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How We Talk About Food Matters

How we talk about food matters. How we talk about our bodies matters.

Read that again.

It’s prevalent year-round, because diet culture is pervasively toxic, but from Thanksgiving to February it gets so much more normalized. The talk about “earning” your food or “sweating it out.” People start to advertise fitness classes as a, “jam-packed, extra-long class to start working off all that we put on during Thanksgiving” or your mother-in-law makes the classic “better get that run in before you stuff yourself” comment.

Why are our fitness classes extra long? Why do we not allow ourselves to eat until we’ve finished a workout? Or starve ourselves until the celebratory meal? These seem to be more out of punishment than enjoyment.

Diet talk, even disguised as a joke (which isn’t funny, by the way) is harmful. Talking about food as something that you have to work for or earn is a good way to start harboring guilt. Guilt for not working out, guilt for having a slice of pie or for using real butter in your mashed potatoes. Then beyond the internal guilt we feel, we can start to project that onto others. We mimic those words we heard and force others to feel the same sense of shame that we do. It’s a vicious cycle that ends with nothing but a whole lot of unhappy people with an unhealthy relationship with food and their body.

If you have kids you probably know that they imitate adult behavior. Kids see us, they pay attention to how we talk and what we say. If you spend the holiday season beating yourself up, pushing yourself through workouts you don’t want to do in order to eat a single meal with family, your kids will think that’s normal. That’s what they’re supposed to do. And the cycle continues.

Now I’m not here to say you can’t enjoy a workout on a holiday morning, but the key word here is that you enjoy it. Movement shouldn’t be used as a punishment, it should make you feel good. If you don’t work out regularly, it’s probably not going to feel good to do a 90-minute HIIT workout Thanksgiving morning.

So how can you take care of yourself this holiday season?

  1. Don’t starve yourself leading up to the big meal. Hunger can negatively affect your mood, which can influence how you perceive your time with family and friends. Fuel yourself for the day so you can enjoy the time spent with them. Plus going from 0 to 60 may lead you to feeling physically uncomfortable.

  2. Eat what you like and skip what you don’t. You have permission to not finish your plate. If you take a bite of something and don’t like the taste of it, don’t eat it. The food will still be there tomorrow or whenever you choose to make it again.

  3. Eat mindfully. Set your fork down and take a breath. Engage in the conversation and taste your food. Check in with yourself, are you still hungry? Is it still enjoyable or not?

This time of year is riddled with messages of self-care, but they’re often intertwined with messages of diet culture. The best self-care you can do is to listen to your body and check in on your mental and emotional health. If you need support, don’t be afraid to reach out.


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