Handling holiday food anxiety

"Don't eat."

December! Holidays! Hanukkah was last week, Christmas is in two weeks, and New Year in three. During this time of year, many people take the opportunity to spend time with friends and family, and gathering around the table to share delicious food can be part of those traditions.

Unless you are fat. Or you are scared of becoming fat. Or your doctor said you are fat. Then you have only two options, as the above-pictured advertisement from one of my local gyms so helpfully suggests: either don’t eat any food, or join the gym and workout. Well, pardon my language, but fuck a bunch of that shit.

When I first saw this sign in the window while walking home one night, I stopped dead in my tracks. Anger took over. Several choice words came to mind. Setting aside the fact that people can be both fat and fit, ads like these contribute to stigma against fat folks and perpetuate the cycle of fat-shaming. Pair that with holiday busyness and well-intentioned family, and you’ve got a great recipe for stressful and triggering situations.

If there’s anything I want people to remember this holiday season, it’s this: you are allowed to eat. As someone with a history of disordered eating, I understand how dangerous it can be during the holidays, with people making all sorts of enjoyable foods, yet at the same time scolding you for enjoying those foods.

It breaks my heart when someone is offered something tasty, only to hear “oh no, I really shouldn’t”, because many times, those words are backed by feelings of shame or guilt, of sacrifice, and of resolutions to “be good”. Instead of having a good time and appreciating the love, friendship, and, yes, food around them, people worry about the moral implications of the food they are choosing and obsessing over their (or others’) weight.

Last year, The Fat Nutritionist wrote an excellent “inevitable holiday post” that sums up many of my feelings way more eloquently, and also includes good information about nutrition and tips for dealing with holiday eating. Here are some things that have also worked for me:

  • changing the subject or walking away when diet talk steers the conversation
  • ignoring commercials during live television to avoid diet, weight-loss, and gym membership advertising
  • eating at regular intervals, e.g. neither filling up nor saving up before a party or banquet
  • wearing clothes are that beautiful and comfortable

If you’d like more advice, Ragen from Dances with Fat wrote an article for Ms. Fit on dealing with the question “Do you need to eat that?” Some of her responses are a little more snarky than I would actually use in real-life conversation, but her thoughts on the three-step boundary-setting are super helpful for this and many other situations.

Talking through your feelings can also be beneficial, as I have discovered. Find a trusted friend who would love to join you for a festive and delightful party and who won’t shame you for eating that peppermint bark. Tweet about your judgmental family members and get almost instant support from your followers. If all else fails, post a comment here or send me an email. I will most assuredly have no bad words about your holiday dinner plans.

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2 thoughts on “Handling holiday food anxiety

  1. Thank you for addressing this! The holidays can be such a hard time when we’re encouraged (or forced) to be in close proximity with family members who frequently have their own hangups about food and weight and are dead-set on projecting those hangups on everybody around them. I definitely go less snarky and more matter-of-fact if someone comments on my food choices–I am bad at being confrontational, but I also like to think that being low-key about things might help normalize it? Of course, I’m also coming at the issue as someone who is still mostly straight-sized, so I know it’ll be different for other folks. You’ve linked to some great resources here and it’s good to know that there’s someone like you who’s smart and compassionate available for those who need commiseration and support.

  2. You’re welcome! It’s taken me a long time to get to this point and while I still have a bit of anxiety over holiday meals, it’s not as detrimental as it used to be. When words pop up, I try to be as calm as possible with my reply, but I can definitely be more confrontational with someone who has a habit of crossing my boundaries. I also have no trouble saying, or encouraging others to say, “I’m not going to talk about this with you” if the conversation gets bad. Some people just don’t listen, and nothing you explain will make them. Not discussing it with a toxic person can be beneficial for your own emotional health.

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