With it being the holiday season, chances are you’re going to encounter some situations where these comments are happening – whether it be things that are said to you, or things you’re overhearing people say.
In fact, this is probably the most common question that my clients ask me about navigating the holidays. They’ll say, “Katy I feel like I have a good grasp on how to handle the food, but what about the comments?” This can be especially hard if the comments are coming from family. Maybe your mom or sister always bring up your weight and tell you what diet you should be doing, or perhaps you have an aunt or cousin who prides themselves in being super healthy and they’ll say things like, “I could never let myself eat all those carbs,” or, “I’ve got to get to the gym later to burn this off.”
Honestly, this doesn’t just apply to the holidays. These comments happen all throughout the year because we exist in a culture that’s obsessed with food, weight and dieting. It just gets ramped up during the holiday season, and it can be extra challenging because we’re often around people who we haven’t seen in a while, and sometimes it’s people who feel like they have the right to make food and weight comments to us.
3 Levels of Boundaries for Food and Weight Comments
A lot of us feel like setting a boundary with someone is rude. It’s as if telling them we don’t want to talk about a certain topic is mean, which obviously isn’t true. But for women in particular, we’re socially conditioned from a young age to not rock the boat, to be nice, to people please, and to not upset other people.
Of course we can be thoughtful about how we set the boundary, and we can do it in ways that aren’t rude in terms of our delivery. You’ve got to keep in mind that being assertive is not the same thing as being aggressive, and being assertive isn’t unkind. It’s also not your job to make everyone around you feel all warm and fuzzy.
When we think about boundaries, we can think about them at different levels. The level of boundary you set will depend on the situation, how egregious the other person’s behavior was, your own personality style, and other nuances, so I want you to feel like you can scale up or down in the firmness of the boundary based on what you need in the moment.
Level 1: Subtle Boundaries
These are the boundaries we set that are barely noticeable. In fact, the other person might not even consciously realize what happened, they just get the vibe that you don’t want to talk about it, or the conversation naturally shifts to something else.
Let me give you some examples:
- The “gray rock” strategy. It basically means looking bored and disinterested in what the other person is saying so that they’ll stop talking about it. You’re boring like a gray rock, so it’s no fun to keep the conversation going on that topic. Let’s say someone is going on and on about their keto diet at a holiday party, and you just sit there with a blank uninterested stare, and you don’t really respond, or you just kind of nod or give one word responses.
- Gracefully exit the conversation. Let’s say you’re at your family Christmas gathering and your sister starts talking about how she recently lost a bunch of weight and everyone wants to know how much she lost and how she did it. You could pretend you need to make a phone call or respond to an important text message. Perhaps you take a bathroom break or step outside for some fresh air, or maybe you go tidy up the kitchen or play a card game with your kids. Basically you’re just removing yourself from the conversation as a way to set your own boundary that you’re not going to listen to it or participate in it. You see, sometimes the boundary we set is within ourselves, and not explicitly with the other person.
- -Change the subject. Let’s say you are at a holiday gathering with your friends and someone starts gossiping about a celebrity or a mutual acquaintance that has gained weight. You could say, “Oh I hadn’t noticed. What do you think about Taylor Swift and Travis Kielce dating? Aren’t they such a cute couple!” (Or whatever other topic you can think of.) In fact, I encourage you to make a note in your phone before you go to a holiday gathering with some topics you can make small talk or change the subject with. That way you have a few ideas that you already thought about ahead of time instead of just trying to come up with something in the moment when you might be feeling triggered or frazzled.
Leve 2: Gentle Boundaries
These boundaries are going to be more direct and assertive, but in a gentle way. Let me give you some examples.
- Let’s say that someone expresses concern about your health. Maybe they look at your plate and say, “Are you sure you should be eating that?” Or maybe they comment on your weight and say, “I’m just worried about your health.” A gentle boundary could be letting them know that your doctor is on top of things with your health, or that you’re not interested in having that conversation. You could also let them know that these types of comments aren’t helpful to you.
- If someone is talking about their diet, you could say, “I’m so glad that’s working for you, but I’m really working on not dieting, so would it be ok if we talk about something else?” Or you could say, “I love you no matter what your weight is or how you body looks.” Another option would be, “I would love to hear what else is going on in your life – what have the kids been up to? How’s work?”
- Playful sarcasm or a joke like, “I found a new way to cut my carbs…With a knife!” Or you could say something like, “I thought about going on another diet, but then I remembered that I want to retain what little happiness I have in my life right now.” Sometimes some well-placed humor or sassiness is exactly what is needed to shut down the diet talk.
- Ask the person not to talk about food and weight with you. They may or may not be on board with this. Some people are really supportive of these vulnerable requests, and other people think it’s ridiculous and will just ignore it. (That’s where you might have to set a more firm boundary, which we’ll get to in a moment). If you’re going to make this type of request it’s really important to make it about you and not about them, otherwise they’re going to get defensive.
- Hold your ground without arguing or pushing back. You could say, “I’m just listening to my body,” or, “I don’t think of food that way anymore.”
Level 3: Firm Boundaries
These are the boundaries that we need when we don’t feel safe in a certain situation, or when someone repeatedly disregards our subtle or gentle boundaries and they just aren’t getting it.
Let’s say your mom keeps bringing up your weight over the holidays, and you’ve acted disinterested, changed the subject, and even told her you’re not dieting anymore. But she keeps bringing it up and she keeps telling you how worried she is about your health.
You might have to get more blunt and assertive (not aggressive, not rude – assertive) and tell her, “Mom, I’ve asked you to stop commenting on my weight, and I have told you I’m not dieting. It doesn’t work for me, and I am finding other ways to take care of my health, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t bring it up again.” She may or may not respect your boundary with this.
If she backs off, great. If she gets angry, or defends her reasoning, or keeps pushing you about it, then you can remain calm but firm and keep holding the boundary by repeating to her, “Mom, I’m not talking about this with you and if you bring it up again I’m leaving.” Or if it’s on the phone you can tell her you’re hanging up. Sometimes putting your hand in the air like you’re saying “stop” can be really effective as a visual boundary.
It’s also ok to say things like:
- “That’s none of your business.”
- “I appreciate your concern, but it’s not needed.”
- “I’m not talking about this right now.”
Another type of firm boundary is with your time and your attendance. You don’t have to arrive at every holiday gathering immediately when it starts or stay until it ends. If you know it’s a landmine for food and weight comments, maybe you plan to stay for a shorter period of time, or give yourself permission to make an exit if the subject keeps coming up. It’s also ok to choose not to go to holiday gatherings if you don’t want to. My caveat with that is to do a values check within yourself. There’s a difference between choosing what feels right to you according to your values, vs avoiding something that makes you uncomfortable. S
Scripts and Talking Points
Keep in mind that all of this is SO nuanced and depends on tons of variables, so you’ll have to play around with these to see what works best for you. The main takeaway here is that you have some different options and strategies that you can utilize so you don’t just have to sit there and suffer through food and weight comments that are bothering you.
If someone questions why you’re not dieting, here are a few scripts you can use:
- “I realized that dieting doesn’t work for me, so I’m not doing it anymore.” (You don’t even have to mention intuitive eating)
- “Dieting just wasn’t sustainable for me, so I’m working on listening to my body with intuitive eating.”
- If they’re interested in hearing more about intuitive eating you could tell them that it’s about eating without food rules, and learning how to listen to your body, while also noticing how different foods make you feel so you can give your body what it needs.
- If you mention intuitive eating and they act like it sounds ridiculous, you can just say, “I’m not sure how this will play out, but right now it’s working really well for me.”
If someone has heard you mention intuitive eating, and they question how it works, or if they say, “Well if I just ate whatever I wanted I’d only eat cookies all day or I’d gain a bazillion pounds,” here are some scripts you can use:
- “That’s not really how intuitive eating works. Yes, you have permission to eat cookies without feeling guilty, but if you’re truly listening to your body you’re going to want other things.”
- “Studies actually show that intuitive eating helps people maintain a weight that is natural for their body, and that there’s not all of the weight fluctuation up and down that happens with dieting that’s actually really hard on our bodies.”
If you get into one of these conversations and someone wants to debate with you or prove you wrong, I encourage you to use the boundaries strategies and shut the conversation down. Intuitive eating is one of those things that people often aren’t open to embracing until they’re ready, and that’s ok. I think most of us can remember a time when we weren’t ready to hear it either.
I am SO grateful that you are here. If someone you know needs to hear this episode, grab the link and text it to them. I would be so appreciative, because the more this show grows, the more people it helps. That’s my mission here.
Don’t forget to grab my holiday intuitive eating guide if you haven’t already. You can click here to get your copy for free.
That’s all for today, I’ll be back again next week. Take care!
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