Verbal Self-Defense for National Eating Season

Thanksgiving, and the rest of National Eating Season*, is upon us. Here come the mixed messages about all the great food, and why we are not supposed to eat it.

2020 is different (duh!). This year, these potentially shaming and blaming conversations will happen on the phone or by Zoom. They will also happen internally, as households hold a feast for the immediate family. Since there is no office open, where you can bring the extra pie and cookies? Each household needs to balance creating a festive meal without loading the house with perishable, high calorie festival food leftovers.

My general advice, based on the conversation in my household is this:

  • Identify what food makes Thanksgiving feel like Thanksgiving. Those go on the “must have” list.
  • Find a way to prepare them in a way that controls quantity or can be adapted to freezing leftovers.
  • Think about the overall meal. Add items that will make the plate beautiful.
  • Find ways to make Thanksgiving special that replace activities that are interrupted by Covid-19.

Verbal self-defense

Human Parts posted a blog to help arm you against the people who will comment on your food choices. I take this opportunity to expand on Human Parts’ advice.

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.

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. Plan a few answers, so you are ready. Don’t let someone Yuck on your Yum.

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.

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).

  1. Make an “I” statement: An I statement is a neutral description of your own reaction to a statement. For example:  I intend to enjoy this special meal.”  “I want to enjoy my food without hearing your criticism about my food choices/ my body.” “I am comfortable with my food choices.” “I am comfortable enjoying this food.”
  1. 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 I picked.” “Please stop criticizing my body.” “Allow me to enjoy this.”

  1. Change the subject back to the food.“This is the food we picked. It might be different than what feels like Thanksgiving to you.” “Did you make that cauliflower thing for yourselves this year?” “What did you decide about roasting a turkey?”

Example of self-defense against fat shaming

General example:

She: Oh, my God! You’re making those cheese potatoes for just the three of you! Those potatoes have a million calories! That gravy is going to give you a heart attack!

Me: This is a special meal. I want to enjoy it. You are analyzing it like that. Please stop.

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

In 2020, there is no place to bring the Thanksgiving leftovers, or the Christmas treats, or the New Years leftovers, or the Superbowl Sunday leftovers… I am curious how that will change the way households prepare food this winter.

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