Contributor: Staff at McCallum Place
When Thanksgiving rolls around, complaints about holiday weight gain are often just as common as discussions about what people are thankful for. Hearing these conversations can be tough, especially if you’re struggling with body image concerns or an eating disorder. But thinking about how you might handle these situations ahead of time can help make Thanksgiving more enjoyable.
Diet Culture Takes a Seat at the Thanksgiving Table
Everyone feels dissatisfied about the way they look from time to time, but when someone subscribes to diet culture, they place a higher value on a person’s looks based on how thin they are. The thinner a person is, the healthier and more moral they must be .
Naturally, diet culture says that eating in certain ways is better than others because the goal is to eat to maintain a specific body shape. But when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner spreads, healthy eating is a distant thought — until people start dishing food onto their plates.
Joanna Townsend, a licensed therapist, told Bustle that diet culture and Thanksgiving essentially go hand in hand.
“Thanksgiving represents diet culture in itself,” Townsend told Bustle. “Not only are we inundated with negative messages from the media and news that reinforce disordered eating habits and compensatory exercise for eating certain foods, but we even hear our own friends and families demonize food types, restrict, binge, engage in self-deprecating talk, body shaming, and food policing.”
This can present in different ways, such as shaming a person for making healthy food choices at Thanksgiving dinner, commenting about needing to lose the holiday weight, or pressuring someone to eat foods they don’t want to — like that extra slice of pie.
How Diet Culture Impacts the Way People Think and Feel
While both men and women can be affected by diet culture, research indicates that it typically has a greater impact on women .
Many women feel an intense pressure to look a certain way, and their friendships and relationships with family members often play a major role in shaping their self-esteem, personal identity, and beliefs about their bodies and dieting.
In fact, research shows that it’s common for women to talk about how dissatisfied they are with their bodies. These chats might include negative comments about their own bodies or complaints about a new diet or exercise regimen.
Researchers found that this kind of talk can lead to all sorts of negative outcomes, including lower self-esteem, depression, unhealthy eating behaviors, and eating disorders. But diet culture has also become so pervasive that some women feel closer to each other when they participate in conversations about trying to stay thin or eating good food versus bad food.
This can become a hard cycle to break for some women. Confiding in others about how they feel about their bodies or eating habits can sometimes improve the quality of their relationships, but it can also make them feel worse about themselves.
Not surprisingly, this cycle doesn’t stop at the holidays. But that doesn’t mean that everyone has to participate in it.
Handling Diet Talk on Thanksgiving
If you know that conversations about food, dieting, and weight loss during Thanksgiving may negatively affect you, it can be helpful to think about how you might handle certain situations that might arise. What actions can you take? Are there certain things you can say? These tips can help you start putting together a plan [3, 4, 5]:
- Set appropriate boundaries – Only you know what feels most comfortable to you, but if someone brings up diet talk or tries to shame you for eating certain foods, try to set appropriate boundaries. You can choose to walk away, change the subject, or directly tell them what you are feeling.
- Surround yourself with supportive people – It can be tough when you are the only one speaking up against diet talk on Thanksgiving. If possible, surround yourself with people who are also taking a healthier outlook on eating during the holidays.
- Listen to your body – There is often an unspoken cultural expectation to restrict your food intake on Thanksgiving so that you can eat beyond the point of fullness at dinner. Remember: It’s OK to listen to your body and eat when and as much or as little as you need to during the holidays.
- Refocus your perspective – While the food may have brought everyone together, shifting your focus to family, friends, traditions, or other areas of your life that bring you gratitude and joy can make Thanksgiving that much more enjoyable.
Diet and food talk certainly has the potential to derail the spirit of Thanksgiving. But by prepping for how you’ll navigate these conversations, you’ll have a better chance of creating more positive memories from the holiday season.
References Faw, M., Davidson, K., Hogan, L., & Thomas, K. (2020). Corumination, diet culture, intuitive eating, and body dissatisfaction among young adult women. Personal Relationships. 28(4). DOI: 10.1111/pere.12364.  Emery, L. (2018, November 19). How To Handle Food Shaming On Thanksgiving, According To Experts. Bustle. Retrieved from: https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-handle-food-shaming-on-thanksgiving-according-to-experts-13140474.  Todd, C. (2020, November 20). 7 Ways to Handle Comments About Your Weight or Eating on Thanksgiving. Self. Retrieved from: https://www.self.com/story/handling-food-body-comments-thanksgiving.  Rollin, J. (2015, November 25). 3 Tips for Rejecting Diet-Mentality This Thanksgiving. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-musings/201511/3-tips-rejecting-diet-mentality-thanksgiving.  Vijaykumar, K. (2020, November 21). Fighting back against diet culture: avoiding food guilt during the holidays. Her Campus. Retrieved from: https://www.hercampus.com/school/suffolk/fighting-back-against-diet-culture-avoiding-food-guilt-during-holidays/.
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Published November 15, 2021 on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 15, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC