Navigating the Holidays with Loved Ones

It’s officially the holiday season.

If you’re doing the tender work to shift your relationship with your body to one that’s more accepting, whether that looks like stopping the negative self-talk, ditching diet culture, or just giving yourself permission to rest, you may have mixed feelings about gathering with your loved ones during the holidays. Especially if you’re the only person in your family doing this work.

Because it is inevitable that someone will bring up a conversation that you don’t want to have about:

  • Your body or appearance
  • Someone else’s body or appearance
  • Their own body or appearance
  • The diet they’re starting at the first of the year
  • How they need to diet/exercise after enjoying the meal

Your body is no one’s business but your own. But there’s a good chance other people haven’t received this message. Prepare yourself with how you want to respond when somebody brings up a topic that you don’t want to talk about.

Here are a handful of strategies to get you through the tricky moments:

  1. Memorize a couple of responses. You could say:
    • I don’t want to talk about my body or anyone else’s today.
    • I’m no longer dieting, and I’d love to talk about something else.
    • This conversation is making me uncomfortable.
    • Hmmmmmm. (That’s it. No response necessary. Let the awkward pause do the work for you.)

You may want to have a conversation starter in your pocket as a follow-up so that you can steer the conversation to an easier space.

2. Plan your exit strategy.

This can be a short-term plan, like you excuse yourself to the restroom. Or this could be a full-on escape, where you sneak out with saying goodbye. Or you stay until the meal is over and leave early to get to your next engagement (that might be a date with your jammies and couch).

3. Find an ally who can step in for you.

Allow your partner/sibling/parent/bestie to handle the conversation. You’ll need to prep them in advance that you’ll need them to have your back. Bonus if you can tell them what would feel most supportive to you. Would you prefer they take up for you and tell the other person to shut up, or would you prefer they change the subject.

4. Let your family know ahead of time how they can support you.

Before the holiday, let folks know that you’re exploring a new way to be in relationship with your body and that you don’t want to discuss XYZ during the celebration. Then, if they bring something up, gently remind them that it’s an off-limits topic. If they continue to trample your boundary, have another strategy in place.

5. Make different holiday plans that fill you with delight.

You’re not obligated to spend the holidays with anyone, even your family. You are allowed to make plans that will bring you joy, and it’s okay if those plans don’t involve your relatives.

I suggest having Plan #2 (Plan your exit strategy) prepped because you never know how someone will respond. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It also doesn’t mean someone is a terrible person if they can’t handle your request. But if you’re being treated poorly because you’re opting out of a harmful conversation, you are allowed to put your needs first.

Give yourself lots of grace too. You may want to try one strategy, but when the time comes, you freeze. That’s okay! It takes practice.

Also make sure that you give yourself the space to process any feelings that come up before/during/after a holiday gathering. Your body is a wonderful barometer for what you’re feeling. If you sense you need a good cry because you’re grieving what you wish a family holiday gathering could be, find a time when you feel safe to let those tears flow. Or if you’re feeling pissed, take a stompy walk to move the anger through your body. However you celebrate this holiday season, I hope it brings all that you need.