The start of the holiday season is here! This season is a joyful time in many ways but catching up with family and friends has its challenges - especially if you're shifting your relationship with food and your body. Read on below for a few thoughts...
If you're working on your relationship with food (or are a dietitian), food can be a sensitive topic to talk about in mixed company. It feels as controversial as politics and religion - everyone has an opinion but few have facts / education.
On top of that, seeing people you haven't had contact with for weeks/months/years brings up a lot of emotion and potential insecurities. When you're feeling extra critical of yourself, sometimes we project that on our interaction with others. When someone brings up nutrition, it can feel like a loaded question and it's tempting to read into what everyone is saying. Are they judging me? Should I educate them? Why do we have to talk about this? But consider for a moment WHY some people choose to talk about food...
So how 'bout that weather?
For many, food and diets are like talking about the weather. Maybe it's just because of my work, but it feels like everywhere I go, I overhear people talking about what they people should and should not eat (according to popular culture). It seems commonplace to share the newest "thing" you're trying and spending hours explaining to your friends.
It makes sense. Nutrition information is EVERY where - much of it conflicting. And we, as humans, eat multiple times a day (and make literally hundreds of food decisions each day!). So of course, there are a lot of questions and considerations. When nutrition isn't your job, it's a topic that can consume hours of conversation when there's nothing else to talk about.
People assume food is generally neutral territory. There's a societal belief that "health" foods are universal truths that won't cause controversy. And on top of that, popular culture makes it seem like "everyone is doing it." That makes it a safe topic of conversation in mixed company - unlike politics and religion. But as a wise person recently said [paraphrasing here], "healthy food is not a behavior in isolation...for example, someone may 'compliment' me when I'm eating a bag of steamed broccoli as a 3 pm, but if it doesn't match my energy needs, it's not a healthy behavior."
Just because food is an "easy" and "neutral" topic for many, doesn't make it comfortable for all. If you find the group caught up in food talk, consider changing the topic - pets, movies, the weather, memories, jobs, heroes (here are more ideas).
You may not be able to steer it away from food, but perhaps you can shift it to focus on foods that bring joy (instead of guilt).
But if you can't derail the run away train, take a break and head to the bathroom, fake a phone call, or zone out and fantasize about puppies and kittens.
The last time you were together, you may have had a very different lifestyle and opinion about food and exercise. Perhaps you had strict rules about what you could eat or how much you had to move. Perhaps you imposed these rules on others. That may be construed as an "interest" by others and they may not be aware of the journey you're on. If people believe you're interested in food / health / exercise, they may use it to connect with you.
Connecting with someone is hard. Connecting with someone you THINK you know is even harder! Give them another way to talk with you that has nothing to do with health - like these conversation starters.
I like your apple...
People like to use food choice as a compliment - "Oh you're so good!" or "I wish I had your willpower." Often people mean well - similar to above, it's a reflection of the society we live in. Sometimes it's also an indication of someone else's insecurities - feeling they're not "good enough." However, when you're trying to "just eat", those comments can cloud your connection to your needs and desires.
You can try to take your plate off the topic of conversation by directly asking people to not comment on your food. But sometimes that makes it feel like people are "watching" you even more. I find simple responses like, "I love it all!" or "I'm coming back for more" easy ways to deflect those statements without judgement.
Is it o.k. to eat??
This time of year is notorious for statements about needing to "prepare" or "make up" for eating (eg, "I haven't eaten all day...I'll run extra tomorrow...etc"). I really believe many people make these comments absentmindedly and mean nothing by them - it's just "the thing you say."
But others are looking for acceptance and forgiveness in eating. People may be nervous about the judgement of others. Talking about "how bad" they are or their plans to "amend for their sins" is a way to deflect those feelings. Often they are looking for others to join in on their "indulgence" and sentiments.
First, realize their comments have has nothing to do with you. It's about their own insecurities with food and a reflection of the society we live in.
While you can join in on the joke if you want, you can also give them (and yourself) permission to eat and enjoy the holiday by simply saying, "this looks delicious!" or "I can't wait to enjoy it!"
Moral of the story...
If food and bodies come up, perhaps give pause for a gentle observation. Hold the criticism of yourself and others. Be grateful you have discovered a new way of thinking about food and bodies. When you're ready, you can invite others on the journey. And remember you ALWAYS have the right to change the topic of conversation.
Stay nourished friends!
DISCLAIMER: The information presented here is meant to be for general education. If you want individual guidance to reach your unique health goals, please contact me or a local dietitian directly
Dietitian, personal trainer, mother, wife, runner, and triathlete staying healthy one bit and bite at a time