Thanksgiving is a holiday that hinges on a meal, or so it may seem. Unfortunately, it’s not just about togetherness, or the turkey and 150 ways to cook it – this holiday has the potential to summon family baggage, food issues, and weight talk as well. I’m not bashing Thanksgiving. But I sympathize with my clients - many of whom are sent into a tizzy this time of year.
Does diet culture make an appearance at your holiday table? Sometimes it goes like this. People talk about the food and how delicious it is. We take that in. We’re munching and nodding. Yum. But talking about how good the food tastes leads to conversation about its nutritional composition and how ‘fattening it all is’. Perhaps then we talk about ways in which the host abandoned tradition in an effort to save his guests a few calories. Let me be clear here, we don’t need to shave calories from a traditional Thanksgiving meal. It’s just one meal.
Soon, someone chimes in that they do not normally eat this way. We learn that Grandma doesn't even eat lunch. Uncle Ralph has been doing Paleo for the last 5 months. We find out that Cousin Karen lost 20 pounds on Keto but then gained it all back. Someone then shares their dieting fantasies for the New Year. Is vegan in the future? A detox in January? Aunt Mary professes to lose 20lbs before her daughter's wedding in May. Could someone pass the stuffing?
Why do we do this? Everyone means well. The thing is, big holiday meals are triggering for people who typically diet, restrict, or follow an ‘it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle’ eating pattern. It's triggering because eating holiday meals makes dieters feel guilty, so naturally one needs to justify, process, and make sense of the whole thing.
The “I don't normally eat this way” statements are a way that we work out our food issues. Holiday meals rub up against diet culture in the most awkward way. When diet and weight talk come up at my Thanksgiving table, I feel uncomfortable too.
But the great thing about emotional insight is that we have the power to let go of beliefs and behaviors that don't serve us. We can let them go, send ‘em back, and consider the diet beliefs a sunk cost.
If you find yourself at the Thanksgiving table and diet and weight talk come up you can say, simply, “can we not talk about diets and our weight?” Or, “can we change the subject, please? This food is delicious." If you don’t feel comfortable saying something out loud, saying the words in your head will help. Someone's listening, even if it's just you.
Still uncomfortable at the table? Take breaks. It's okay to get up. Wash your hands at the kitchen sink while taking a couple deep breaths of scented soap. Take a breath in the restroom where you can be alone for a minute. You could look at pictures on your phone (images are grounding when you’re anxious). Breaks are really helpful and a form of self-care.
If you’re triggered by the meal itself (likely exacerbated by family dynamics) do some reality checking. There is nothing about the Thanksgiving meal that's going to hurt you. How is your body feeling inside? Are you still feeling hungry? Are you feeling no signal at all? Are you feeling full? How full?
Make a date with yourself for later. How about a plan to journal later that night? Or watch a favorite TV show. Or go to sleep early? Turkey doesn’t make you sleepy (but your family will).
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