There are two very distinct things that characterize the holiday season: getting together with people you don’t see very often and food. (side note: I’d like to recognize here that not everyone has friends and family to be with, so consider opening your homes to additional folks this time of year!) Whether the people are co-workers, friends, close or distant relatives, ‘tis the season for get togethers, delicious food spreads and body shaming.
Wait, what?! Body shaming? Why would I care about body shaming during the holidays? Chances are, at least one person in your family or circle of friends is currently struggling with an eating disorder. A staggering 30 million Americans are suffering from eating disorders and the rate of eating disorders is the highest it’s ever been. A huge contributor to the rise in eating disorders is the current diet culture and fear of becoming fat. Let’s take a look at some ways you can help cultivate a healthy relationship with food for yourself and others!
When people think about eating healthy, usually types of food come to mind, not the relationship with food. How we relate to food includes:
- Whether we judge the types or amounts of food we are eating.
- When we eat - do we eat when we are hungry, stop when we’re full? Do we enjoy the foods we want, when we want them?
- Comfort eating in front of others.
- Enjoying what we’re eating while we’re eating it.
One of the most difficult steps to creating a healthy relationship with food is noticing the thoughts that prevent you from having a healthy relationship with food. “Kale is good.” “Cookies are bad.” “Carbs are fattening.” “I should be eating paleo.” These statements are indicators of a dieting mindset, and of a mindset that prevents a healthy relationship with food. When these thoughts are spoken out loud, they might be planting the seeds in a friend or family member that could develop into an eating disorder or reinforce an ongoing eating disorder.
Holiday spreads includes all kinds of foods and may spark some of these thoughts in you or may be the cause for others to make judgmental comments about food, their body or even the bodies of other people. This is such an important opportunity to be a change agent! Here are a few scenarios that might make a big difference in the life of someone you love:
- One of your teenaged cousins has put on weight (extremely common in adolescence before a growth spurt) or just gone through a growth spurt: Focus on anything other than how their body looks! Ask them about school or sports or music. Comments on how people look reinforces that looks are more important than other aspects of a person.
- The family of a loved one is fully entrenched in diet culture: this might be the first time one of your loved ones gets to see a different relationship to food. Help guide the conversation to other topics if dieting is being discussed and model a healthy relationship with food.
- You are on a diet: don’t discuss your meal plan, which foods are “allowed” or not, your reasons for going on the diet or even disclosing that you’re on a diet. Whatever your reasons are, they can influence people in ways you don’t intend and what’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another.
There’s a lot of reasons the holidays can be difficult for people, let’s help make food be a cause for celebration, not dread!
Ani is a fat activist and Health at Every Size promoter. She is currently pursuing a degree in Dietetics and is working towards the creation of a non-profit to support healthy relationships with food. She is also a geek, yogi, knitter, and lives with her partner and two dogs in Minneapolis.