Beyond Body Positivity: Navigating Diet Talk During the Holidays

Does your family fuel your food anxiety and body shame?

If your answer is yes, the holidays might not be all joy and celebration. For some people, the holidays are fraught with food and body anxiety—especially Thanksgiving. Up to 40% of larger girls and 37% of larger boys have been teased by peers or family members for their weight. Children whose parents express dissatisfaction with their own bodies are at a greater risk for poor self image.

The effects of appearance-based teasing and modeling of negative body image can last a lifetime. It wreaks havoc on not only our personal feelings about our bodies, but our family dynamics as well.

Maybe your mom gives passive aggressive comments about how much you’re eating, or else she’s piling food onto your plate when you’re already full. Your dad makes a comment about how you’ve put on some quarantine pounds. Perhaps your brother announces that he’s not eating carbs and proceeds to explain why sugar is evil.

Whether your holidays are in-person or virtual, you can break your food shame cycle. You have permission to honor your body by eating as much as you want. You can decline food if you are done eating. It’s even okay to eat until you’re overly full! Thanksgiving often revolves around food that is not made any other time of the year. It’s natural to indulge in delicious treats.

While you can’t control your family’s diet rhetoric, you can control your reaction to them.

Here are some subtle ways you can deflect conversations without getting into full-on arguments with your family.

  • When everyone is commiserating about how much weight they’re going to gain over the holidays/during quarantine, it’s sometimes best to completely change the subject without even addressing the current topic:
    • "What movies has everyone been watching? I’ve been using Hoopla, opens a new window to watch movies and TV for free with my BPL card!"
    • "Want to see some really cute pictures of my cat?"
  • When comments are made about your body, it can feel empowering to address it head on with setting a boundary:
    • "You probably didn’t intend it to be, but that was a hurtful comment. Let’s focus on what we’re thankful for today rather than one another’s bodies."
    • "I am not going to talk about my body today, and I would appreciate if you not comment on it either."
  • Sometimes loved ones either police how much you are eating, or they’re forcing you to eat more when you are already full:
    • "I am thankful for this delicious food and would like to eat more of it. Please respect that."
    • "I am full and do not want to eat any more at this time. Please respect that."
  • If someone is excited that they recently lost weight, you still don’t have to talk about their weight loss:
    • "I’m glad that you are so happy, and I love you no matter what you look like."

The Boston Public Library has books that highlight the cultural roots of fatphobia, why diets do not work, and why focusing on health behaviors independently of weight is beneficial for all. Read them yourself for a deeper dive into your body acceptance journey or recommend them to family and friends who may benefit.

8 Body & Food Justice Books to Devour this Thanksgiving

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