For a lot of people, the holidays are not a time of joy, but a time of dread. And this is especially true for people recovering from eating disorders. There are so many triggers for relapses and binges around these holidays because much of the celebratory focus is on food, which often leads to diet-talk.
There is a lot of popular advice to center the celebration around people rather than food, but you might be able to change the focus on your own. It’s hard, if not impossible to change everyone’s perspective for the holidays. Refocusing everyone’s attention away from food and diet-talk is a tall order.
It’s much more reasonable and realistic for you to set clear boundaries about the things you will discuss.
But it’s not easy to refrain from talking about weight, calories, fats and carbs if it has become habitual. But you have an idea of the damage that it’s doing to you. So, the only thing you can do is to be more mindful and observe what you think and say. With awareness, you can take steps toward change and to distance yourself from this nasty habit.
Here, I focus on dealing with the diet talk, because it’s most common and it’s one of the biggest offenders. Of course, you can apply the same principles in other situations as well.
4 ways to deal with holiday diet-talk
1. Practice intuitive eating
Are you the person that needs to count every bite and explain away everything you decide to put or not put in your mouth? Do you need constant validation to feel okay when eating? Are you looking always at other people, judging and comparing to know if your eating behavior is “normal”?
Ask yourself: what purpose is this serving? Why are you doing it?
You’re probably looking for a sense of safety. But what will happen if you consult no one but yourself, regarding what you want to eat and how much? Even if someone judges you, is that so devastating? Is it that important? And why do you consider the opinion of such people valuable? And why is someone else’s eating behavior powerful enough to make you change your own?
Trust yourself, listen to your body, and see what happens.
Give yourself permission to eat the way you would like to eat. Also, try to focus on what brings you joy. Make the holidays a full experience. Don’t zero in focus on the bits and pieces (e.g. food, decorations, or your mother’s judgements) but experience it as a whole. Take the good with the bad. But always focus on the good.
Why do you need to put yourself or others down based on your food choices? You’ll enjoy yourself far more if you eat intuitively without any moral judgement.
2. Have a “stranger danger” plan
Diet talk is all around. Whenever I eat out or go for a cup of coffee, I overhear someone discussing their diet or making excuses for what they’re eating. It’s more the norm than the exception. But, at least for me, not taking seriously what random people are talking about is much easier than dealing with my closest people.
So, if you’re eating out trying to enjoy yourself and you overhear such a conversation, I would simply suggest to put on your head phones, read a book, or distract yourself in any way you can.
Don’t engage in diet-talk in any way– even listening to it.
3. Set diet-talk boundaries with friends
When the person doing the diet talk is important to you and they’re trying to involve you in it, things are a bit harder.
But the rule is still the same: avoid diet-talk at all costs.
You can set a clear boundary with everyone. If they start talking about their food choices, calories and weight, don’t engage with them. Politely explain that diet and calories are not topics that you want to talk about. That the reason for you to spend time together is talk about your lives, not food.
Most people get the hint, and even if they slip up and start talking about how “bad” they’ve been with their food, they understand your reluctance to continue the conversation.
For the people who start telling you what a mistake you are making and how important diet is to your health, you can politely say that you understand that, but you are just not interested in a conversation on the topic. If they insist, try to change the subject.
If they just don’t get it, I would suggest rethinking the relationship. I know this sounds too drastic, but what kind of relationship could you have with people who can’t accept such a simple boundary?
4. REALLY set diet-talk boundaries with family
If your family is like mine, they don’t respect boundaries that much and try to give you advice on anything and everything. Engaging in conversation and trying to reason with them never works – they just dig their heals and the conversation becomes endless and irrational. No one benefits from that.
If this describes your family, the only thing I can suggest is agreeing with the person attacking you (even if you don’t agree). Statements like “you might be right”, work wonders.
Repeated enough times, they make the other person want to change the subject because you’re not playing your part of the game. If this is too painful for you, try changing the subject – ask the person about something that is important to them.
The main point here is this: avoid diet-talk at all costs. It’s never beneficial. And it usually ruins everyone’s mood, especially if things get heated.
Wishing all of you happy (diet-talk free) holidays!