top view of a family praying before christmas dinner

Managing Diet Comments from Family

Family holiday dinners are coming up and for many of us that could mean difficult, hurtful, or triggering comments about diet and weight with relatives.

Just like everyone has an opinion about the weather, it seems like everyone has an opinion on diet and weight loss. Unfortunately, many people feel compelled to share those opinions without consent or thinking about how it could land for the person on the receiving end. I think we probably all have that one relative who holds nothing back.

Some things to keep in mind: what is on your plate is your business only and it doesn’t matter what or how much anyone else at the table is eating. Your needs are unique to you and you are the only one who can tune into them. So, as much as you’re able, allow any unwanted comments to slide away and try to focus on your hunger and satiety, your cravings, and your satisfaction and enjoyment.

But, how do we curtail these unwanted conversations? Whether it be a relative going on and on about their latest diet or a relative claiming to be concerned about your health and relating it to your weight, here are some ways you can respond and enforce your boundaries.

To the relative detailing everything about their latest diet:

  • I’m really glad that you’ve found something that works for you but would you mind if we changed the subject?
  • I’m finding this topic kind of triggering, can we talk about something else?
  • This is clearly something you’re very passionate about, but this might not be the best time to discuss it. 

To the relative commenting on your holiday dinner plate:

  • Excuse me, why is my plate so interesting to you? (OK that one is confrontational)
  • You have the food that works best for you on your plate and this is what works best for me. 
  • I know you think you’re being helpful, but you’re actually doing the opposite. I would appreciate it if you would direct your attention back to your own plate.
  • I’m so happy we could get together today, but I didn’t get together to discuss my eating habits. 
  • What I choose to eat today is my business. 

To the relative making comments about diet and weight loss:

  • I know you think you’re being helpful, but I’m finding your comments hurtful. 
  • I understand that you want to help, but I am not looking for your advice on this. 
  • I prefer to keep conversations about my health between me and my physician so I’d like to change the subject. 
  • I’m not looking for weight loss tips right now. 
  • This conversation is making me very uncomfortable. I’d like to talk about something else. 

As long as there are family gatherings, there will probably always be comments about diet. However, by setting good boundaries for yourself and protecting those boundaries, you can minimize those comments and their impact on you.

The Trouble with the Diet Mentality

More than any of the junk food on the market, I think the biggest obstacle to having healthy balanced eating habits, a good relationship with our body, and a healthy relationship with food is the diet mentality. In order to start truly making lasting changes to your eating habits, you have to start working on curbing that mentality from the outset.

What is the Diet Mentality

The diet mentality is a deeply ingrained way of thinking in our culture that emphasizes black-and-white thinking about eating habits. You hear it in the on-the-wagon-off-the-wagon notion and the idea of “good” foods versus “bad” foods. You hear it in the way we talk about our eating behaviors: “I was bad today because I had chips and dessert.” And it’s behind our negative self-talk when we pick apart our physical appearance, berate ourselves for not following our diet, and say cruel things about our bodies.

The diet mentality is critical for the survival of the commercial diet industry because it supports their unsustainable programs which focus solely on the food, counting calories, carbs, and points, and the number on the scale and ignore balance, the reasons behind our eating habits, and food quality.

Why the Diet Mentality is a Problem

The diet mentality is a big problem for a whole number of reasons. First and foremost, all of that negative self-talk and those unrealistic goals that it emphasizes throw us into a self-defeating, self-berating spiral.

Let me explain. Commercial diets rely on one common ingredient for all of their programs: self-control. Here’s the thing about self-control, it’s a finite resource for every single human being out there. It erodes throughout the course of the day, with stress, with lack of sleep, and the longer we rely on it. However, we are conditioned to believe that when we run out of the ability to exercise self-control, it’s a failure on our part. We are simply not good enough, not strong enough, not cut out for this. Have you ever had those thoughts about yourself?

Pretty much anyone who has withstood the diet cycle has had those thoughts. And what those thoughts ultimately lead to are beliefs that we are simply not good enough so why bother even trying. “Well, I already blew it today, so why not just go all in for dinner, dessert, and wine?” “I just can’t do it. What’s the point in even trying?” “I didn’t have the self control for no carbs….but maybe if I’m counting points instead that’ll be easier”.

This is the diet mentality at work. It make you feel bad about yourself, warps your self-image, and keeps you coming back for more and more diets.

Here’s the thing…

The diet mentality does not reflect reality. There are no good foods and bad foods – just food. There are foods you shouldn’t eat as often because they aren’t as nutritious, true. But eating those foods certainly doesn’t make you bad any more than eating a carrot would make Charles Manson good. See what I’m saying?

The goal that we all need to be working towards is BALANCE so that we can enjoy those treats that we like but also eat plenty of the more nutritious foods that our bodies need. The goal is BALANCE so that we can enjoy food without equating it with our worth, so that we can stop berating ourselves and heal our relationships with food and with our bodies.

Releasing the Diet Mentality

Only by working on quelling those diet mentality thoughts and beliefs can we focus on achieving that balance that we need. But it takes time because that mentality is so deeply ingrained not only in ourselves but also in our society. It’s all around us and we don’t even notice it most of the time. So it takes practice noticing those patterns and then flipping the script on them.

So here’s a homework assignment if you’re willing: grab a journal and write down the diet mentality thoughts and feelings you have today on one side of the page. On the other side of the page, flip the script on them, turn them into something constructive or more observational and not judgmental. For example “I was bad today because I ate a whole bag of chips” could be flipped to “I ate a bag of chips today and they tasted really good.” “I can’t eat bread because carbs are bad” could be flipped to “bread isn’t falling in line with the nutritional goals I have today but I can have it if I want it.”

To get you started: your worth is not dictated by the foods you eat. Your body is beautiful and amazing. You are not defective or weak.