Struggling with all the nutrition talk around the holidays? You are not alone! Follow these three suggestions for how to navigate food and body conversations during the holiday season.
The holiday season can bring with it all kinds of emotions.
It can be a time of joy, gratitude, connection, joy, and it can bring with it sadness, anxiety, and disappointment.
One minute you’re curled up on the couch watching the game enjoying your pumpkin pie and the next your aunt is going on and on about how she can’t eat dessert because it’s “full of sugar” and she’s “watching her weight.” So much for enjoying this pie!
The holidays can be fertile ground for discussions about diet and weight. Everyone is so worried about what they are eating, how it doesn’t fit into their diet, and how they will gain weight over the holidays. And everyone likes to shout it out (probably so they can judge themselves before others do).
It’s hard to eat in peace when people talk about how bad they are for getting filling seconds or how they have to start their diet tomorrow.
It can be hard not to internalize it as well. Thoughts like “well, maybe I should start a diet tomorrow”, “I guess I’m bad for having a second helping of those mashed potatoes”, “maybe I should have skipped the pie too” start to surface.
Part of the job is building resilience so you can say “good for you, not me”. And part of the job is knowing your options for navigating nutrition discussions and choosing the best option for you at that moment, given your bandwidth and energy at that moment.
Here are some ways you can navigate the diet and weight conversation during the holidays:
1. Remove or excuse yourself from the conversation.
If you feel like you don’t have the bandwidth or energy to set boundaries or speak up, simply remove yourself from the conversation. Get up and leave the room so you don’t have to listen to the conversation anymore.
A strategic bathroom break (even if you don’t need to use it) can be a helpful move. Close the door. Take three deep breaths. Notice what emotions come up for you – perhaps frustration or sadness – give them space to move through you.
Offer yourself some compassion for how hard it is to be in those situations where you’re actively trying to get away from dieting and micromanaging your weight.
Maybe go outside and get some fresh air. Maybe go check on the little ones in your family if they are playing in another room. Maybe go upstairs to a bedroom if it’s accessible and lie down for a few minutes.
Ground yourself and your nervous system. Remind yourself of your values. Notice how your values are or aren’t aligned with the conversation in the other room. Decide to take action from yours set of values, not someone else’s.
2. Change the subject.
If you don’t have the bandwidth to set a limit but are able to stay in the room and engage, try changing the subject. You can still engage in conversation, just not the conversation about how many calories were in the filling. Here are some examples of theme changes you can try on for size:
Did anyone catch the final score of the soccer game?
Has anyone watched his last season [insert whatever series you just finished binging]?
I just finished this amazing book called [insert title]. Has anyone read it?
What podcast are you listening to right now?
I told you about my trip to [insert place]?
Your table looks great. Where did you get those candles?
You can change the subject to lit-er-all-y anything but diet and weight talk. Go to parties with a few of these in your back pocket in case you want to use them.
3. Set a boundary.
This requires more energy and mental bandwidth because depending on the person you may experience defensiveness or you may need to maintain the boundary over and over again.
There is an acronym that comes from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that I like to refer to when it comes to setting boundaries – LOVE PERSON.
D: Describe the current status if needed.
Q: Express your feelings or opinions about the situation.
A: Make sure yourself by asking for what you want or saying no clearly.
R: Reinforcement the person in advance by explaining the positive effects of getting what you want or need.
(this second half is used more after you have declared the limit)
M: With awareness – keep your focus on your goals.
A: You seem confident – Maintain efficiency and confidence. Use a confident tone of voice and a natural manner. Make good eye contact.
N: Negotiate – be willing to give in order to receive. Offer and ask for alternatives. Reduce your request. Focus on what will work.
Using this acronym, here’s what some limits might sound like:
Aunt Phoebe, you talk about how bad you are at eating dessert and it makes me feel like I can’t enjoy my slice of pie. I would like you to stop talking about food so good or bad around me so that I can be present while I eat and enjoy the company of our family.
Uncle Bob, you keep talking about how you need to lose X pounds and it makes me feel bad about my weight. I would be very grateful if you could refrain from talking about your weight and body size at the table.
If you experience deflection or resistance, use MANyou may need to say things like:
I’d be happy to talk about (diversion) another time, but right now I’d like to stay on topic.
What do you suggest then?
And if someone can’t respect your boundaries (which unfortunately happens sometimes – usually with the people who need boundaries the most), then you can work on other skill sets like distress tolerance, radical acceptance, resilience, and the emotional regulation.
Setting boundaries isn’t easy, but it can be very effective when used in relationships. I love the Prentiss Hemphill quote, “a limit is the distance to which I can love you and me at the same time.”
Remember that there is no right or wrong answer for how to navigate the diet conversation – you can use all three of these suggestions but at different times and with different people. Always check in with yourself first before responding so you can navigate in a way that honors your bandwidth and capacity.
No matter which option you choose, shower yourself with self-compassion. It’s hard to navigate your relationship with food and your body during the holidays, even without the volume on nutrition conversations. Treat yourself kindly. Remind yourself that you are not alone in navigating this.
What else would you add to this list? Tell me in the comments below!
For more intuitive eating inspiration, check out the following posts:
5 Tips to Stay Well-Nourished This Holiday Season
3 Ways to Navigate When Clothes Don’t Fit (Without Another Diet!)
5 Tips to Cope with a Bad Body Image Day
The Last Supper Syndrome
3 Ways to Cultivate a Healthy Relationship with Candy