5 tips on how to deal with diet culture ruining your meal time this holiday season

Written by Becky Young

When you notice how rampant fat phobia and diet culture is you end up seeing it EVERYWHERE – right? You start to notice how fatness is still the punchline of far too many jokes, how weight loss messaging is thrown at us from every angle and how regularly people openly compare their bodies to others or put themselves down for “looking fat”. It’s triggering as hell when you’re trying to break that endless cycle of restriction and binging that diets force us into.

A graphic image of a pair of feet standing on bathroom scales and the screen reads "who cares?"Of all the places, there’s nowhere more present or more painful for me personally than when “diet chat” rears its ugly head at mealtimes. This is my sacred space; I have fought long and hard to banish my own disordered eating and diet cycling from mealtimes and so I do SO hate it when other people try to shove that BS back in. For those of us with disordered eating pasts or presents and for those of us in fat bodies….eating can already be a tense experience and that’s before we go into eating in public. So when we’re digging in to a delicious festive meal with family, distant relatives, partners or friends, this is the exact time we DON’T want to be food policed or body shamed…but it does happen. 

Here’s some tips for what to do if it when it does and it affects you:

1. Focus on your breathing 😮‍💨

It might sound simple or “too woo” but when you feel upset or angry, extended breathing, box-breathing, or rhythmic breathing can help send the needed messages to your brain that you’re safe.

2. Repeat a coping statement in your head 🧠

Affirmations, mantras, or coping statements – whatever you call them – are positive & grounding phrases that can be used to override negative/untrue thoughts in your head or from others. E.g. “I deserve to eat and nourish my body” or “My body is the least interesting thing about me”. Find one that resonates with you & repeat it.

3. Start a dialogue about diet culture 🗣

If you have the energy, why not introduce your fellow diners to the wonderful world of body liberation! You may not change their minds instantly and maybe they’ll disagree or be defensive. But it’s also possible you’ll plant small seeds of change in their mind, and when they see you modelling body acceptance and food neutrality they could be massively inspired.

4.  State your boundaries ❌

Expressing your boundaries is an expression of love, not anger. If you know there will be fellow diners that are heavily entrenched in diet culture, perhaps gently let them before that your disordered eating is activated when people talk about diets and ask them to avoid it. OR during the meal/after a fat phobic comment, you can set a boundary like “I also have difficulties with my relationship with food/my body and I’d love if we could steer clear of the topic of diets if possible?”

5. Leave the table or conversation 🚪

Yes, that’s right. If requesting boundaries doesn’t work then we’re a big fan of just taking a break from the conversation. You are not a child; you ARE allowed to excuse yourself! We recommend having a friend – someone who really understands the impact of diet culture or has experience fat phobia themselves – that you can call/message if they have the capacity. Shoot them a text first like “are you free for a quick vent about my family?”. Venting to someone and communicating how the experience made you feel could help you process your thoughts and feel stronger or more resilient if it happens again. Plus it’s a nice distraction and you can then join the table when hopefully the conversation has moved on to less boring topics.

If you need support around diet culture, body image and food then become a member of the Anti Diet Riot Clubhouse for year-round peer support, expert advice, and resources.

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