfortable situation. You don't even have to explain why. Pexels/Monstera
Repeat Powerful Affirmations
According to Soto, positive talking actually works. "Our brain is always thinking about the negative; it's just how we were conditioned," she explained. "Being able to switch a negative thought to something neutral or positive truly helps start changing your neural pathways, and that's why affirmations work." She recommends starting by looking at yourself in the mirror and saying something nice, or something neutral if that's too hard for you. You can also write down some affirmations that resonate with you and stick them somewhere you can see them often, or say them out loud before you head out to a potentially stressful family gathering to put you in the right mindset.
Some examples she shares in her Your Latina Nutritionist newsletter, a great resource if you're transitioning to a no-diet life or want to learn more about intuitive eating, that can help you get started are:
"I listen to my body, eat what I want when I want, and choose pleasurable foods that make me feel energized, satisfied, and happy."
"I honor the space between where I am at now and where I want to be with my relationship to food."
"I release food rules that no longer serve me."
"I feed my body healthy, nourishing food and give it healthy, nourishing exercise because it deserves to be taken care of."
Besides affirmations, Soto also recommends meditation and journaling as techniques that can help you rewire your brain to start thinking more positively about your body. Because, as she said, "This is the only body you're going to have, this is the only body you're going to live, this is your vessel." So, why not love it and honor it this holiday — and every day — for a change.