How to Communicate Your Boundaries About Food and Weight With Friends and Family Around the Holidays

Set the ground rules on food-related comments before you sit down to eat.
Image Credit: The Good Brigade/DigitalVision/GettyImages

You might only be virtually passing the mashed potatoes and gravy rather than gathering around the same table this year. Still, where there's (indulgent) food involved, there's likely to be talk about body image, eating habits or weight.

Large or small, holiday food gatherings leave the gates wide open for intrusive and often inappropriate comments around the amount of food you're eating (too much or too little), what kinds of food you're eating (dark versus white meat) or even why you're choosing to skip that glass of wine.

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The thing is, these choices are nobody's business but your own. So, how to change the conversation?

If you're feeling anxious going into the holidays, follow these RD-approved recommendations for how to effectively set and communicate your limits on food- and weight-related talk with your tablemates.

1. List Out Your Specific Boundaries

"Make an assessment of what your needs are going into the holiday season and listen to the signals that your mind and body are telling you," Lauren Cadillac, RDN, dietitian, certified intuitive eating counselor and founder of Feel Good Nutrition, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Limit topics with family and keep conversations off of what or how much you are eating to prevent opening the door for comments from others."

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Maybe you want to steer clear of anything related to dieting, calories or weight. Or perhaps you need to nix any talk about alcohol. Or let's say you just want to avoid any pressure to eat certain foods or stick to food-focused traditions.

Whatever they are, write down your list of needs and share them ahead of time with friends and family in whatever way you feel comfortable (phone call, text, email, etc). Then bring the list with you to your holiday gathering as a reminder for yourself and as something you can show other people if need be.

2. Recruit a 'Food Buddy'

Call up a close family member or friend you trust the most — we'll call them your "holiday food buddy" — who can support your needs and even stick up for you in certain situations. Having backup will reinforce your needs and boundaries and remove all the pressure being on just you.

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"Ask them to help you change the conversation, make a funny joke or just be a person you can kick under the table or roll your eyes at when someone makes a diet culture comment," Carolina Guízar, RDN, CDN, dietitian, certified intuitive eating counselor, founder of Eathority and cofounder of Latinx Health Collective, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

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3. Plan Your Meal

If someone else is doing the cooking, ask about the menu so you can prepare for what your plate might look like and let the host know about any food swaps you'll be making ahead of time.

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"If there is not going to be food that an individual likes, bringing a dish would be a great idea," Cadillac says.

For example, if you recently started eating vegetarian and know most of the dishes would be particularly meat-heavy, or if you're lactose intolerant and want a cheese-free appetizer option, offer to bring a dish that you know you'll be able to eat.

4. Arm Yourself With a Mantra

Holiday food is there to fuel and nourish our bodies just like food on any other day, Guízar says.

If you do find yourself in a space where you feel criticized for your body or feel shame around your eating, take a moment to pause and turn inward. Having an affirmation — a positive phrase you can repeat to yourself — can help. Consider something like "I deserve to feel at peace with food and my body."

5. Have a Comeback Prepared

If unwelcome comments about food habits or weight crop up, be prepared with thoughtful responses to help direct or even end the conversation in a smooth, diplomatic manner.

Here are a few helpful responses from Cadillac and Guízar that you can keep in your back pocket:

Comment: "Are you really going to eat all that?"

  • Response:​ "Please don't comment on my food. What I eat is none of your business."

Comment: "You've lost/gained weight. You look much healthier/better now."

  • Response: "Please don't comment on my weight. It makes me uncomfortable."

Comment: "Why aren't you drinking any wine/eating any pie?"

  • Response:​ "Thank you, but I am just going to stick with [insert other food or beverage] for now."

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