Avoiding Diet Culture at the Holiday Table

The holidays bring lots of opportunities connect with friends and family. Read on to learn what types of comments may be causing more harm than good.

Diet culture is everywhere; social media, magazines lining the check out line, television and in the way we communicate with one another. Diet culture proclaims, “Thinness is best!

‘Diet culture’ defined, according to Crissy Harisson MPH, RD:

“Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

  • Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
  • Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
  • Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
  • Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.” 

Diet culture is pervasive in our society, but we can be more conscientious about the language we use in order to help shift the conversation.

Some ways diet culture manifests in conversation are comments regarding other’s weight, how much or little someone is eating, “good” versus “bad” foods, and general comments of guilt and shame around food and our bodies.

At the dinner table, be mindful about the struggle your friends and family may have regarding body image, relationship with food, or disordered eating. Make meal time a chance to share meaningful conversation and simply enjoy the delicious food that has been prepared, without the guilt. 

As an example, imagine you have been unable to eat much to due to illness, and someone compliments how great you look, asking if you’ve lost weight. Or, as your aunt reaches for a second helping of sweet potatoes at a family gathering, she mentions how she will need to work out the next day to burn off the calories, causing everyone at the table to feel self conscious about their food choices. Perhaps you have a similar story coming to mind. 

This type of communication reinforces diet culture, it can reinforce disordered eating behaviors and reduces us to our outer appearance.

INSTEAD, lift up your friends and family in a way that honors the whole person that they are, not just their outer appearance. Here are some great non-appearance related compliments to dish out:

  • Seeing you makes me so happy
  • You inspire me to be a better person
  • You always light up the room 
  • You have the best laugh
  • You have a really refreshing perspective
  • You make me feel comfortable to be myself
  • You’re truly making a difference
  • You have such a big heart
  • You are fun to be with
  • You are hilarious/intelligent/kind
  • I love spending time with you, you really get me
  • I couldn’t imagine life without you
  • You’re a great listener
  • You radiate confidence
  • I’m proud of you


Resources:

https://christyharrison.com/blog/what-is-diet-culture 

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/50-compliments-that-are-not-about-physical-appearance

Valerie Koschnick RD, CD

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