The holidays are coming up fast! The holiday season is about enjoying quality time with loved ones, family, and friends, enjoying your culture’s traditions and celebrations, and enjoying delicious food.
In our current diet- and weight- focused society, the holiday season can be rife with feelings of stress, anxiety, guilt, and shame surrounding food and weight. It can be particularly triggering for people with eating disorders and/or body image issues. The holiday season may involve family and friends who make comments about food choices and weight, which can exacerbate disordered eating behaviours, body image concerns, and negative relationships with food.
Even if it’s from a place of caring, here are some things to consider before making food- or weight-related comments:
1) 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 numbers and types of restrictive diets, let’s celebrate food, family, and friends this holiday season!
2) 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 this effect is not sustainable and often results in people inevitably gaining the weight back, possibly even more than when they started. It also shows that focusing on weight loss never actually leads to the believed outcomes of improved health parameters. Research shows that focusing on someone’s weight or weight loss actually leads to poorer health outcomes and increased risk of mortality. Besides this, perpetuating weight stigma or negative body image can also cause emotional and mental harm.
3) 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 a diet, 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.
4) 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!
5) Compliments on weight loss can be equally damaging.
You never really know what’s behind someone’s change in their weight. Losing weight does not always mean the person intended to lose 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 affect 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.
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.
What if you’re 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. Book an appointment with Alex or Stephanie today to shift your focus from weight loss to health and wellbeing!