Have you ever said to yourself while on holiday “I’m on holiday!” which is a euphemism for “I’ll eat and drink to excess because that’s what we do on holiday and when I get home I’ll get back on the wagon,” which, in turn, is a euphemism for dieting or restricting?

This is Diet Culture!

I watch what people say before they go away and after they come back from a holiday.

Many who are about to go away worry about how they’ll look and whether they’ll fit into their clothes and swimsuits. Before they go, they’re often trying to lose weight, forgoing the pain au chocolat and choosing the fruit salad with that goal in mind. They share strategies for dropping weight fast in time for their holiday. Before they’ve even left, they worry that by the time they come back, they’ll have regained the weight.

On return, they bemoan the kilos gained.

This is what we do to ourselves. Sound familiar?

Why?

Why does being on holiday mean we stop taking care of ourselves?

Why do people go ‘off the rails’ when they’re on holiday by eating and drinking to excess?

Why do we have the perception that holidays are a code word for ‘a rare chance to indulge’?

And before going on holiday, why do we spend so much time and energy beating and pushing ourselves into a certain shape?

How many times have you said ‘Oh well, I’m on holiday,’ as you stuff in yet another mouthful of local peasant bread, when you’re already full?

How many times have you said, ‘Oh well, I’m on holiday,’ as you pour another gin and tonic, or order another ice cream, espresso, or plate of moussaka?

How many times have you said ‘I’ll pull in the reins the moment I get home,’ ‘This is the last of it till Christmas,’ ‘I’ll get back on the wagon when normal life resumes.’

Why?

Is it because we spend our ‘normal’ lives restricting ourselves (or trying to!), following rules about what, when and how much to eat and drink (or attempting to!), that when it comes to holiday time, this is when we give ourselves permission to eat and drink way more than we need? And because we intend to go back to restricting, we ‘make the most of it’ while we’re on holiday?

Is it because we don’t actually want to take care of ourselves? I don’t think so!

What do you think is the reason?

Here’s what I think. We spend a lot of time taking in massive amounts of dubious ‘information’ (mostly they’re opinions and anecdotes) – about how to live longer, be healthier, slimmer, fitter, about which foods to eat, (even if we don’t enjoy them), and which foods to avoid (even if we do enjoy them!); the best, most efficient way to exercise or burn fat. The information deluge, coupled with our desire to ‘be good,’ ‘do the right thing,’ as well as our desire to look a particular way will have us walking a tightrope of rules and restrictions most of the time.

Going ‘on holiday’ in the literal sense has a figurative meaning too: going on holiday from all the rules and restrictions. Kids often have different boundaries on holiday; normal routines are disrupted, meal times are often completely different, and perhaps there’s a different routine for housekeeping chores (if any).

So we decide to take a holiday from taking care of ourselves too?

This seems like the opposite of what a holiday is, doesn’t it?

I think the only reason we think of holidays as the only opportunity for ‘indulgence’ is because of the puritanical attitude we have towards food and eating in our day-to-day lives. If there’s no puritanism in our approach to food, then ‘indulgence’ wouldn’t even be a word we’d use.

Since I stopped restricting myself from eating particular foods and stopped dieting, I no longer go ‘on holiday’ from taking care of myself, when I’m actually on holiday. I eat when I’m hungry, most of the time, and I stop when I’ve had enough, most of the time! I eat foods I really enjoy – whether they’re labelled as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ (just as I do at home). I rarely feel bloated, and I’m never hung-over or wired.

There’s nothing to break free from when I’m on holiday, because I haven’t been trying to control myself for months beforehand, and I no longer fear the ‘reining in’ I will have to do when I come back, because there’s nothing to rein in. It’s just… well, peaceful and re-sourcing. Perfect for a holiday, don’t you think?

The key to coming back from a holiday feeling rested and that you really did take care of yourself, is to not restrict yourself beforehand or afterwards. It’s to listen to your body and your mental and emotional needs, no matter what time of year it is, what the occasion is, where you are, or where you’ll be – most of the time.

It’s that simple.

Which doesn’t mean it’s easy :). It takes time, practice, attention, patience, flexibility and a whole lot of letting go. I can help if you’d benefit from the support.

Need help making peace with food?