It’s totally ok to have mixed feelings about holidays. Even if you’re looking forward to being around family or friends for Thanksgiving, you might be anxious about the food and body talk that often comes up at holiday gatherings. First, please know that comments about what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, or literally anything about your weight, is not appropriate. However, even if the judgmental comments aren’t directed at you but at someone else—or even the person themselves—those types of comments can be really hurtful and triggering.
It can be hard to know how to respond, so I wanted to give you examples of some things you can do or say in those situations (ordered from least to most direct). Don’t be surprised you might end up using more than one!
Response Level #1: Ignore It
Sometimes it’s the easiest thing to just ignore someone. Whether this is the right choice depends on how much something bothered or triggered you, as well as the potential outcome of addressing the issue. Some people are so toxic that no matter how respectfully you ask them to not make comments, they will react negatively. If there’s a chance you’d be further harmed by confronting them, then it might be the healthiest choice to ignore it as best you can and limit your exposure to that person.
Response Level #2: Redirect & Keep It Light
If someone starts talking about the diet they’re going to start after the holiday, you can simply wait for a break in the conversation to change the subject. It could be fun to even come with a few interesting stories ahead of time to use as distractions. “Hey, did you guys hear about that monkey who attacked a lab tech and stole some COVID samples?” (True story, by the way! Check it out here)
Response Level #3: Use Humor to Make a Point
If someone makes a comment that they’re being so “bad” by eating pie, you can smile and jokingly ask them, “Did you steal that pie from a little kid? Cause if not, I can’t see why eating some pie is bad. It’s just pie!” Hopefully the person will get the hint and take it in stride since it was delivered with humor. Sometimes, unfortunately, people won’t pick up on what you’re trying to do (or they do but will just keep commenting regardless), and in that case, you can move on to the next level…
Response Level #4: Be Direct
If someone doesn’t understand or respect more subtle tactics, you might just have to be really direct. “Aunt Susie, I don’t want to talk about my weight; please don’t make comments about it anymore.” Or, “Dad, please don’t comment on what I’m eating. I can have seconds if I feel like it. I trust my body.” This approach can feel confrontational, and it can be if delivered that way (which might be appropriate at times!), but it can be delivered in a gentle but non-negotiable tone as well. If we’re not used to putting in boundaries, it might bring up feelings of guilt or embarrassment. But remember—it’s not rude to ask people to stop making comments that are food- or body-shaming. That is actually a very healthy boundary to draw for yourself.
Response Level #5: Leave the Situation
Leaving the situation is absolutely appropriate if you can’t ignore comments but don’t feel comfortable asking someone to stop, or if you have asked them and you’re not being heard. Just because someone is family doesn’t mean we have to subject ourselves to their toxic behavior. It might ruffle feathers for you to go on walk, leave early, or just not go at all… but making everyone else happy is not our responsibility. Taking care of ourselves is.
I hope these tips are helpful for you. If you have any other suggestions of ways to handle food and body talk at Thanksgiving, please share in the comments!
Next week, focus on eating what you love and loving what you eat 😉 Happy Thanksgiving!
I’m Cherie Miller, MS, LPC-S, founder of Nourished Soul Center for Healing and @foodfreedomtherapist on Instagram. We offer therapy and nutrition counseling for chronic dieting as well eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, ARFID, and other food issues. As anti-diet professionals, we are passionate about intuitive eating and Health at Every Size philosophies. Contact us here to schedule a therapy or nutrition appointment.