Your Super Power for Surviving Celebrations, Holidays and Special Occasions on Keto and Banting

by Victoria Webster, Consultant Clinical Psychologist to RMR and general legend!

Whether you are the keto champ or a fair-weather banter, celebrations are inevitable.
Special occasions, family holidays and events like weddings and birthdays… just thinking about it sends a tingle of excitement through your body, right? Well maybe, but sometimes these events can lead us to experience a sense of impending doom. If this is your experience, you are not alone.

These occasions, especially extended family holidays, are made up of lots of extra celebrations which almost always involve alcohol, food (the kind that send your brain into dopamine coma) and a healthy serving of family dynamics. Even if these occasions don’t involve family gatherings, they can still be challenging and amplify loneliness or sadness. These can be stressful and anxiety-provoking situations to manage, especially when it may feel like you have little or no control over the food situation and “person situation” you find yourself in.
These special occasions often trigger those old distorted thoughts about food that were associated with endless and unsuccessful dieting. Those thoughts tell us that “letting yourself go” and over-indulging on these occasions is part of the process, even something to look forward to. We have learnt that a birthday is not a birthday without a cake and a holiday is not a holiday unless we let loose.

7 Examples of Distorted Thinking: 

  • I deserve to let go and eat whatever I want
  • It’s just one treat (this thought can reappear every day of your holiday)
  • It only comes once a year, why not?
  • It’s a special event! (Well it’s also a date night, a Friday night, a day when the sun shines… any day will do)
  • I already blew it so may as well keep going
  • I will get back on track tomorrow (This is an interesting one on New Year’s Eve, because tomorrow is a year away. It’s the perfect set up for a major all-fall-down)
  • Well, I am on holiday!

You might have noticed the common theme in these thoughts. They are based on the lie that we are punishing and depriving ourselves in some way when we don’t follow our old distorted eating patterns. 

When we’re not having our cake and eating it too, we think we are making some kind of sacrifice and depriving ourselves of something good. However if we really look at them, these thoughts will create the opposite of fun, enjoyment and treating ourselves as they will lead us to feeling out of control, anxious and usually physically unwell (never mind the shame). 

If we play the movie through to the end, we can see that these ingrained ideas are distorted and will lead us back into a cycle of self-destruction. Ask yourself what exactly you are taking a holiday from? Taking care of yourself? Feeling good, strong and full of energy? Feeling in control?

Importantly, these thoughts are common and they will pop up! However, you have a secret superpower at hand, and this is the awareness of these thoughts. The goal is not to prevent these thoughts from entering your mind (because they will), but to acknowledge them, become aware that they are there, and learn from them. 

Suddenly, they become “just thoughts” and you can understand where they come from and decide how to act on them. You can notice them and remind yourself that “letting yourself go” will leave you with a very bad sugar hangover, a brain that is craving another dopamine fix, and some feelings of disempowerment. With awareness comes choice and the ability to take back some control.

This internal conflict, grappling with these distorted thoughts, is the first dilemma you will face. The second is an external conflict – the people that you will spend time with on these occasions (or the stresses of being alone). It’s a double whammy! You won’t just be dealing with your own thoughts but usually the thoughts and opinions of several family members and friends (including comments such as: “Shoo, you are looking well fed!”). 

Here is the thing, the relationships you have with the people in your life are mirrored by the relationship you have with food and your health. Overeating or being overweight is not just about eating or the weight, it’s about how you think about yourself and how you take care of your emotional and physical health.

Saying yes to every demand of your relative is similar to saying yes when that same relative hands you a piece of cake, already on a plate with a spoon. If you play the role of family fixer who expends all your emotional energy trying to make everyone else around you feel comfortable, you are likely to put yourself last in all situations (including what you decide to put into your mouth). 

Saying yes, when you really mean no, is definitely going to make that time spent with family, friends and food, very stressful. You are trying to take responsibility for making others happy (which is arguably a futile exercise), while you are left feeling miserable. Can you see those old distorted thoughts creeping back in and the argument to grab the cookie jar getting stronger?

Here are four of the most common personas who may challenge your eating and trigger these thoughts:

  • The Enabler – thinks they may be spoiling you by offering you sugary treats and pulling you into eating with them.
    Common saying: “Come on… have just one *insert most desired food here*.”
  • The Guilt Tripper – thinks they are helping to loosen you up and join in.
    Common saying: “Come on, don’t be so boring! Live a little! Don’t deprive yourself.”
  • The Critic – thinks they are imparting knowledge or being helpful but they tend to criticise your food choices.
    Common saying: “I can’t believe you are eating that, it can’t be good for you.”
  • The Shamer – will put you down (possibly to make themselves feel better – but that’s another story).
    Common saying:  “Another fad diet… I can write the script for this horror movie.”

Again, awareness is your superpower here. You can anticipate and be aware of who these people may be to you and, when the inevitable happens, you can look at the situation for what it is and enforce your boundaries by saying no (if it is someone you like you can say “no thank you”). 

Suddenly, with some awareness and introspection, these people, their comments and their behaviours are just that… their comments and behaviours. They don’t dictate your actions and they don’t define you. Just like being aware of your own thoughts doesn’t mean you need to turn them into actions. 

Awareness is amazingly useful and not only can you use it to help prevent unwanted situations, if you do slip up, you can observe this too (stop, breathe and take a minute) and learn from it. Even if you feel guilty about saying no… or saying yes, you can acknowledge this and treat yourself with kindness, compassion and respect. 

Your relationships with the people in your life can tell you a lot about your relationship with food – become aware of this. This superpower allows you to choose to put your emotional and physical health first, no matter what you are celebrating, who is there, and what is on the menu.    

Your Special Occasion on Keto Action Plan

  • PREPARE – Write down a list of people, places and things that may trigger some of those distorted thoughts so you are not at a loss for words next time it happens.
  • STOP, BREATHE AND TAKE A MINUTE – take note, and be aware of the voice in your head and the emotions arising within you. You can then take back some control, make some better decisions and reduce anxiety and stress during these occasions.
  • REMEMBER THE REAL TREAT – This, looking after yourself, being true to yourself, is the ultimate treat, the ultimate reward, and much more fulfilling than that slab of chocolate. 

Don’t despair, be aware! 

You’ve got this. 


Victoria Webster is Real Meal Revolution’s consultant clinical psychologist and runs Real Meal Revolution Emotional Eating Online Course. For more information, click here.