As much as I try to steer clear from negative food talk in my daily life, I just can’t seem to get away from it during the holidays. I’m sure I’m not the only anti-dieter that feels that holiday diet talk is impossible to avoid. Diet culture is so ingrained in us, that we equate the holidays with a need for dieting, thus bringing up negative food and body talk. But I understand that those of us who are trying to engage in neutral food and body talk may just not know how to.
If you are a person trying to learn how to practice positive food talk for your loved ones, here are some great examples of how to swap holiday diet talk with non-diet phrases for the holidays.
“You look amazing, have you lost weight?” –> “I’m so happy to see you.”
Asking someone if they’ve lost weight may seem like a positive way to greet them, but instead actually reinforces negative body image. When the first thing you say to someone is “You look amazing, have you lost weight?” it tells them that the size of their body holds the most value, regardless of other amazing personality traits.
There can also be times when you compliment someones “weight loss”, not fully knowing what caused it. Maybe they didn’t lose any weight at all. Or maybe they’ve been stressed over finances, a loss in the family, or marital struggles. Bringing up a change in their appearance may inadvertently be poking at how much their life stressors have affected them physically.
“I didn’t eat all day for this.” –> “I’ve been looking forward to this meal!”
Avoiding food for a long period of time in an effort to “save up” for a meal can be disordered and triggering for folks fighting eating disorders. Even if you don’t have a loved one with an eating disorder, restricting your intake to compensate for food you will eat later can set an example for younger teens or kids that it’s okay to engage in compensatory actions. It also teaches them that food needs to be earned by not eating. Young kids and teenagers may not know how to take this message, and such messages can lead to disordered eating or eating disorders.
Instead, say what you really mean. You’ve been looking forward to the thanksgiving meal, right? Hopefully what you really meant is that you want to have the appetite for the meal, so you were careful about what you ate for the rest of the day. If that’s what you meant, that’s okay! Just be cautious about how your messages come across.
“Today’s my cheat day, but I’ll be back on my diet tomorrow!”–> “I’m so happy to be enjoying these foods.”
Taking a day off from your diet can sound a lot like working hard to earn the food that you’ve eaten. When we talk about food needing to be earned rather than talking about honoring our bodies needs, that can give mixed messages to young teenagers and children. They are hearing that they can’t trust their body when it’s hungry and full, and rather have to “earn” food by using compensatory actions. This is confusing for teenagers and children, and can again lead to a disordered relationship with their bodies and food.
Instead, say what you really mean [again]. You probably took a break from your diet because you are really looking forward to a thanksgiving feast! If that’s the case, that’s all you have to say to engage in neutral food talk.
“I can’t have that, I’m on [insert diet here].” –> “I’ll pass.”
Restricting a food group or type of food sends an example to those with eating disorders that they too do not need a certain food group. It also tells kids and teens that they don’t need to eat all food groups either, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies during important growth periods.
If you have a clearly known medical condition or allergy that is directly related by food, I think it’s 100% okay to say “I have celiac… I need XYZ food…” and etc. But even when we are just “looking out” for our health, such as “limiting” sweets to “prevent diabetes” it’s very important to be careful about how you chose your words. Verbally giving food moral value associates emotions with an eating habit. Kids or teens around you may start to associate guilt or shame with that food, instead of learning how to get in touch with what food their body wants and needs.
“I’m going to gain 10 pounds after eating all this food.” –> “What a beautiful feast of so many delicious foods!”
Not only does associating eating with weight gain perpetuate fatphobia, but it also perpetuates the idea that we can’t honor our bodies natural weight regulation mechanisms. Our body does have natural weight regulation mechanisms, unfortunately diet culture just blames these mechanisms instead of making peace with them. The primary two mechanism are hunger and fullness. Learning how to honor your hunger and fullness is important to develop a healthy relationship with food, and can also stabilize your weight to your natural set point.
Associating your bodies changes with food can be damaging to yourself and others. It instills the idea that gaining weight is unhealthy and in your control, even though it’s pretty normal for your body weight to change during different stages of your life.
Instead, try to focus on the positive. You are excited to enjoy your favorite thanksgiving foods. Focus on that part. Breaking free of foods rules can actually help you enjoy your food, and make healthier, intuitive food choices.
“I’m going to have to go to the gym all weekend to burn this meal off.” –> “I might eat more than I need, but I’m enjoying all of my favorite foods so that is okay.”
This type of phrase, like some above, perpetuates the idea that we need to earn the food that we take in. But in reality, we already are. Our body needs to run on a certain amount of calories everyday just to breathe, move, concentration, and for basic organ function. And if you eat more than that? It’s pretty simply…. your body will already compensate by making you less hungry later that day or the following day.
Do you feel like you’re not in touch with your bodies natural hunger and fullness cues? Learn more about your hunger and fullness cues here. If you feel that you do have hunger and fullness cues, but they are extreme or unreliable, it may be that you are missing key macronutrients in your diet, are eating undereating/overeating, or may need more guidance from a Registered Dietitian who practices Intuitive Eating.
“Don’t eat too much or you’ll regret it later.” –> “We have a lot of amazing food, so if you feel like you can’t get to any, you can take home leftovers.”
When we practice the diet mentality, we often think that we have to gorge ourselves with holidays foods because we otherwise deprive ourselves of them in our daily lives. It’s very easy to overeat during the holidays, making it very easy to make comments to others not to overeat. However, these comments can inadvertently become shaming because they tell others that their natural instinct to eat beyond their fullness to indulge in a food they don’t normally have is bad. But, we can help guide ourselves and others but reminding ourselves that the food we are eating on a holiday can easily be taken home and enjoyed later.
“Take all the leftovers, if we keep them, we’ll just eat them and get fat!” –> “We don’t mind keeping some leftovers, but we’d rather share because it may take us awhile to get to them.”
This statement, just like the one above can easily come across as shaming. Of course, hosting a holiday can be overwhelming because you simply may not have enough fridge or freezer space for all the leftovers. But saying that you don’t want any leftovers because it’s “bad” for you or will “make you fat” means that those who do take the leftovers are “bad” or want to be “fat”. It inadvertently can instill a sense of shame that the leftovers are being taken. Instead, let others know that you simply don’t have the space for all of the leftovers, and you want to share the wealth. Tis the season, right?
Did This Post Help You With Holiday Diet Talk?
I hope these phrases helped you swap your negative food talk with neutral or positive food talk. Engaging in neutral food talk can help us and others develop a happy and healthy relationship with food.
If you’re reading this to give your family members some ideas of how they can reframe holiday diet talk, please feel free to share with them. Remember that sometimes when people engage in negative food talk, in reality they are expressing their own concerns or insecurities, and although they may project them onto you, they may have nothing to do with you.
If this post is bringing up questionable disordered eating feelings for you, it could be helpful to contact the eating disorder hotline at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline .
If there are any other difficult phrases you want to challenge, feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.