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Change the Conversation Around Holiday Meals

The holidays are growing near and while this time of year is a celebration of time with friends and family, it’s also very centered around food; savory, sweet, and everything in between. Special family recipes are dusted off and an abundance of food is typically prepared for get togethers. With so much attention on food and eating, this can be a challenging time for anyone who has struggled with their relationship with food. You don’t have to have an eating disorder to be affected by some of the conversations had around this time of year:

“I’ll have to go to the gym TWICE tomorrow to burn all this off…,”
“I know it’s ‘bad’, but I’m just going to sneak another piece…,” or
“I’m not going to eat all day so I can stuff myself for dinner.”

Do any of these sound familiar? These statements are embedded in our eating culture and can be very damaging. We might think it’s normal to say these things or even make us feel better to say them. The reality is that anyone trying their best to have a balanced and positive relationship with food will hear these statements very differently and make it even more challenging to heal. You might not know if someone at your Thanksgiving meal is struggling with an eating disorder, but that shouldn’t matter. We all get the same damaging messages about food and our bodies – Why else would we say things like this? – and it’s up to each of us to push back against them.

While some might point to the type or amount of food during the holidays as the issue, people struggling with their relationship with food don’t necessarily see it that way. The pressure to eat when they aren’t hungry, having to eat in front of other people, being served food they might not want to have, and hearing others make comments about their body or their own are more of a concern. The good thing about this is we all have an opportunity to be allies, not just for people struggling but for ourselves as well.

HERE ARE A FEW SIMPLE WAYS TO CHANGE THE CONVERSATION AROUND HOLIDAYS MEALS.

  • Let each person make their plate with the food they want, and don’t comment if they choose not to try something or take less than someone else.
  • Avoid commenting on how fattening the food is or the amount of calories in the dishes. Instead talk about how delicious something is and how much you appreciate that someone made it.
  • Better yet, don’t make food the focus. Talk about what you’re thankful for this time of year and enjoy catching up with people.
  • Try not to make comments about how full or stuffed you are, and avoid using the word ‘binge’ completely. These words can be triggering.
  • Don’t discuss ways you’ll punish or restrict yourself later as a result of eating (ie. Exercising or not eating the following day).
  • If someone says they aren’t feeling well, don’t want anymore, or are all done eating, respect this and don’t push for them to have more.
  • Refrain from commenting on your body or others, especially with respect to body size being a reason for why they can/should or can’t/shouldn’t have food.
  • If someone needs to take a break from the dinner table, let them. It can be very overwhelming (in a lot of different ways) to have a big meal, with lots of people, that can last a long time. Letting someone go take a breather may be just what they need so they can continue to enjoy the rest of the day.
  • If you know someone has an eating disorder or is struggling with their relationship with food, do not ask them about it at this time. Even saying something seemingly positive such as, “nice job eating with everyone today” can make someone very uncomfortable.

The holidays can be stressful and overwhelming for most of us. Beating ourselves up over the type of food we eat or how much we eat is the last thing we need. Collectively we can change our language to be more positive and compassionate towards our bodies. We will all benefit this holiday season from less guilt and negative self-talk about our food choices, and more laughter and cheer for the time spent together.

Emily Betros is a licensed clinical social worker, certified health coach, and owner of Reclaiming Health, LLC. She specializes in body image support, eating disorders, anxiety, life transitions, mindfulness, and women’s issues. More info: www.reclaiminghealth.net.

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