How To Avoid Diet Culture Talk On Thanksgiving

It goes without saying that Thanksgiving will be very different this year. Even if you’re doing your Thanksgiving dinner over Zoom, some less-than-fun elements about this family and food-oriented holiday will likely remain the same. You’ll probably still get asked why you’re single, and chances are high you’ll hear diet talk, which is everywhere, but particularly prevalent when a group of people are eating together. Your aunt Karmen might talk about the latest diet she’s on, while your cousin Lacey might fiddle with the food on her plate and exclaim how she’s eaten way too much. It feels almost inevitable that someone will mention how their weight changed during quarantine.

Whichever way you put it, there’s bound to be somebody talking about food restriction or exercise in relation to their desire to lose weight. This can be triggering for people with eating disorders, or anyone really who wants to enjoy their meal in peace without hearing how many calories are in their turkey stuffing. Besides, there will be enough talk about COVID-19 and the election—can’t we all just agree on keeping this topic off the table this year? Well, it’s not so easy to get rid of diet talk from our family and friends. But, with the help of some experts, there are ways of trying to avoid it altogether and quick responses to stop diet talk in its tracks. Read on for their valuable tips. 

1. Skip Thanksgiving Altogether

This is an obvious option to entertain since many people are skipping holiday gatherings because of COVID-19 anyway. But, if you’re feeling brave, and want to tell your family that you’re forgoing the meal in order to take care of your mental health, then power to you! Of course, this is something you should speak about with your therapist or a treatment team provider. “There are people with eating disorders who would love this excuse to be an ‘out’ from Thanksgiving and restrict, which is not at all what we want,” Christy Harrison, the author of Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating, says. 

And if you hear people calorie counting or food policing, you can always choose to walk away, she adds. 

2. Set Boundaries

Tell your family ahead of time that hearing diet talk is triggering for you and request that it not be spoken about while you’re present. “Let’s enjoy our food this year. Can we make Thanksgiving a guilt-free zone experience?” suggests Caroline Dooner, author of The F*ck It Diet. But if that doesn’t work out, there’s plan B. 

According to Harrison, you’re going to need to provide consequences if your boundaries are violated. “If they keep doing it—whether they’re oblivious or don’t realize what they’re doing is diet talk—you might want to say that you’re going to leave the conversation or go for a walk.”

3. Redirect The Conversation 

Change the subject by explaining how diet talk is triggering for you or talk about something else entirely, like how thankful you are for your health this year. 

“One of the best quotes I often use is, ‘I don’t discuss politics, religion or one’s diet,” Jay Cowin, NNCP, RNT, RNC, CHN, CSNA, says. Your Fat Friend suggests other ways to intervene, like saying, “Can we talk about something else?” or “I’ve been working really hard at accepting my body, and this feels like a setback. Let’s talk about something else.” You can shift the focus by talking about the food and what you’re grateful for. Ask your host which spices were used in your favorite dish, or verbally acknowledge your gratitude for health and family during a tough year. 

Harrison says that if you’re comfortable, you can even start a discussion about how diet talk and diet culture are harmful to people. “It’s helpful to lead with your own experience: Here’s what I’m working on. Here’s what I need. Not making them feel policed or shamed on how they’re relating to food and their bodies.” 

4. Find A Support System

Establish a support system ahead of time. Tell a friend or close family member who knows you struggle with diet talk and can help you redirect the conversation or be on call if you need them. And if you don’t have someone to lean on, there are people out there who have your back. “For those who may need a little extra support this Thanksgiving, NEDA offers a click-to-chat Helpline on Thanksgiving Day from 10am-6pm. Our helpline volunteers are trained to help you find the information and support you are looking for,” Chelsea Kronengold, the communications manager of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says. 

You may not be able to control what people talk about on Thanksgiving, but at least you have control over how you respond or react. And the best part is, you still have a few more days to prepare and tell your support system to stand by in case you need backup.

Images: Pond Saksit / Shutterstock

Bonnie Azoulay
Bonnie Azoulay
Bonnie is a Brooklyn-based writer with works published on Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Coveteur, Man Repeller, Elite Daily and more.