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Episode 131: Setting Boundaries with Food-Pushers

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Raise your hand if this has happened to you...

You head into the holidays intent on maintaining the healthy habits you've been working on over the last 9 months.

You know how to make healthier treats, you've been practicing moderation, and you're excited to finally make it to the New Year without an extra 10 pounds of fluff around your midsection.

And then... you visit your family.

You walk in the door and before you've set your suitcase down your mom is pinching the skin on your hips asking if you've put on weight.

You walk into the kitchen and realize the only 'healthy' thing in the cabinet is the box of Special K cereal that's probably been there since 2009.

At dinner, your aunt looks at your properly portioned plate and asks why you're eating so little as she heaps more mashed potatoes onto your plate.

The next morning your dad wakes you up with chocolate chip pancakes (your childhood favorite), and you know you'll have to eat every bite, otherwise he'll feel bad. 

And so the week progresses, drinks being shoved into your hand, comments about your diet or your body being thrown around like confetti on New Years, and you stuck in the middle.

Feeling crappy if you don't indulge and crappy if you do.

No more. Not this year. 

This year you have me, and I'm going to help you set loving boundaries, communicate your needs, and create a new holiday experience that's free of food-pushing and body-shaming.

Before we get into the 'how', let's talk about why it can feel so hard to break these family patterns of food-pushing and people-pleasing our way through the holidays. 

When we grow up in a household that is unpredictable, stressful, chaotic, or even dangerous, a common survival response is people-pleasing (aka the fawn trauma response).

We become the parents in our household, we become the glue, the calming presence, in the hopes that we can protect ourselves and the rest of the family from the turmoil.

Because of these early-formed habits, as adults we become hypervigilant to other people's needs so we can stay on top of keeping the peace, ignoring our own needs in the process.

In order to break this chain of behavior, we need to do 3 things:

1. Recognize when we're in the fawn trauma response.

2. Practice setting boundaries, collecting evidence that taking care of our needs won't make the world implode.

3. Create feelings of safety in the body. It's easier to set and maintain boundaries when you feel viscerally safe. When you feel unsafe is when it's easiest to fall back into protective mechanisms like people-pleasing.

How do you recognize when you're in the fawn trauma response?

"The Fawn Trauma Response Can Look Like:

  • Chronically thinking about what other people think of you, or if you've said something wrong.
  • Avoiding conflict at any cost.
  • Fear of saying NO or not being perceived as nice.
  • Allowing other people to make your decisions for you, or doing what will get approval.
  • Telling people what they want to hear, rather than the truth of what you're feeling." -Dr. Nicole LePera

How do you practice setting boundaries?

Here are some sample sentences to try:

  • "That sounds delicious, but I'm full."
  • "My food choices aren't up for discussion."
  • "Comments on my body are not welcome."
  • "I'm not in the right head space to have this conversation right now, can we talk later?"
  • "I've had enough, thank you."
  • "No."

If people respond poorly, remember...

  • People who resist boundaries are the same people who benefited from you not having any.
  • Someone getting upset with you over a boundary doesn't mean you've done anything wrong. (Sometimes it's helpful to imagine them like a toddler rebelling against bed time.)
  • You don't have to explain your boundaries or convince someone why you should have them. 
  • Don't get into a debate about your boundaries, this isn't a negotiation. Decide the boundary and the consequence for not respecting the boundary, and then follow through. Every time.
  • If you state a boundary and someone pushes back, look them straight in the eye and restate the boundary in a calm voice. 
  • If someone continues to disrespect your boundaries, you're allowed to remove yourself from the situation. Hang up the phone, leave the room, go for a walk, you are not required to stick around for mistreatment.

How do you build feelings of safety in the body?

  • Box breathing: inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4.
  • 4-7-8 breathing: inhale for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8.
  • Calm Count: Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste.
  • Focus on islands of safety in the body. For example, a lot of times when we feel anxious, we'll feel tension in our stomach or shoulders. Focus on the areas of the body that aren't activated like your feet or your hands. 
  • Find 3 pieces of evidence that prove you are safe. If you experience the fawn response, your brain is likely wired to be hypersensitive to things that signal danger. You need to retrain your brain to recognize signs that you are safe.

Was this helpful? Please share this with your friends. Because holidays shouldn't be a time of stress and trauma, it should be a time of love and joy, and it starts with  us creating that for ourselves.


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