Author: Katrina Wilson M.A. RPC
The holidays are a time for celebration, connection, and enjoyment. They also tend to revolve around food, and in our culture where there is food there will also be diet talk. Diet culture relies on the holiday season to engage people in conversation about losing weight, which foods to avoid, and how to compensate for what has been eaten. This can be really hard to hear for someone working on recovery from an eating disorder, as this type of talk often mirrors the language the eating disorder uses to promote its agenda. Hearing the ED thoughts spoken out loud by friends and family can be hard to navigate, and many struggle with the holidays for this reason.
Although not completely avoidable, there are ways to approach diet talk in a recovery-focused way that can help minimize the impact of even the most well-meaning comments. First, it’s important to set clear boundaries ahead of any gatherings or family events. If possible, talk to your loved ones about what types of comments are unhelpful and unnecessary – we usually encourage people to steer clear of any body or food related comments. Setting this boundary can be hard, and takes some assertiveness and vulnerability, but it can make a big difference in helping your supports understand what you need.
Sometimes setting boundaries isn’t always possible, so having a plan for if diet talk does come up can be handy. Rather than going into a situation and “winging it”, take some time to think about how you would like to respond should diet talk enter a conversation. How might you change the topic or redirect the conversation? Could you excuse yourself from the situation and take a breather in the bathroom? How would you like to respond in a recovery-focused way? Having a plan can help you feel more confident in approaching the event, especially if you know diet talk is a hot topic for the crowd you’re with.
Another strategy that can be particularly helpful is practising compassion for those caught up in diet culture. If you struggle with disordered eating, you know what it feels like to be controlled by rules, negative and critical thoughts about yourself and body, and guilt towards what you are eating. When hearing someone engage in the language of diet culture, bring to mind how much you know this hurts, and see what it is like to approach the other with empathy and compassion. It can be really easy for resentment and irritation to build when you are trying to navigate these conversations, and looking from the lens of compassion can help to cut through those emotions, to help you see the internal struggle going on for the other person.
As with the eating disorder voice, you can choose to reframe and defuse from diet talk throughout the holidays. Although you can’t control whether it appears or not, you have the power to choose how you respond.