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Coping with Diet Culture and Body Talk Around The Holidays

What comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving? Maybe it’s watching the annual Macy’s Day Parade or baking your grandma’s favorite pecan pie. While the holidays are filled with joyful times of family gatherings and reuniting with old friends, this “merry” season can also bring a lot of stress and overwhelm. Whether you feel your boundaries are crossed, or diet talk gets heated at the dinner table, there are several times over the holidays when you may want to escape.

Thanksgiving, a holiday centered around food and family, can be especially tough to navigate. If you have worked hard to heal your relationship with your body and food, the pervasive diet culture comments can be quite triggering. Having a solid plan or a toolbox of coping skills can get you to a place where you can feel more prepared to be around this talk on Thanksgiving Day.

When the conversation shifts to a family member commenting about your body or critiquing what ingredients are used to cook the mashed potatoes, there are a few things we can do to help us stay grounded and cope with the chaos.

Walk Away from Triggering Conversations

Sometimes the comments can feel so hurtful or infuriating, that you just need to walk away. This is also usually a good call when you know that you can’t have a productive conversation with that person about the comments.Taking a breath and getting some fresh air can help you regulate.. You can excuse yourself and say you need to go to the restroom or offer to help with cleaning or making drinks. The goal is to keep you aligned with your own values around food and shift your focus away from food talk when you are bothered.

Set Clear Boundaries

Remember: what you choose to share is up to you and you don’t owe other family members an explanation of your boundaries. Your boundaries could sound something like this:

“I don’t find these conversations helpful.”

“Talking about weight loss makes me uncomfortable. Please don’t talk about it around me in the future.”

“There are much more interesting things to talk about than my body. What new TV shows are you watching?”

Engage Someone else at the Table Not:

Turning to another family member or friend at the table, who is not involved in diet culture conversation, can help shift the focus of the conversation to something neutral.

“I want to hear more about ___________ (unrelated topic)”

“That makes me uncomfortable. Let's talk about ______________ (a more comfortable topic)”

Invite in the people who are already talking about other things!

Use grounding tools like Mantras:

Mantras can be useful grounding tools that can keep you present and bring your mental energy back to yourself. This way you can become less tempted to get up on your soapbox and preach anti-diet culture rhetoric.While it can feel really great in the moment… it often isn’t helpful and can ultimately make you feel worse. Our recommendation is to only have deeper conversations about diet culture when you know the other person is receptive to differing views. These conversations are also often better one on one, rather than at the dinner table. A few mantras to try:

  • “I am only in control of myself.”

  • “It’s not my job to change others’ opinions about their eating habits or beliefs.”

  • “It’s more helpful to accept others as they are right now than to hope they will be different.”

  • “My body needs more than 1 meal each day, even on Thanksgiving.”

If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, it's essential to set boundaries for yourself and nourish yourself on Thanksgiving. Asking yourself these questions can serve as a guide to help you cope ahead:

  • How will I nourish myself throughout the day on Thanksgiving?

  • What environment is best for my recovery?

  • Do I need support from others, whether that is the day before scheduling a session with my therapist or calling a friend who is an ally? (someone who knows about the work you have been doing or someone who you are really close with that knows your history)

Be Mindful

Notice how your thoughts and feelings are impacted when someone engages in diet talk. Do you feel sad, angry, or uncomfortable? Remind yourself that these feelings are valid. Mindfulness can be helpful to turn to when these feelings become overwhelming, finding a quiet place to do some mindful breathing.

Focus on Gratitude

While it can seem like Thanksgiving is all about the food, at its heart, it's about gratitude. Practicing gratitude can help you shift your focus away from all the food talk. Asking yourself reflective questions can be a great starting place. Meditate on your relationships with parents, friends, siblings, colleagues, children, and partners using these three questions:

“What have I received from __?”

“What have I given to __?”,

“What troubles have I overcome that I am grateful for?”

If you are struggling with your relationship with your body or are frustrated with all the diet talk during the holiday season, connecting with a therapist could be helpful. The therapists at North Berkeley Counseling are all licensed psychologists and specialize in helping those who struggle with disordered eating or body-image struggles. We offer eating disorder therapy in Berkeley, California, and throughout California, Hawaii, Virginia, and Florida online.


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