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Holiday Health Topics: 5 ground rules for discussing food and weight

Personal health topics can be tricky to handle at holiday parties.

The holidays offer a lot of time for friends and family to gather around sweets and treats. When there is food involved, unsolicited comments about people’s weight or food choices often follow.

While you can’t control whether someone makes an inappropriate comment about your weight, Studio 5 Health Contributor Miki Eberhardt says you can prepare yourself to handle unsolicited remarks with ease and confidence. She shares how to respond as well as what not to say.

Find more advice from Miki on Instagram, @nutritionbymiki.


How to Handle Personal Health Topics at Holiday Parties

First, let’s set two ground rules for anyone who listens to this to take with them to any or all holiday parties and any other gathering in perpetuity whether you are hosting or you are a guest. You know how we all know to avoid politics and religion, here are a couple more ground rules:

  1. Don’t talk about anyone’s body. Ever.
  2. If they’ve lost weight or gained weight, gained muscle, lost muscle, trying a new pill, potion, or powder, just keep your mouth closed. “It’s great to see you” with a big hug goes a long way. Commenting on one’s body shows that your care is based on how someone looks, which probably isn’t true, so just keep those comments to yourself. We often have no idea what is going on in someone’s life, and praise or criticism may be the absolute wrong thing to give.
  3. Let people be in charge of themselves.
  4. Let them eat as much of whatever is being offered as they want. Don’t pressure anyone to eat more or take a second helping if it looks like they are finished.
  5. Don’t comment if someone isn’t eating as much as you would like them too. Grandma Carlson was notorious for walking around the dinner table and looking at your plate and guilting you into taking more of something.

Now, if everyone that you’re going to interact with this holiday season doesn’t watch Studio 5 and missed those ground rules, then let’s talk about how you can be prepared so you can feel empowered if you’re faced with some uncomfortable questions or comments. Ready?

  1. “Thank you for offering—it looks great, but I’m actually feeling satisfied already.”
  2. While saying “no thanks” to that second piece of mom’s pie should be enough, people often feel pressured to accept a serving of something when they’re not actually hungry for out of fear of being impolite or offending the person who made it.
  3. I always say you don’t want to be passive or aggressive in any dining situation, but you do want to be assertive and take charge for you. This is a great line to do that. This is a neutral response that you can use whenever you’re already full and satisfied and don’t desire any more food.
  4. If your Grandma is like my Grandma Carlson and still persists, you can add in, “I wish I could but it would make me so uncomfortable. I would love to take a piece home if you don’t mind.” Or ask if you can get the recipe to make another time since you loved it so much. The host will feel honored and you won’t have to lay down on the couch in a food coma. Win win!
  5. “When you talk about my food and my body, it makes me feel uncomfortable. Do you mind if we change the subject?”
  6. If you feel safe enough with the person to be vulnerable about how food and body talk actually make you feel, you might try to be honest with them. They truthfully might not know how that kind of talk affects you and people don’t want to perpetuate someone else’s discomfort once they’re made aware of it.
  7. You could also say “I’d really prefer not to talk about my body or eating if you don’t mind.”
  8. In all likelihood, their desire to be polite will teer the conversation to a new topic. If it’s someone who you really love and care about and will see again and again and you would really like to nip this problem in the bud, then being frank is the most helpful.
  9. “Hey, I’m really trying to not talk about food or bodies in a negative way. Mind if we switch gears? What’s been a highlight this year for everyone?”
  10. This candid response is a good one to use if the conversation starts to veer into diet culture or fat-phobic territory more generally, or in regard to another person or someone else—as opposed to you in particular.
  11. It can shed light on the negative tone—something the other person may not even pick up on—and establishes your boundaries around what is and is not okay to say around you.
  12. “Thank you for your concern, but that is for me and my doctor to talk about.”
  13. Even when someone is coming from a place of care and concern, you are well within your rights to let them know in a firm and clear way that they are crossing a line. If the person insists “I’m just worried” or “I just care about you” you can reply with a reminder that you appreciate their concern, but “I have a great doctor/RD, but thanks anyway.”
  14. “Healthy looks different for everyone. For me, health is actually about X.”
  15. If the person is someone you feel comfortable enough to share more about your views on health and weight—and potentially offer insight on a very misunderstood topic—this could be a good opportunity to do so.
  16. “Heathy for me means not focusing on a number on the scale and instead focusing on foods and movement that make me feel good.”
  17. If you’d like to take a less personal approach, a general statement like, “You know, health is such a complicated topic. It can mean something different to every person depending on their circumstances.”
  18. “Good for you, not for me.”
  19. Channel our inner Amy Poehler from her book where she shares how women should have this motto on repeat, “Good for her! Not for me.”
  20. It’s a good line to use when someone is trying to convince you that their new-fangled way of eating is something you should pick up and try too…It’s a succinct way to simply say, “you do you.” It doesn’t cast judgement but rather indicates that what works fine for some people doesn’t apply to everyone. Another variation: “That’s great for you, and I’m going to stick with what works for me.”

In summary, one of my favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt was this: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” And I would add that the tiny minds discuss how people look and what they eat. So maybe brainstorm a few conversational topics on ideas and events and add those to your arsenal to try and do your best to keep conversation away from bodies and diets.

Resource: Article from Self, 7 Ways to Handle Comments About Your Weight, Nov. 20, 2020 with some of my RD friends’ tips

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