Though Thanksgiving is meant to be all about family and gratitude, the holiday seems to have become synonymous with something else: food. And while for some people the culinary orgy of Thanksgiving might be a great reason to celebrate, the obsession with food around Thanksgiving is challenging for many. Whether you're someone who has struggled with disordered eating or have a family who food shames your diet choices, Thanksgiving isn't always easy.
"Because diet culture is pervasive, it's quite likely to take a seat at your family's Thanksgiving table, too," Blush life coach and licensed therapist, Joanna Townsend, tells Bustle. "Thanksgiving has become a culturally-approved day of restricting, bingeing, guilt, food shaming, calorie-counting, and body-hate. But the problem far extends this single mealtime — Thanksgiving represents diet culture in itself. 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."
If you find that Thanksgiving is triggering or that you're food- or body-shamed around the holidays, here's how you can help protect yourself.
Get Back In Touch With The Holiday
Try to touch base with what Thanksgiving is all about for you. "The best way to handle food shaming and diet talk at Thanksgiving is to align yourself with what you value going into the holiday," Townsend says. "Is it family, slowing down, meaningful connection, friendship, or even self-care in the form of alone time? Ask yourself what your Thanksgiving means for you in a non-food related way."
If you transfer the focus of the holiday away from food — and make time for a little self-care — you may be able to go into the holiday in a better head place mentally.
If you find that there's a lot of triggering talk about food — whether or not it's directed strictly at you — you should feel free to ask for the conversation to change or to walk away if you need to.
"[I]f you're at the table overhearing chatter about 'bad' versus 'good' food, weight, or 'cheat days,' it's important to establish boundaries," Townsend says. "Depending on your individual circumstances and your relationship with those around you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with speaking up against food shamers. Most people are often unaware of the internalized messages they have around food given the way it's embedded into our eating culture." Sometimes, pointing out the issue will be enough to change the conversation.
Share Your Point Of View
If you feel like it will be helpful to you and improve your experience, you can open up a bit about diet culture and how it's affected you. "You could even use it as an opportunity to educate and assert your views on flexible, anti-diet, and intuitive eating," Townsend says. That being said, don't feel like you have to raise the flag and fight the good fight — if you think it's going to be fruitless and just cause you unnecessary angst or open you up to more triggering conversations, you don't have to put yourself out there.
Do What's Right For You
Finally, remember that your food choices are nobody else's. "Never eat or avoid anything because someone is trying to coerce or shame you," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, tells Bustle. "Food choices are emotional and personal. Only you can know and decide what is best for you." Even if you can't control what other people say, you can control how you respond to it. You don't have to give it a power that it doesn't deserve.
Thanksgiving is a holiday rife with food triggers — and if your family tends to be hyper-critical about your body or your food choices, it can be incredibly intimidating. Whether you try to explain to others that what they're saying upsets you, change the subject, or ignore it, just make sure that you're putting yourself and your needs first.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.