How do we navigate negative food and body image talk?


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By Kayla Carson, Regional Director of Clinical Partnerships

As we celebrate the holidays, we are reunited with many family members and loved ones. We know from experience as we gather together, it doesn’t take long for negative food and body image talk to begin; sometimes it can even start at “hello.” Often our loved ones mean well, but these comments can hurt and can be a trigger for someone who is suffering from an eating disorder.

It is only natural for us to say hello to someone and instantly comment on the way they look. Often, we will say, “you look great,” or “have you lost weight?” without realizing the ramifications. For someone who has a distorted body image or is struggling with an eating disorder, these comments can rattle or shatter the person on the receiving end.

Try a few of these alternative ways to greet your friends and families without body image comments.

  • “Hi! It’s so good to see you!”
  • “Hello, I have missed you! I am excited to catch up!”
  • “Happy holidays! I can’t wait to hear what is new since I last saw you.”
  • “Hi! I can’t wait to hear what is going well for you this year.”
  • “You’re such a bright light and I am so happy to see you!”

Using non-weight related greetings can truly reduce the risk of bringing up a potentially painful experience or even reduce the triggers for someone who may be suffering from an eating disorder.

Some of us may have mastered the holiday conversations without weight-related comments or body image talk, but what if someone comments on our body? Often our loved ones have good intentions when they make their comments, but there are ways to politely react to their remarks and keep the peace.

  • Simply smile and say, “thank you.”
  • Say “thank you” and kindly talk about ways you are working on reducing body image compliments.
  • If you feel safe with the loved one, let them know how it feels when your body size is addressed.
  • “I am not sure if I have lost weight. I do not weigh myself and try to focus on other things”
  • “Oh really? I am not sure, but I know I feel great.”
  • “I am happy and healthy. Maybe that’s it?”

On the flip side, it is also important for us to remember just because someone says nothing about how we look does not mean they have negative thoughts. Your loved ones may be working on their body image and have learned new ways to say hello and engage in conversation.

Mealtime is challenging enough at holiday parties and family functions without negative food and body image talk. If you’re recovering your relationship with food and practicing Intuitive Eating principles, it can be easy to be derailed by comments or table conversation at these functions. If the conversation begins to lead toward negative food talk such as “diet starts tomorrow” or “I shouldn’t be eating this” you can quickly redirect the conversation with the following questions:

  • What books have been your favorite this year?
  • What are some of your favorite things right now?
  • What movies or TV shows would you say is a must watch and why?
  • How is work going?
  • What hobbies are you in to right now?
  • What trips have you been on or have coming up?

There are so many more important or entertaining things to talk about at the table than body image, diets, and self-shaming. Reminding or introducing family and friends to some of the Intuitive Eating principles is a helpful tool as well. There are no “good” or “bad” foods and we need to engage in food preferences and listen to hunger and fullness cues even during specials meals like holidays. Making peace with food can truly create a more relaxed and enjoyable holiday season.

Additionally, there are a few other tips you can rely on when before the conversations begin.

  • Have a support person. Enlist the support of a loved one before the gathering. They can help you to deflect comments and take some of the pressure off of you.
  • Have a plan. Think about who will be at your holiday gathering and try to anticipate if there will be any comments. Using some of the phrases above are always good to remember. Knowing what you will say will make the situation less stressful should negative talk begin.
  • Remove yourself. Maybe you have tried to use phrases to deflect the negative body talk, but you still feel uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to step away from the conversation. Taking care of your mental and emotional well-being is a top priority.

We at Selah House have a new challenge this season – greet your friends and family and engage in meaningful conversations without negative body image talk. If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, Selah House can help. For more information, call us today or complete our contact form.

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