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Fighting Back Against Diet Culture: Avoiding Food Guilt During the Holidays

With Thanksgiving arriving rapidly and the holiday season right around the corner, we are not only looking forward to family time, but also to the delicious foods associated with this time of year. Whether it be Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas cookies and candy, November and December are both months well-known for the food they typically bring. Though we celebrate these traditions, our society simultaneously promotes a significant amount of shame and guilt surrounding our food consumption. Though this takes place year-round, it is definitely heightened around this time of year. However, with the right strategies and thinking, we can avoid letting diet culture ruin these family-centered holidays.

But what exactly is diet culture? Despite living through it, many of us don’t realize what it is. Diet culture refers to the promotion of ideas and values that prioritize weight and body image over our physical and mental wellbeing. It defines health simply by body weight, and it encourages restriction and excessive food monitoring. Due to the beliefs pushed by diet culture, we can find ourselves thinking about food in a negative and dangerous way. This can include labeling certain foods as “good” or “bad,” avoiding necessary food groups, using exercise as compensation, and feeling anxiety or guilt regarding food consumption. As mentioned earlier, these ideas are more prominent during holiday seasons.

It can be challenging to change the ideas that have been ingrained in society. However, there are steps we can take to avoid practicing these beliefs and enjoy holiday food for what it is.

Listening to our bodies

Diet culture has taught us to avoid what our bodies want, from ignoring hunger signals to choosing food items we don’t truly want. This holiday season, practice listening to what your body tells you. This is a concept called intuitive eating, an approach that focuses on trusting your body’s natural signals to satisfy us. This involves choosing foods that satisfy us and eating based on our body cues regarding both hunger and fullness. In terms of our eating around Thanksgiving and the holidays, this means a few things. No foods are “off-limits.” Choose whatever satisfies you at the dinner table. In addition, avoid changing the way you would eat if it were a normal day. There is no need to skip prior meals or engage in excessive exercise to “burn off” what you’ve eaten. By practicing intuitive eating, your holiday meals will definitely be more satisfying and enjoyable.

Keeping things in perspective

Along with listening to our body’s hunger cues and preferences, it is also important to keep our meals and food consumption in perspective. Taking Thanksgiving, though the meal only comes once a year and is usually larger, we have to remember that it is simply one meal. It can be approached like any other meal, just with different foods and more emphasis on family gathering. Keep in mind that this one dinner will not make a lasting impression or significant difference in your health and enjoy the food without guilt.

Blocking out diet culture from others

Diet culture not only affects us through our own beliefs, but through the words and actions of those around us. Our relatives, especially during the holiday season, can have a huge impact on the way we think about food. If you find yourself sitting at a table with a relative labeling foods as “bad”, making remarks about guilt or shame in relevance to the food, or even commenting on your own food consumption or physical appearance, do what you need to take care of yourself. Whether this be reminding yourself of the danger in these ideas, stepping away from the table, diverting the topic, or even directly asking them to stop what they’re doing, do whatever you deem necessary in keeping these ideas away from the dinner table and your own belief system. In addition to your own family, removing social media activity from your feed that promotes this type of thinking can also be greatly helpful. Consider removing accounts or posts involving food guilt or diet plans and following accounts promoting more body-positive ideas.

Remember the values of the holiday

In addition to the strategies above, we can help ourselves enjoy holiday meals by taking our focus away from the food itself. Remind yourself of your own values regarding the holiday season. For example, by keeping our focus on the family bonding and happiness that comes with this time of year, we can embrace all the traditions, including the food, that come with this time of year and enjoy them to the fullest potential.

This Thanksgiving, remind yourself of the danger of diet culture and keep the day in perspective for what it is. Enjoy the delicious foods that you want to while spending time with your family and giving thanks. By keeping more beneficial strategies and tips in mind regarding food consumption, we all can go against what we have been taught by diet culture and enjoy not only our holiday meals, but improve our mindset regarding food and eating throughout the entire year.

Kaviya is a sophomore studying psychology and biology. Her hobbies include drawing and reading thriller/mystery novels, and she hopes to work in the field of clinical psychology one day.
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