The holidays are coming up fast and the season is about enjoying quality time with loved ones, family, and friends while enjoying your culture’s traditions, celebrations, and delicious food. However, in our current diet- and weight-focused society, the holiday season can be accompanied by feelings of stress, anxiety, guilt, and shame surrounding food and weight. The holiday season may also involve family and friends who make comments about your food choices and weight.
Even if it’s from a place of caring, here are some things to consider before making food- or weight-related comments
Weight does not indicate health
There is no way to tell a person’s health by their appearance. There are so many things that influence a person’s health, including genetics, eating habits, physical activity, sleep quality, stress management, healthy relationships, etc. Instead of focusing on physical appearance, numbers, and restrictive diets, focus on celebrating food, family, and friends this holiday season.
Focusing on weight does not help a person become healthier
Science has shown focusing on weight management may lead to short-term weight loss, but the results are often not sustainable and people inevitably gain the weight back, possibly even more weight than when they started. Research also shows that focusing on weight loss never actually leads to the believed outcomes of improved health parameters. Current evidence demonstrates that focusing on someone’s weight or weight loss actually leads to poorer health outcomes and increased risk of mortality. Additionally, perpetuating weight stigma or negative body image can also cause emotional and mental harm.
You don’t know what that person is struggling with
At the end of the day, you have no idea what struggles that person may be experiencing. Maybe they’re suffering from an eating disorder, maybe they have negative body image, maybe they have been struggling with weight loss for years, or maybe they’re not struggling at all — you simply have no idea what people experience on a daily basis and how your comments may affect them.
Focusing on weight means you’re not focusing on connecting with that person on a deeper level
While you may feel that your concern over a loved one’s food choices or weight comes from a place of caring and kindness, you may be neglecting connecting with that person on a deeper level or supporting them in the way that they need. Perhaps they are struggling with stress at home or at work, or could use support in another aspect of their life besides their weight – focus on helping and supporting them through that instead. Perhaps they’re not struggling at all, and instead would like to enjoy and celebrate with you. Take the focus off weight and diet, and instead enjoy their company.
Compliments on weight loss can be equally damaging
You never really know what’s behind someone’s change in their weight. Someone may have lost weight due to illness, stress, or struggling with disordered eating behaviours. Even if they lost weight through healthy lifestyle changes, you never know how comments may impact someone.
If you find yourself being the target of someone’s weight and food comments. Here’s what you can try:
Thank them for their concern and tell them you prefer to talk about other things
Politely thank them for their concern and remind them that your body and your food choices are none of their business, but you’d love to talk to them about your new job, a recent vacation, or other exciting aspects of your life. Remember, while setting boundaries may feel awkward, boundary-setting is a very important aspect of any healthy relationship.
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Talk to them ahead of time
Is it the same person at every family gathering or celebration that takes on the role of ‘food police?’ It might be easier to talk to them one-to-one ahead of time to avoid the awkwardness in front of other guests. You are the expert in your relationship with them, so talking to them could be anything from politely informing them that their comments have made you feel uncomfortable in the past and you would appreciate it if they refrained from making any more comments or it could be more of a valuable teaching moment about the harmfulness of diet- and weight-culture.
Take it easy on yourself and practice self-care
At the end of the day, the most important thing is maintaining your mental health and a positive relationship with food.
Set boundaries with other people, but also prioritize self-care during the holiday season. Take a relaxing hot bath, go for a walk outside and admire the Christmas decorations, meditate, do yoga, read your book, watch your favourite Holiday movie, play with your pet, or whatever activity makes you feel safe, relaxed, and calm.
Stop being your own food police
Diet and weight culture is so insidious and pervasive, that it may even be you making comments to yourself about your own weight and food choices. If you notice this thought pattern, or feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, guilt, and/or shame about your weight or food choices this is a great opportunity to seek assistance from a weight-neutral registered health professional.