Feast Without Fear

I work as a barista at a local coffee shop, and this time of year is particularly special because we serve long awaited holiday drinks. Peppermint mochas, gingerbread lattes, eggnog and more. Decadents topped with whipped cream and crushed peppermint bring a magical moment to any gloomy December day.

While pulling shots of espresso and steaming milk, I catch up with my regulars. After ordering, I’ve noticed customers often try to justify their beverage choice to me. With a hint of embarrassment, they judge their decision and talk down about themselves.

“Go ahead and add the whipped cream, I'm already being bad today.”
“Use skim milk, I need to save the calories somewhere.”
“I’m going to need to workout after drinking this, I don’t even want to know how many calories are in here.”

These backhanded comments reveal how their relationship with food is attached to self-worth. Dr Christine Peat PhD from The National Center for Excellence for Eating Disorders, explains “‘We assign moral values to food that really just end up making us feel miserable about food.’” (UNC Health Talk, 2021).  We believe we are bad after we’ve decided  a fancy coffee drink, or a few holiday cookies are bad.

For the past several years, I’ve strived towards redefining my relationship with eating. In high school, I developed pretty severe disordered habits that consumed my life. One of the big turning points in my disorder was when my sister explained how my feelings of shame were contagious and infected those around me during my conversations about food. Like my customers at the café, I too preemptively offered explanations, no one asked for, to justify my “healthy” and “clean eating” lifestyle.  But my friends were eating the foods I considered to be bad and unhealthy, so imagine how they felt when I constantly talked about not wanting to eat what they were eating. Ultimately, I believed that if I ate food I considered to be unhealthy, then I would be  unworthy of love and acceptance. Ironically, the only person not accepting me was me.

This Christmas will be the first year in almost a decade where I can fully partake and enjoy dining with my family. The courage to feast without fear is difficult, and self-worth can’t be wrapped in a bow and placed under a tree. But, per researcher and scholar, Dr. Brene Brown, there is hope in empathy & shame resilience.

“Shame is not a moral compass for moral behavior. It is much more likely to drive destructive, hurtful, immoral and self-aggrandizing behavior. Why? Because where shame exists empathy is almost always absent. “ (Brown, 2021, 140)

Take a minute to look at the four steps to shame resilience, and examples of how to utilize them this holiday season (Brown, 2021, 139)

1. Recognizing shame - What does your body feel like when you start to feel shame?

  • Can you notice when you start to feel shame?
  • Do your palms get sweaty or does your heart start to race when you know you’ll      be eating a large meal with others?
  • Does your chest feel tight or do you get a headache worrying about tracking calories and macros?
  • Is shame coming from those around you?
  • Do family or friends comment on how you should or shouldn’t be eating or how you look?

2. Critical awareness - Is the story you are telling yourself true?

  • Can you tell when you get stuck in your head with negative self-talk?
  • What is the story you are telling yourself and is that story true?
  • Are the expectations you have for yourself, expectations you’d have for a friend?
  • How would you reframe your self talk if you were talking to a friend?

3. Reaching out - Receiving empathy overpowers shame

  • Shame thrives on loneliness. You can only receive empathy when you share your experience with a trusted friend.
  • Who do you trust to listen to where you are at, and help you get out of your head?
  • Text a friend to check in on you if you are headed to a gathering with social pressure around dieting

4. Speaking shame “Silence, secrecy and judgement fuel shame”

  • Be brave, be honest and take back your power from shame by saying what you are feeling out loud.
  • Say what you need, and if you don’t know what you need. Let your trusted loved ones help you.

* A special note to parents. Please know that your kids hear you more than you think they do. If you know you have a difficult relationship with food and dieting, your kids are influenced by it. From personal experience, how you speak about yourself will directly impact how your kids see themselves. Learning to love yourself and working on a healthy relationship with food is the best way to teach your kids to do the same.

Brown, B. (2021). Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience. Random House Publishing Group.
UNC Health Talk. (2021, January 15). Your Relationship with Food Begins with Your Family. UNC Health Talk. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from

WRITTEN BY Kinsey Eix (she/her/hers)