Ah, Thanksgiving. Verbal Self-Defense Against Fat Shaming

Human Parts made an attempt to arm you against the people who will put flavorful food in front of you, then say things that reduce your enjoyment. This is a noble effort, as National Eating Season* gets to its peak intensity.

People have different levels of comfort with you. The closer people are, the more liberties they may take in openly judging your personal decisions. One of the most personal decisions you make is the choice of what you eat and what you won’t eat.

I take this opportunity to expand on Human Parts’ advice.

If you know there is likely to be someone in your environment this season who is going to say things that disrespect you, prepare yourself ahead of time. To be effective, you need to judge your relationship with the person speaking. A person you meet only at work will require a different response than a family member.

First, the techniques

1. Name the behavior: Find a neutral term for the general behavior that someone you know tends to do.

a. If someone is calorie counting, or discussing if some food will make them fat, give them a heart attack, or cause them some other harm,

Then say something like this: “You are analyzing the food, and not enjoying it.” “Is there a medical reason that you should not be eating this?”

You may add fact into this part, if you choose. This is a place where you can have a conversation about the association of weight and health, if you choose to. It is a place where you can discuss eating choices in a neutral way.

b. If someone remarks on your body, it is your right to stop them.

Then say “You are not welcome to comment on my body” (in a work situation). “That was negative” or “That was personal” or “That was not called for” (in a family situation).

2. Make an “I” statement: An I statement is a neutral description of your own reaction to a statement. I can’t enjoy my food while you are analyzing the food.” “I want to enjoy my food without hearing your criticism about my body.”

3. Make a request: After naming the behavior, and claiming your reaction as your business, make a request to stop the talk.

Examples: “Please stop calorie counting.” “Please stop analyzing the food.” “Please stop criticizing my body.”

4. Change the subject back to the food. “This food is wonderful, thank you so-and-so for bringing it/arranging it/preparing it.” “How do you get the vegetables to be firm, but crunchy on the outside?” (to the cook) “Where do you buy these chocolates?” (to the person who brought leftovers to the office)

Example of self-defense against fat shaming

Here is a multi-step example. I am choosing to make the calorie counting person pretty rude (like certain members of my family).

She: Oh, my God! Those potatoes have a million calories! That gravy is going to give me a heart attack!

Me: You are analyzing the food. I can’t enjoy my food while you are analyzing the food. Please stop.

She: Well, maybe you should enjoy your food less.

Me: (To the speaker) I find that rude. (To the cook), How did you get these vegetables to be firm on the inside and crunchy on the outside?

Here is an almost verbatim conversation I had over Thanksgiving with a (now deceased) older relative:

She: Rona, you are getting fat.

Me: I am less than 10 pounds overweight. My doctor is not concerned about it.

She: That’s stupid.

Me: I have confidence in my doctor. I am sorry you don’t agree with her.

She: Your doctor is wrong.

Me: I have confidence in my doctor. I am sorry you don’t agree with her. I will take care of myself as I choose.

*National Eating Season. I think I made up this term in the mid-1980s, when I noticed that chocolate, candies, cakes, and other high-calories leftovers were out and available all over the institution I worked in. It started just after Halloween and lasted until just after Valentine’s Day. In big places like this, people bring their leftovers, so that the goodies aren’t in the house to tempt the family.

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