How to set boundaries around diet talk during the holidays?

Don't let diet talk ruin the holidays.

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Photo by Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash
Photo by Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash

It will happen again this year.

Family gatherings and holiday dinners will be charged with comments about calories, weight, and how “bad” we are for going for seconds.

Someone will probably share that they are on the keto diet or that they’ll try intermittent fasting in 2020.

Talking about food, diet, and weight is part of our “food etiquette”. 

It appears that by talking about these topics, we justify our eating choices; that bonding over these comments gives us “permission to break the rules”. 

It’s become part of our culture. 

The way we talk about food, weight, and diets during the holidays says a lot about our beliefsabout health, fatness, food, and the body.

These conversations send subtle messages about what we consider valuable or desirable.

Some people are immune to these messages. 

Those working to heal their relationship with food, though, understand that the internalization of these ideas is, to a large extent, an explanation to why they struggle with food. 

If this is your case and you want to protect yourself and set boundaries around diet talk during the holidays, I suggest you reflect on how you want to transmit your message.

Consider these questions:

1. Is it the right moment?
Consider the context. If this is the first time you’re setting boundaries around these conversations, for example, you may not want to do it in a large group. It might be wiser to do it one on one with someone close to you; someone that cares about you. 

2. What’s my goal?
Think of your motivation. Your message shouldn’t come across as “This makes me better than you” or “You’re wrong, I’m right”. Your goal is to protect yourself, not to convince anyone.

3. Am I saying it with kindness and respect?
If the person you’re addressing feels attacked, their natural tendency will be to defend themselves. Practice your message. Write it down and read it out loud…Could your tone be gentler?

4. Is saying something the only way to set boundaries?
There are many ways to set boundaries. Silence, a smile, or leaving the room can sometimes say more than words.

5. Can you express your message referring only to how the comments make you feel?
Always focus on how diet talk make you feel; on what you need. Using the “I” form is very effective. If the person you’re talking to cares about you, this way of communicating will resonate with them.

For example, “I’ve been working on my overall well-being. I notice that when I focus on the things that make me feel good, rather on the things I need to avoid, I’m happier and feel more at ease. I love when food is not a source of stress for me” or 

“I’ve been working on respecting my body. I’ve learned that when I talk about diets and weight loss, I feel sad and frustrated with myself. It doesn’t help me. Shall we talk about something else?”.

6. Are you taking into account where that person/group comes from?
Those who don’t think like you simply see the world with a different lens. Don’t automatically assume that people want to hurt you. Remember we all come from the same culture. The goal is not to create division or enter into a debate; it’s to protect yourself.

During the holiday season, aim for pleasure, not perfection. Enjoy the food and the people around you.

Written by Lina Salazar.

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