Emily Van Eck
How To Deal With Diet Talk During The Holidays
Updated: May 12
The holidays and the stress that goes along with this extremely long season can be triggering. Family expectations around how we are to act, talk, spend our time, and eat are annoying and often make the opportunity to reconnect fraught.
If you are anticipating having to navigate the food and body talk, comments about your weight, or the food that you eat over the holidays, I'm so sorry. It is difficult. Once you decide you're not going to keep body living in body shame and perpetuating the diet cycle, that's a huge win. But getting your family on board with the harms of diet talk is another story.
Here's what I wish for you - I want you to enjoy the foods you love this time of year without fear or anxiety, without restriction, without guilt, and definitely without having to hear anyone's opinion about your weight or how you should lose weight.
Imagine a room full of people talking about how rich the food is, and how they're gonna have to do a cleanse for the next two weeks to make up for it - sound familiar? Moralizing food around the holidays (i.e. "I'm gonna be bad and eat this cheese dip"; "ooh my favorite guilty pleasure") is commonplace. Family members seem to think it is their responsibility to comment on our weight and monitor what we're eating. If you're trying to break free of the dieting cycle and become more in tune with your body, you'll need some boundaries to protect yourself from all this nonsense.
Tips for navigating holiday meals when trying not to diet
Don't skip meals
You do not need to earn your food or punish yourself because you had a big meal last night. At the same time, it is okay to practice self-care. So, if you are going to a dinner party at 6pm where you know there will be lots of amazing food as soon as you get there, it might make sense to eat lunch around 1 or 2 so will be ready to eat (but not too hungry!) when you arrive. If you get hungry again before the party, have a snack. It's ok. Arriving overly hungry can cause you to eat quickly without savoring the tasty treats, or eat more than you wanted.
Browse the selections of food before making your plate
Then choose the foods that look best to you and that you know you'll enjoy. You can use gentle nutrition as a guide here, but mostly just for creating a balanced meal, not for depriving yourself of anything because it's too "fattening" or "has too many calories" or "is too processed".
That said, you do not have to have a balanced meal if you don't feel like it! You can eat all mac 'n' cheese if you want. Choose foods based on how your body feels in that moment. If you are overly hungry (skipped breakfast and lunch) you are likely to be too hungry and make rushed choices. Tune into your body.
Another awesome tip for those of you who struggle with "overeating" at holiday gatherings - if you can also pack up a to-go container at the same time, do it. You are less likely to overeat if you know you have some goodies for later on if you want them.
Wear comfortable clothing
Most people get a little stuffed at these holiday parties. It is totally normal, and totally okay! So this year, consider expecting it and preparing for it rather than squeezing yourself into something that is going to be uncomfortable. This will make your evening better overall and will make you more likely to enjoy the covid-safe dance party later (this is from lots of personal experience).
Even though food is a major part of holidays, it is not the only part. And another reason why talking about how guilty you feel when eating this food is majorly lame. Engage with the people that are with you. Reconnect with old friends and loved ones. Talk to people who's lives you find inspiring.
Another idea to help you stay present is to practice gratitude when eating and tune in with how your body is feeling. Notice the smells, flavors, textures, and satisfaction you get from the foods you've chosen. Take your time - savor it.
Do not - I repeat - DO NOT - tell yourself you are going on a diet in January
This will not help one bit, but will completely impede your ability to make progress in becoming a peaceful eater. And likely cause you to eat even more during the holidays than you would otherwise. You do not need to repent for enjoying yourself during the holiday. Just wake up tomorrow, eat breakfast, move your body, and carry on. Plus, loving your here-and-now body is a way better goal than hating it.
Respect your boundaries
This one is particularly important around the holiday season because family is often a major trigger for dysfunctional food behavior. Moms and grandmothers are notorious for it, but dads, siblings, and the rest can also somehow feel entitled to comment on our eating choices and bodies.
This also means that you do not have to finish your plate if you don't want to and can say "no thank you" to second servings. These decisions should be 100% up to you and how you are feeling in the moment. Your aunt can get over it.
When someone complains about the detox they'll have to go on next week, you can explain that your liver does an excellent job of detoxing for you.
"Yes, the food is a little rich, but how often do we get to spend this time together?
Maybe talking about how guilty we feel is a total waste of time? Did you steal that food? That's a reason to feel guilty."
Practicing good boundaries about how others speak to you or around you is a strong step and a practice of self-care.
How To Deal With Negative Comments About Your Body
If you have someone in your family who feels they are justified in actually telling you that you've gained weight, that you need to lose weight or make other negative comments about your body - I'm so sorry. You are worthy as you are, right now. In some messed up world, they probably think they're helping you out. But as you can feel from that comment - family who are obsessed with weight loss and make it known to you - only causes harm.
Practice what you will say to them to shut them down. Here are some ideas
I'm not sure if I've gained weight. I've decided not to measure my worth by my weight
Could you please not make comments about my body size, or anyone else's why we're at it. You may be trying to help me, but all it does it hurt
Please f off
Comments about weight loss are also problematic
Comments about weight loss perpetuate diet culture, fat-phobia, and disordered eating, however well-intentioned. Walk away, ask them not to comment on your body, or when they tell you look great and ask you if you lost weight, you can say "nope, I just look great."
Take good care and have a wonderful holiday.
Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN specializes in intuitive eating, mindfulness-based eating practices, embodiment with food and movement, and healing from years of weight-bias and chronic dieting. She helps people find balance, consistency, and peace with their eating habits so they can feel confident to get outta their heads and into their bodies. Emily is a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor with a master's degree in nutrition science.