3 Tips to Deal with Fatphobic Talk during the Holidays

I have no scientific backing for this, but fatphobic talk increases 3000% during the holidays. At least it seems that way to me.

I was at a work party last week and a photo was about to be taken of myself with two of my colleagues. Right before the flash goes off the one says “don’t make me look fat!”

It was jarring. Here was a happy moment with two of my colleagues who I don’t get to see that often and bam! I was pulled from the joyful moment. I reacted by slapping her lightly on the arm and saying “hey!” (I might have been a bit tipsy).

That moment reminded me that the holidays are here, and I better prepare myself for the increase of fatphobic talk.

It’s easy to see why fatphobia is heightened during this time of year – there are more pictures being taken, more parties and dinners with delicious food and drink, and we tend to be off our regular movement routine (if we have one). For people who are really stuck in diet culture, this can be a time of heightened fear of weight gain.

So how do we deal with the talk of diets and weight gain during the holidays?

Tip #1: Realize that most people are stuck in diet culture.

Diet culture is everywhere and most people don’t realize they are in it. Most people still truly believe that fat is bad and diets are good. They just haven’t learned anything different (yet).

If you’re reading this blog then there is a good chance you were once stuck in diet culture too. It may not have been that long ago, so it’s not hard to remember what it was like. The fear of weight gain. The determination to stick to a diet plan and “manage” it over the holidays. The worry about slipping off your workout plan. It’s intense. It’s scary. And it causes a lot of stress.

Realizing that underneath fatphobic and diet talk is fear, enables us to have compassion and understanding for those who are stuck in diet culture. You know the pain of what it’s like to think your body is better smaller. You may still be struggling with it.

Our culture conditions us to think negatively about fat and weight gain, and to make it our life’s work to “fix” or manage our bodies. So it’s not our fault we thought this way about our bodies, and it’s not others either. They just haven’t learned there is another way (such as body acceptance and intuitive eating).  

However, no matter how much compassion and understanding we may have for those stuck in diet culture, fatphobic comments and diet talk can still hurt. Which brings me to tip #2.

Tip #2: Say something, or let it go.

It may seem obvious, but those really are our only two options. Well there is a third – say nothing and harbour anger and resentment! But I’m trying to offer some tips here that will ultimately make us feel better (not worse).

Option 1 – say something.

In most circles, fatphobic and diet talk is seen as normal. At a holiday dinner party I attended a few weeks ago there was lots of this kind of talk, and no one batted an eye. Comments like “well that’s going to end up around my middle”, and “I ate so many cookies last week I shouldn’t have any dessert tonight” were common.

I contemplated whether to say something, and ended up making one small remark: “you can eat as many cookies as you like, and have dessert too.” The person who said it didn’t reply, but I didn’t expect her to. It was my small way of planting a seed that she was allowed to eat what she wanted, without shame or regret.

When we decide to speak up in these situations, it’s helpful to think about a) who our audience is and b) what our intention is.

If we’re sitting amongst close friends or family and a fatphobic comment is said, we may feel comfortable saying something like “when you say that, it really makes me feel uncomfortable and I’d prefer if you didn’t say it.” Or, we may want to try and open up a conversation. For example, if someone makes a comment like “I’m going to have to burn off all these dinners in the New Year” we may want to ask “why do you say that?” or “what if you actually didn’t have to burn it off?”

We can also choose to talk with someone one-on-one away from a group, or later on if we don’t want to address it in the moment.  

The second thing to be aware of it our intent. What are we hoping to achieve by speaking up? Are we hoping it will shut someone up? Do we want to make someone aware of the impact of their words? Whatever our intent is fine, but it’s helpful to be aware that we may not get the response we’re hoping for. Some people are open-minded, and others are not. In the end the decision to speak up isn’t really about them, it’s about us. Just the act of speaking up and having our voices heard can be an important exercise in reminding ourselves (and others) that we matter.  

In other circumstances, we may not want to speak up. Or perhaps our speaking up didn’t yield the result we were hoping for. Which brings us to option 2 – let it go.

It took me a really long time to learn how to let things go. I certainly wanted to. I was often envious of people who could just let things roll off their back. But when something was said to me that I found hurtful, I really struggled to let it go.

Thankfully I found some tools and techniques that have proven very helpful in learning to let go.

This one particular technique is very helpful when you’re feeling triggered in the moment:

Perhaps you’re sitting at the dinner table and someone says “Susan looked so much better when she was thinner”. Notice how you feel. What is happening in your body? Do you feel your stomach clench? Your heart rate increase? Your jaw tighten? Whatever it may be, notice it, and then see if you can let your body relax. Unclench the jaw. Relax the stomach. Breathe, and just feel. There will be energy stirring. It may be intense. It may uncomfortable. But allowing the body to relax helps the energy pass through you, and not stay stuck in your body.  

Also, notice your mind. What is it saying? It’s probably having a heyday! Maybe thoughts are popping up like “ugh, she’s so superficial”, “can’t she see that people are more than their bodies?” “I hate her for thinking that way about Susan!” There will likely be a lot of thoughts like those happening, just see if you can watch them. Notice as they pop up fast and furious. Give them their space to have their voice. And watch them as they pass by.

This is a great technique to help deal with the triggers in the moment, and even situations from the past that we may be remembering. With practice, it becomes an easier process.

Later on you may end up deciding to say something to the person who made the comment, and when you do, you’ll find you’re in a clearer and calmer state to address it than you were in the moment.

Tip #3: Have Go-To Body Positive Support Ready!

As it’s the holidays, you may find yourself with some extra time for reading and relaxing. Use this time to read body positive books, listen to podcasts, and watch movies. Here are some suggestions of books recently published:

You can find many more suggestions, (including social media accounts to follow) in my Body Acceptance Jump Start Guide which you can download here.

I hope you find these tips helpful in navigating the fatphobic and diet talk of the holidays.

Oh one more thing! (Bonus tip #4) – focus on the good this season. The traditions you have that you love, being with friends and family. Thankfully there is so much we have to be grateful for.

Have a happy holidays!

The New Year is around the corner. Instead of trying to change your body, how about trying a little love and acceptance? Check out my one-on-one coaching program here.

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.