Happy NO-lidays! Neutralizing Fattism and Healthism at Seasonal Gatherings

Part II: We’re On Each Other’s Team

I am unloading a series of short blog posts this week on neutralizing fattism and healthism at seasonal gatherings, although hopefully these concepts can apply year round. As a refresher, fattism and healthism pertains to diet talk, the healthy-living behaviors talk, the body shaming and the good/sinful dichotomy of food that ruins what might otherwise be cherished time with those closest to you. Part I in this series can be found here.

Marceline Smith and Virginia State Park: Flickr.com

Marceline Smith and Virginia State Park: Flickr.com

Now we’ll talk about those of you feeling a level of returning resilience that has you thinking you can commit to being present at the get-togethers this holiday season. If anything will grind down your newfound resilience it will be the almost non-stop fattism and healthism coming from your loved ones.

One of the advantages of having to navigate getting to remission from an eating disorder is the ability to see cultural norms from a distanced vantage point. How many people who don’t have eating disorders really know how damaging it is to not only restrict food intake and exercise, but also to beat oneself and others up with the destructive body shaming and negative self-talk?

Ahead of the celebration, you can send out an e-mail to all those attending to offer up the recommendation that this year’s celebration will be a fattist and healthist-free zone. This is the “we’re on each other’s team” approach. It won’t likely work if you have others attending with active and untreated anxiety or eating disorders. I’ll get to that scenario in Part III of this series tomorrow.

It’s probably a good idea to go into some detail in the e-mail. Give some facts and talk about how a group that conscientiously removes status and judgment from a celebration will get to enjoy a more fulfilling and nourishing environment.

Fast facts you might offer up in the e-mail:

  • Food intake and exercise do not link to overweight or obesity onset or perseveration. Reference the actual systematic review literature that I provide in the blog posts: here and here.
  • Diets fail (spectacularly). 99.997% will regain more than 77% of the initial weight lost five years out.
  • New Year’s resolutions are successful approximately 8% of the time.
  • Eating sugar, saturated fats, ultra-processed foods, butter, cream, trans fatty acids etc. don’t cause disease or chronic conditions. All the studies you read about foods and disease only show linkages and the linkages are grossly over simplified to make it look as though increased risk is self-evident: e.g. sugary diets increase the risk of diabetes. It could actually be that diabetes increases the risk of sugary diets; or some unknown factor or factors not being studied actually play the causative role in diabetes onset. No one knows.*
  • Bad things happen to good people. Stop torturing yourself with the ridiculous presumption that diet and exercise fix everything. Not everything is in our control, but we have each other so let’s enjoy this season together.

You can make a game of it if the folks attending tend to like that kind of thing. Each person gets tokens (different color for each person). Every time someone slips up and starts talking about diets, making a negative comment about their body (or someone else’s body), talking about being good or bad with their food choices, or complimenting weight loss and thinness too, then they are charged one of their tokens and it goes in a jar. At the end of the visit, you could choose to either charge the person with the most tokens in that jar with the responsibility of hosting the next celebration, or you can make a token equal to a specific sum of money and everyone has to put the money they owe into the jar at the end of the visit. Perhaps you then give that money to an agreed upon charity.

You can also offer up topics of conversation that will be welcome instead of the usual fattist/healthist banter:

  1. What was the most exciting thing you did this past year?
  2. If you were independently wealthy, what would you try to accomplish?
  3. What was the most interesting or engaging conversation you’ve had recently?
  4. What hobby do you think you should either pick up again or try for the first time and why?
  5. If you could invite any person living or dead over for dinner, who would it be and why?
  6. Is there someone in this room today you want to thank for something yet you never seem to get around to doing it? (no time like the present!)
  7. What do you think is the best part of being a member of this family?
  8. When was the last time you laughed until you had tears streaming down your face and couldn’t breathe?
  9. What’s the most surprising or interesting thing you’ve learned recently?
  10. What country do you want to visit (if money were no object) and why?

Obviously your own creative questions will make it that much more appropriate with your family and friends.

Next installment coming tomorrow....

* You’ll find all the peer-reviewed published references on this topic in the blog posts under the category Obesity Basic Facts found here.