Okay, so that was the easy part. Now that that’s over, here is the rest of the guide. And this part of the guide isn’t for those of us in recovery, it’s for the people in our lives who are actually guilty of feeding the eating disorder. Sometimes we take TOO much responsibility for the difficult interactions around food and the holidays. Believe me when I say that there are definitely people who do not care about your recovery because they don’t understand eating disorders at all. These people are the first to point out how sensitive you are when you are struggling. Sometimes their behavior is intentional and other times it is passively unhelpful. Let’s hope they are able to hold up the mirror when (if) they read this:
The Body Commentator: This is the person who gives you a hug and then rolls straight into an unprompted “oh honey, have you lost more weight? You look amazing! You’ll have to tell me your secret!” Or they may feel perfectly fine telling someone that they’ve gained weight. “You should try pilates! It did wonders for me!” Dear Body Commentator: STOP. No one cares how you feel about how they look. This is not the Ms. or Mr. Universe Competition. It is a holiday gathering and no one is trying to impress you. Also, maybe no one ever told you, but it is rude to comment about another person’s body and it can even make people with no mental health issues very uncomfortable. Your job is to realize that no one cares about your opinion of them and to stop making comments. This is especially dangerous because this person ALWAYS associates thinness with health and fatness with gluttony, shame and a lack of discipline. Both of these concepts are totally wrong. Health At Every Size (HAES) has been shown to be a much more accurate predictor of health and lifespan than someone’s weight, shape, or size. This does not mean that people are always healthy at every size, but that they can ACHIEVE health and maintain it regardless of how thin or fat they may be. This is done by balancing a good relationship with food (read: intuitive eating, lots of variety, no dieting), a healthy amount of movement and exercise (without it becoming obsessive), at least seven hours of sleep per night, and lower stress levels or practicing behaviours to reduce stress. Someone in a body with a BMI (don’t even get me started on that bullshit) of 34.6 who stays at that weight and practices the good lifestyle behaviors listed previously is much healthier and is less likely to gain weight than a frequent, stressed, dieter who weight cycles from BMI’s or 20.0 to 43.5. The latter is also more likely to gain weight and suffer from feeling like they have “failed” by being unable to maintain their weight loss. So in summary, Body Commentator: shut the fuck up. Sit down, drink your dry white wine, and keep your vastly undereducated opinions to yourself.
The Play-by-Play Guy: “Is that really your third helping of mashed potatoes?” “Why didn’t you try the corn pudding?” “I can’t believe you have room for dessert after eating so much turkey!” This guy is basically competing with you for the entirety of the meal to see who paid better attention to what and how much you ate – you or him? Play-by-Play Guy has the power to ruin your meal and possibly your day at any point. From the time you eat a single grape off a cheese platter all the way through the post-dessert aperitifs, Play-by-Play is watching. Waiting. Calculating. Is he thinking about the calories as hard as you are? Does he know his power to stop you in your tracks? Is he trying to be the world’s biggest asshole? Who knows, but to Play-by-Play, I say this: Enough. If you knew the amount of energy, calculating, counting, restraint, planning, and desperation that goes into having an eating disorder, maybe you wouldn’t actively add to our list of problems. Sometimes before the holidays a therapist will say “no one is actually watching what you eat.” That’s usually true – except for you, Play-by-Play Guy. Thank you for watching me eat to make me feel extra uncomfortable. Thank you for your concern over how many rolls I have eaten or how I didn’t eat any green beans. Thank you for making sure that no matter what or how much I do or do not eat, I know that I am definitely wrong and that you need to point this out to me through your power of observation. Truly, you are a great hero for pointing out what I will already over analyze and cry about later. Oh, wait, you’re just a dick. ENOUGH.
The Dieter: Every year. Every family event. EVERY TIME YOU SEE THEM: “I’m on this new diet! Let me tell you about it even though you look appalled and disinterested!” And so it goes, the dieter regales you with stories of Keto, Paleo, Atkins, South Beach, Veganism, Raw Diet, etc. The list is literally endless. The amount of weight they have lost is the pinnacle of their existence. They need to collect gold stars from everyone at the party by telling them all about their newest diet. EVERYONE MUST KNOW AND BOW BEFORE THEM. Dear Dieter: No one cares. I know this is disappointing news, and I truly empathize. After all, society tells us that the entire purpose of our existence is to discipline ourselves by controlling what we eat and how we move our bodies in order to achieve thinness. More thinness = moral superiority. If you are thinner, you are better, right? No. Unfortunately this is not only a lie that you have been told but you have fallen into the dieting cycle of slow weight gain over time. Please know that you are not a failure for not dieting or for “falling off the wagon.” In fact, staying off the wagon might be the best thing you could possibly do for yourself. Please stop torturing yourself and telling other people about it. Losing weight is not the highest form of human accomplishment. Establishing a lifestyle where you eat all foods intuitively and note that intuitive eating is not perfect eating would be a great place to start for all of us, and that means avoiding diets and honoring your body’s inherent wants and needs for a variety of foods in a vast range of quantities. I truly wish you the best on your journey to find fulfillment – but I promise you it is not a secret kept in any diet cookbook or in any magic number on the scale. *As an aside to this, the dieter is not the person with a food allergy (even though hearing about their allergy might be annoying the 700th time around, it’s still an allergy). The dieter is also not the person who celebrates health goals without mentioning weight – in fact if other people bring weight into the conversation when someone tells them they’ve tried some new ways of eating to improve a thyroid condition, the person who mentions the weight aspect is an asshole. Focusing on health and respecting your body is key – sometimes this means losing weight, sometimes it means gaining weight, and sometimes it means changing your lifestyle with no visible results. Regardless, no one needs to comment on anyone else’s body. Ever. If you have questions, please see above.
The Healthy Helper: “Healthy.” “Helper.” That’s really more accurate. This person knows all the moral rights and wrongs about food and just wants to share this (unsolicited) advice with you. So that you can be “healthy.” They brought a dessert, but it’s just strawberries and blueberries mixed together with a little bit of fresh mint. They also brought the broccoli, but it’s steamed to avoid extra fats and unsalted because everyone should be mindful of their blood pressure. They let you know that dinner has a high saturated fat content and that you should probably avoid buttering that roll. Because they are concerned about your health. Dear “Healthy” “Helper”: You may have a medical background, you may not. Either way, unless I asked for your opinions on what I am eating I really don’t care about what you have to say. And it’s bullshit anyway because food is part of all cultures, and it is an important part of all celebrations. We should all be allowed to enjoy food without shame or judgment. Also, you have no trust in anyone’s ability to self-regulate around food. Maybe nana ate seven slices of pie but it’s a holiday celebration and she probably doesn’t do that every day. Maybe you’re the only one who sees the medical nightmare awaiting us all as we dine… but chances are that we will all be fine, survive this meal with no changes other than maybe some temporary bloating and gas, and move on with our lives. I also empathize with you. I know what it’s like to think of food in absolutes. Something is either healthy or unhealthy. There can be no in-between because it negates your beliefs and your feeling of self-importance. The problem with ignoring that all food has different properties, values, and components is that it neglects to see food for what it really is: fuel. Our bodies break down everything we eat into different components. Eventually all of these components (if they need to be used as fuel) become carbohydrates inside our bodies. So really there are only two types of categories that our bodies care about: fuel and waste. Waste is disposed of and fuel is used. You aren’t protecting anyone from heart disease by serving shitty, bland mashed potatoes with no butter. cream, or salt. You aren’t educating us all by serving us baked kale chips to help us with our fiber intake. We are sad for ourselves for having to eat whatever terrible dish you have decided is healthiest and we are also sad for you that you clearly have your own underlying issues with food and your body. May you find an awesome therapist that can help you consider the possibility that no food is 100% unhealthy and that energy surrounding food should be neutral.
The Weight Watcher: Okay, this one is a little tough because sometimes the weight obsessor is also simultaneously one of the other tropes mentioned above (in which case I would stick with the other category as they may be struggling somewhere themselves.) But they may be complete asshats intentionally poking at everyone’s self confidence. They comment on everyone’s appearance, always focusing on weight. This is the person who would ask a woman if she were pregnant. And repeat the question even though everyone else silently agape is clearly signaling that this is a massive faux pas. Dear Weight Watcher: Bodies change. All the time, due to various reasons. Even yours has probably changed! People are complex creatures, running constantly on not only what we eat and how much energy we expend, but a number of different sex, stress, and signaling hormones, triggered by a cascade of other events in our lives. This astonishing interplay of hormones and chemical reactions and brain activity is astonishing! Anxiety high and not sleeping well? Suddenly leptin levels plummet reducing satiety and contributing to increased hunger. Experienced a recent loss of someone close to you? Maybe you’ve been forgetting to eat or eating more because our emotions actually do effect our eating behaviors. Regardless, pointing out someone’s weight gain or weight loss is gauche and makes everyone uncomfortable. If you notice someone has gained weight, how should they respond? If you tell someone they look thinner should they thank you for the “compliment”? Personally, I was left dumbstruck and at a loss for words when a Nurse Practitioner that I worked with told me that I looked “amazing” and that my extreme weight loss looked “intentional.” I was the sickest I have ever been. I met every criteria in the DSM-5 for anorexia nervosa. My EKG showed signs of arrhythmia directly resulting from my eating disorder. Weight loss is not always a good thing. Remember that. Especially when your holiday celebration involves a fucking meal.
The Person who is “So Bad”: Ugh. We all know this person. John Mulaney does a wonderful bit about a group of people sharing fries that nails this pretty well. These are the people that let everyone know that eating something is “bad” or “naughty” but they’re going to partake anyway because being bad is fun! “Wheeeeeeeeee! I’m eating food guys! Aren’t I such a character? I’m so bad – these sweet potatoes have so much butter!” Dear “So Bad”: Please just shut the fuck up and eat your food. It’s not cute that you’re not obeying the rules set by diet culture. It’s not charming to anyone that food shouldn’t be enjoyed but you are so counter-culture. Just eat what you want and leave the rest of us in peace. I beg you. I know you are desperate for the validation that it’s okay to eat food, but you need to work on yourself, love, because there is no room for that shit at my Thanksgiving table. I have the number of a great practice you can work with to figure out that validation piece.
To all of you I say this: 2020 has been one hell of a difficult year. It has also been an opportunity for many of us to self-reflect and challenge our own biases and beliefs. If you recognize yourself in the above list, please start challenging your beliefs. Whether you thought you were being helpful or just didn’t realize that you were being a trash human, you have the opportunity to change. Change now, not just for those of us with eating disorders who have to suffer through these holiday meals with you, but also for yourselves. Can you imagine a life free from weight stigma, diet culture, and food morality? I couldn’t, before recovery. But you can live that life, and educate yourself, and be a better, friendlier, more helpful, happier you. That is my wish for everyone.
Love to all, and wishes to you for a safe, wonderful holiday season,
Nooshin Kiankhooy, CEDS, LCPC
Certified Eating Disorder Specialist
Board Approved Supervisor
Individual and Family Therapist
Owner, Empowering You, LLC
Cell (240) 324-6033
Fax (240) 559-0845
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