Kelly Neilson, MDA RD LD
How to Navigate Thanksgiving Diet Talk
People spend all day preparing and cooking for the Thanksgiving meal, making sure all the classics like mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie are on the table. Yum!
Thanksgiving while in eating disorder recovery can feel intimidating because the holiday in itself is centered around food. Since we already live in a society consumed with diet culture, it’s no surprise that diet talk or food and body comments, unfortunately, tend to get brought up at the dinner table.
What is diet talk? Diet talk is diet culture wrapped into small talk, phrases, conversations, and comments. It’s anything associated with dieting, food restriction, calories, “clean” eating, “watching what you eat,” and exercise that’s rooted in weight loss or manipulating and micromanaging your body weight.
Here are a few examples of typical diet talk you might hear on Thanksgiving.
Good thing I went on a jog this morning so that I can eat as much turkey and stuffing as I want.
Calories don’t count on Thanksgiving!
Ugh, I’m stuffed. I’m working out extra at the gym on Monday to make up for it.
Don’t look! I’m getting seconds of pumpkin pie.
When family and friends participate in diet talk, there’s usually no intentional harm behind it, but many don’t recognize that diet talk can:
Be very damaging to those trying to heal their relationship with food
Trigger disordered and unhealthy thoughts and behaviors around food
Promote weight stigma
Spread false nutrition and health information
As you continue in recovery, you’ll realize that you ultimately can’t avoid diet talk at all costs and you don’t have control over other people’s food and body comments. That’s why it’s important to prepare yourself for navigating Thanksgiving diet talk by focusing on what you can do for your recovery.
A helpful recovery tool for you is to have Thanksgiving conversation starters prepared that keep conversation at the dinner table away from diet talk as well as responses to redirect diet talk when it comes up.
Thanksgiving Conversation Starters to Avoid Diet Talk
Diet talk usually comes out of habit since much of society is ingrained in diet culture. To them, it can be as casual as talking about the weather. Most people probably don’t want to talk about diets though, they want to enjoy Thanksgiving just like you!
Thanksgiving CAN be an enjoyable experience, especially when the conversation is more about connection and relationship! Have Thanksgiving conversation starters tucked into your back pocket or written on your phone so that you can steer the conversation in a good direction with fun and meaningful topics.
Did your aunt start a new job recently? Ask how she likes it. Is your uncle always doing house projects? See how the progress is going. Who recently traveled? What are the must-sees if you were to go? Is there a new puppy or baby in the family? Pass around cute photos!
A serious debate is whether holiday decorations go up before or after Thanksgiving. Take a vote and see - people have strong opinions about this! Ask everyone about fun holiday traditions from childhood and if there are any ideas for new ones you can start. Share funny stories from past Thanksgivings too, like when grandpa set the turkey on fire!
It’s fun to throw some interesting questions into the conversation! Go around the table and have everyone answer.
What’s the first thing you would buy with $1 million?
What famous guest would you invite to dinner and why?
Do you have any funny or embarrassing video call moments from quarantine?
People are usually glad to share more about their interests if you ask them. Is your grandma into crafting? Ask what she enjoys making the most and why. Is your cousin always posting about camping on social media? Bring it up and ask for tips on finding a good camping spot. What show is trending on Netflix right now? Discuss the plot and go into details.
What are You Thankful for this Year?
This is a must on Thanksgiving! Most of all Thanksgiving is about gratitude, being with loved ones, and cherishing the moments we have. Take turns and share what you’re thankful for.
How to Redirect Thanksgiving Diet Talk
If someone starts talking about diets or making food and body comments, it’s normal to feel stuck and not sure what to say. As you grow and become more confident in your recovery, you’ll be able to handle the conversation in whatever way seems easiest and most comfortable to you depending on the circumstance.
Know that you don’t have to:
Say anything at all if you don’t want to
Change people’s beliefs
Feel obligated to debate
Share details about your personal recovery
Sometimes it’s easier to just find a way to move past the diet talk, and that’s ok. Other times, you might want to advocate against diet culture and stand up. Either way is up to you, there’s no perfect way to handle it!
Here are a few ways that you can redirect Thanksgiving diet talk.
Make a Joke
Why would you feel bad about eating mashed potatoes? Did you steal them? This humor should indicate pretty quickly that you’re not into dieting. Plus, it’ll make them think twice about why you said that.
Hmm interesting, anyway, have you seen that new movie that just came out? What do you think of it? When you change the subject, especially with a question, people are likely to move on and answer the question without realizing you completely changed the conversation.
I don’t try to control my food or weight now that I’ve learned about Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size. Have you heard of it? I just threw my scale away, it’s SO freeing! Simply sharing that you don’t diet can inspire others to think about their own choices and maybe even give themselves permission to stop dieting too.
Leave the Conversation
Excuse me, I’m going to go help grandma set the dinner table, we’ll talk later! This one’s always good if you feel taken off guard. Give yourself an easy out and walk away. You can run to the restroom, take a few breaths, or call a friend for support real quick.
Doesn’t talking about dieting feel so draining? Let’s talk about something more interesting! Do you have plans to travel for the holidays? Sometimes people don’t realize how negative diet talk is, but pointing it out will make them catch on.
Be Open and Use Boundaries
Talking about food or weight makes me feel anxious since I’m trying to heal from a disordered relationship with food. Can we stay away from food and body topics today? Getting vulnerable can feel scary, but if you feel like explaining, most will respect you.
Did you know that diets actually set you up to fail and most people feel crazier around food compared to when they started dieting? Offer to send them a link to articles, this is intriguing especially when people don’t know this fact.
Rely on a Support Buddy
Talk with a trusted friend or family member beforehand and game plan how they can support you. If you’re triggered they can help comfort you or distract you, they can check on you during the meal, and they can be on standby to redirect diet talk at the dinner table too.
Do You Need Support Navigating Thanksgiving Diet Talk?
Thanksgiving can feel stressful and overwhelming because there’s so much attention on food. No matter what, the main goal is to continue to focus on your own recovery instead of worrying about what everyone else is doing or talking about.
This Thanksgiving you CAN step away from diet culture and distance yourself from diet talk with a little preparation! Try your best to be grateful this year for your recovery journey and that you’re walking away from dieting and into a life of food and body freedom!
As an eating disorder registered dietitian, I’m here for you to help you navigate Thanksgiving diet talk. Let’s connect!