National Eating Disorders Association

The Paradox of Comfort Foods and Body-Shaming During the Holidays

Kate Leddy

This summer, I started working a part-time job as a grocery store cashier. Every day on the job, without fail, I face the same scenario: a customer places an item on the conveyer belt that some may consider a comfort food.

The customer then looks to the food item and looks back at me with a grimace. 

The words that follow are always along the same lines:

“I’m being bad today…”

“I couldn’t resist…”

“I know I shouldn’t but…” 

Once, I called a man to come down to my open register because he was waiting in a long line to buy his pizza. As he walked over he jokingly made a body-shaming comment. 

And during the holiday season, these comments only become worse. As the stuffing and mashed potatoes and turkeys hit the stores, so do the magazines with “10 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain” and how to “stay good” during the gatherings with family and friends. 

It’s frustrating. It infuriates me that our society is like this. But to some degree, I understand why people make these comments over the food they eat. Food is a huge part of our culture. Every human being needs to eat, and we have turned that into a wonderful social activity. Robin Fox writes in an anthropological article about food and eating that, “Food is almost always shared; people eat together; mealtimes are events when the whole family or settlement or village comes together. Food is also an occasion for sharing, for distributing and giving, for the expression of altruism, whether from parents to children, children to in-laws, or anyone to visitors and strangers…thus food becomes not just a symbol of, but the reality of, love and security.”

When we are not eating food together, we can connect to each other by talking about it together. However, our society has normalized the negative talk around indulgent foods. We still try to connect to each other by talking about the food, but it is under the assumption that we all are eating with guilt and we all share in a diet culture.

We need to reclaim positive conversations around food. What is the point of spending so much time together cooking and baking and creating delicious dishes around the holidays if we are only going to berate ourselves about the calories? I truly believe that many people (especially the strangers who make those comments at my register) would really just like to connect with one another. They make these comments about their food because it is now more socially acceptable to openly dislike our bodies than it is to openly like our bodies with each other. 

We need to challenge each other and ourselves to indulge in the wonderful comfort foods of the holidays—and year-round, whenever we please. The holidays can be difficult for people who struggle with disordered eating and poor body image, but we can help each other by remembering that they are about so much more than food. They are about connecting to each other as human beings, remembering what we are grateful for and recognizing the ways there is still joy and love in this world even through the difficult times. 

There is nothing wrong with the foods we eat over the holidays. There is nothing wrong with admitting that they are delicious and comforting—without tacking on comments about gaining weight or having to burn off the calories. This holiday season, let’s refrain from the body shaming. Let’s connect instead through mutual joy and appreciation for everything we have, our wonderful differences, and the ways we love one another as we enjoy our food.