For many of us, the holidays can be a difficult time. Whether you are visiting your family for winter break or you live with your parents, the hyper-focus on food and body image during this time can be hard to navigate.
We often receive mixed messages during the holidays. Food is central to family events, but our eating is policed by societal encouragements to diet or attain a “new body” as the new year starts. We are encouraged to relax and spend time with our families, yet we are constantly reminded that exercise should be prioritized. While most holiday practices ask us to reflect on things we are thankful for, we are also told to critique ourselves and our lives through elaborate self-improvement plans.
On top of these mixed messages, we also have to deal with family members who may make comments that are triggering, upsetting, or even offensive. Of course, most of these comments are well-intentioned but that does not make them any less painful to hear.
So, how do we manage such a complicated time in our lives?
Everyone’s situation is of course different; we all have different identities and past experiences. However, there are several tips that I believe can help many (if not all) of us manage the holidays and create a less triggering, body-hate-free experience.
1. Build a support network.
Managing difficult situations can be easier when you have someone to support you. When you are feeling extremely triggered or upset, these are the people you can turn to for a listening ear or advice.
Before the holidays, make a list of potentially supportive individuals. While a family member who is nearby might be ideal, also consider friends and family members who are farther away. Even if you are only able to Skype or call them, their support could be invaluable.
Once you have a list of people, try to have a conversation with at least a few of them—especially if you know the holidays might be extra-triggering or uncomfortable for you. Sit down with them and let them know your concerns and the ways they might support you. If you’re not comfortable having the talk face-to-face, consider writing them a note.
Is your support system unavailable? Use the hashtag #NEDAholiday on December 24 and 25 for support and inspiration during difficult moments. You can also use the hashtag to offer support to others!
2. Plan out ways to eliminate triggers.
Think through various triggers that might arise and how you can eliminate them, especially if you have been struggling with or are recovering from an eating disorder. You can help yourself to feel more confident and create a body-hate-free zone for your whole family.
Here are just a few things to consider:
- Get rid of the scale! If you can, ask you family to hide it away ahead of time.
- Stow away those magazines. If your parents subscribe to any magazines that you think might make you feel triggered or uncomfortable, have them put away.
- Come up with responses to shut down conversations that might be triggering for you. For example, if someone starts talking about their diet or how they have been eating, come up with ways to either let them know why that makes you uncomfortable just change the subject.
3. Gently work to educate others.
You are never under the obligation to educate others, but if you have the capacity to do so it might be helpful to educate your family on body positivity, disordered eating and related topics.
Consider sending or giving your family the following:
- NEDA Parent toolkit (as well as other NEDA resources) – a wonderful overview on eating disorders, disordered eating, and related topics.
- Health at Every Size – a great introduction to body acceptance and body positivity.
- Articles from sites like Proud2Bme.org and Adios Barbie.
- Information from credible organizations such as NEDA.
4. Remember self-care.
Remember that you have your limits and it is necessary to respect them. If you are too emotionally exhausted to educate someone on a particular topic, do not do it. If you need some alone time due to anxiety or frustration, try to find a way to relax on your own. If you know that something is too triggering or difficult to handle, it is okay to say no.
Your well-being should be your priority. Even as you try to educate others or work to make your home a body-positive space, it is okay and necessary to take breaks. So find that special book, take that nap, eat that ice cream, or do whatever else it is that you need to do to replenish yourself.
Even the most supportive family gatherings can be exhausting. Body-shaming, fat-phobia, and diet culture are so ingrained in this society that those around you might not even notice when they are being harmful. Sometimes it’s not even what your family and friends say, but the things they do or engage with—like TV shows or magazines. It can make the holidays difficult to manage, especially if you have not been living at home or you usually only have a few people in your household. But there are certainly ways you can make the experience easier and more positive—and most importantly, have a happy, healthy holiday season!
Kira Rakova studied international studies, communications, and anthropology at the City College of New York. Her research and activist interests include mental health and eating disorder justice, social development, and gender justice.