How to Escape the Diet Talk This Holiday Season
Vania Nikolova, PhD
For a lot of people, the holidays are not related with positive emotions and anticipation, but with dread. 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 emphasis is on food.
There is lots of advice to focus more on relationships and having a good time, than on food. But what about everyone else? Usually, the problems arise when you’re not spending the holiday alone, and it’s hard, if not impossible to change everyone’s perspective for the holidays. It’s much more reasonable and realistic, for you to make clear boundaries about the things you want to discuss or not. And also, for other triggers.
Here, we’ll focus on dealing with the diet talk, because it’s so common and it’s one of the biggest triggers. Of course, you can apply the same principles in other situations as well.
1. Dealing with yourself
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 ok when eating? Are you looking constantly at other people, judging and comparing to know how you’re doing?
Ask yourself, what purpose it is serving? Why are you doing it? 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 other people valuable? And why is someone’s judgment enough for you to change your behavior?
You’ll have to take a chance, trust yourself and do something different. Try to give yourself permission to eat the way you would like to eat. Also, try to focus on the people, and things that bring you joy. Make the holidays a full experience, and don’t just focus on bits and pieces.
Why do you need to put yourself or others down based on your food choices? Aren’t you going to enjoy yourself more, if you eat your food without moral judgment?
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.
Only after you realize what is going on you can take steps to change it, and to distance yourself from this pesky habit.
2. Dealing with strangers
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 alone outside trying to enjoy your cup of coffee, and people on the next table are discussing their diets, I would simply suggest to put on your headphones, read a book, or distract yourself, in any way you can. Don’t engage – even in listening.
3. Dealing with friends
When the person doing the diet talk is important to you and they are trying to involve you in it, things are a bit harder. But still, the rule is the same – try to avoid it.
You can set a clear boundary with everyone. If they start talking about their food choices, calories and weight, don’t get hooked. 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 different and you would like to talk about your lives and not food.
Most people get the hint, and even if they slip up and start talking about how “bad” they have been with their food, they understand your reluctance to continuing the conversation.
For the people who start telling you what a mistake you are making and how important diet is and so on, 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 it’s important that people respect your boundaries.
4. Dealing 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. Even if they know that you’re battling with a serious issue.
And also, engaging in conversation and trying to reason with them never works – they just dig their heals and the conversation becomes endless and irrational. And no one benefits from it.
If this describes your family, the only thing I personally do 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 – avoid fat talk at all cost. It’s never beneficial. And it usually ruins everyone’s mood, especially if things get heated.
Happy holidays everyone!
Vania Nikolova, PhD, is the head of health research at RunRepeat. She uses her academic
knowledge and experience with an eating disorder to shed light on why dieting is bad news.