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The beautiful gift of a shame-free Christmas

When I was younger, I began to notice a strange thing that happens at social gatherings. I’ve seen it frequently at all kinds of celebrations but there is something about Christmas that sends it into overdrive. When we gather with our nearest and dearest, we generally provide food that we love the taste of and feel we are expected to provide for others, that meets the theme of the occasion.

It also tends to be food, that many of us feel we shouldn’t allow ourselves to enjoy.

The ‘good/bad stuff’; the chips, candy canes, the pavlova, cakes, the bubbly stuff. It tastes good, we have fond memories of enjoying it carefree when we were younger, but somewhere along the way, the joy got squashed out of that experience. Making food choices, particularly the ones we make around others, fraught with anxiety, self-loathing and shame.

I remember overhearing conversations among females at one of these parties. The overall theme ‘how cruel it was that New Zealand celebrated Christmas during summer’. Not because we missed out on carols by an open fire or mulled wine, or an actual white Christmas like we hear about in songs, but about how they couldn’t possibly enjoy the tasty food and still be in a swimsuit on the beach a week later.

According to these women, and countless other similar conversations I've heard since, the food at these sorts of celebrations is not actually there to enjoy. These delights are a test, a trial to endure, and should you submit to temptation, then you better be ready to take a decent helping of guilt and judgement for your plate too.

Now although these gatherings are usually with people that we know and love, whether it’s the end of year reflection on our goals, the idea of being seen in a swimsuit, or just being acutely aware that this appearance weight-obsessed culture exists, we feel we always have to justify our choices.

It’s unthinkable to take a bite of cake without saying something along the lines of “Oh I really shouldn’t” or “I’ll be running for days to work off all these calories!”. Custom dictates we must also watch the choices others made and give feedback “Oh you’re so good having a salad”. Talk of diets, ‘bad food’ and self-hatred of different body parts are all commonplace and certainly on our minds before and after.

Somehow, many of us have managed to link our morality and self-worth with our appearance and the food choices we make. It also seems we inadvertently pass these customs on, from generation to generation.

Research shows children as young as 5 report feelings of anxiety and shame associated with overeating and fears of gaining weight. We seriously need to have a reth