Tag Archives: thanksgiving

Err on the Side of Love, Caution and Sensitivity: Having An Anti-Diet Culture Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, let us work together to challenge our biases regarding weight and size, and to eliminate body and food shaming as much as possible. Comments that might seem silly can really hurt someone. Also, remember that people often struggle in silence and not all struggles are physically visible. Thanksgiving is already a very difficuIt holiday for many people struggling with an eating disorder, or who have been harmed by diet culture. It ALWAYS makes sense to err on the side of love, caution and sensitivity in your interactions.

Stop commenting people’s body sizes

A person’s change in weight could be due to an eating disorder, cancer, gastrointestinal issues, depression, and various other struggles. Complimenting someone on something that is a result of mental or physical struggle is extremely harmful. Furthermore, a person may already be sensitive about their bodily changes and they do not need to hear from you. Compliment people for other things.

“I love the dish you made.”

“Your new haircut looks really nice.”

“You always know how to make me laugh.”

“I’m proud of how well you did on your math test.” 

These things are a lot cooler than weight too!

Define being “good” or “bad” by how you treat others, not what you or others eat

You are not “bad” for having another piece of pie. You are not “good” for skipping desert, and you are not better than the person next to you who desired some pie. If you want to be “good,” bring food to a homeless person, spend time with someone who is lonely, send a gift to someone who could use some cheer. Those things actually make the world better.

Stop talking about food as if it needs to be earned

If you do a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning because you enjoy it, great. I am doing one myself, provided I come back from my academic conference feeling OK. Share fun pictures of yourself running in costume or talk about the beauty of the course, or how proud you are of finishing, but please avoid comments about earning your turkey or punishing yourself for pie. Thanksgiving is there for all to enjoy regardless of what they did that morning or plan to do the next day.

Do not make derogatory comments about ANYONE’s body

Just as it is not OK to make racist comments just because you assume there are no people of color in the room, it is not OK to poke fun at the bodies of people who are not at your dinner table. Remember that when you call a person of a certain body type unattractive, undisciplined, or any other name, you are not just insulting them, but anyone who is of a similar size. You are also sending a message that a person becomes less loveable if their body changes.

If you are concerned about someone, approach them calmly and privately and focus on their behaviors and emotions, rather than their size/appearance

If you do suspect a loved one is struggling with food, approach them in a calm, non-judgmental manner when you are away from the dinner table. “I notice you seem to eat very little and I worry you are struggling” or “I notice you did not seem to enjoy the same stuff you did last year and I am concerned” will be taken better than “you look awful” or “you look like a skeleton.” Focusing on behaviors will also tell the person that your concerns are not superficial and reassure them that they deserve care regardless of their size (a big fear of many people with eating disorders is that if their appearance changes, they will no longer be deserving of support).

Set boundaries for yourself and your loved ones

Remember that not everyone is aware of the harm of certain comments or behaviors, so, at first, it is always best to take a gentle approach. “Please do not remind us of the calories in everything.” “We do not believe food needs to be earned at this table.” “We would appreciate it if you would not comment on people’s body sizes.”

Some will be happy to learn and will want to be sensitive to your concerns. Sadly, some will not. It is also OK to set boundaries if someone continues to intentionally (the key word here is intentionally- we all make mistakes from time to time) cause harm to you or a loved one.

“I really love your company, but I will not be able to invite you back if you insist on commenting on my child’s weight.”

“I know you are on a diet but talking about it constantly in my presence is triggering and I need to ask you to stop.”

“Your comments really hurt my friend’s feelings and she is important to me. I will not tolerate her feeling bullied at our table.”

“This conversation is tough for me to listen to, I am going to step outside for some space.”

Advocating for yourself can be really hard, which is why, if you are the loved one of a person who is struggling, STAND UP FOR THEM!

Exercise is Not Punishment: A Thanksgiving Note For Athletes, Coaches, and Fitness Professionals

“Earn your pie.”

“Burn off the turkey.”

“Make sure you can still fit into those jeans!”

“Come on, move faster, have to burn off that meal!”

I am sure we have all seen and heard the above phrases being used to advertise fitness classes around the holidays. While these types of promotions may seem fun or harmless, the message they send is not.

Food does not need to be earned, and the amount of food one has eaten/not eaten does not determine one’s morality or self-worth.

  • It is common to hear talk at gyms of “you were so good” because someone said no to an extra helping of potatoes, or “I’m so bad” because someone had a large piece of pie. This rhetoric is extremely harmful especially during a pandemic, where food may be an important emotional tie to cherished memories and people we love.
  • Bodies need food regardless of how much or how little a person has exercised.
  • Think about it, wouldn’t you rather be complimented on your kindness or generosity than your avoidance of cake? If you really want to be “good,” donate your time or money to an organization that means something to you, or reach out to a friend who is lonely.

Movement done solely for the purpose of burning calories can easily lead to a disordered relationship with exercise.

  •  Implying that one needs to burn calories turns exercise into punishment. If the goal is for people to continue in an activity long-term, this does not help.
  • When exercise becomes an obligation, it can quickly turn into a dangerous obsession where one might be unable to listen to their body when tired or injured.
  • A disordered relationship with exercise is not defined by the intensity of the exercise or the BMI of the athlete. An Ironman triathlete can have a healthy relationship with exercise if they properly fuel their body (which can look different for everyone- if you are having trouble figuring out what that is for you, consult a registered dietician) and take rest days when needed. Likewise, a weekend warrior who does local 5ks may be struggling if thoughts of food and calories get in the way of their everyday lives, and they workout even when ill or injured.
  • Finally, exercise for calorie-burn is not the most effective way to exercise. To truly progress at sport, one needs to have a proper balance of easy days and high-intensity days. Some workouts are meant to help with speed, others with endurance, and others are simply meant to be recovery so that your body is rested for the next workout or big race. Training for calorie burn can be distracting from long-term goals. My best races came when I was paying zero attention to the scale.

Not focusing on calorie-burning, food-shaming, and weight-loss should not be seen as a hardship- there are SO MANY other benefits of exercise that can and should be brought to people’s attention.

  • Communal fitness activities bring people together and create special bonds
  • Exercise helps with the relief of stress
  • Exercise helps reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol (these are what is important, not BMI)
  • Exercise can help promote better sleep
  • Exercise releases endorphins which can improve one’s mood and raise energy levels
  • Workouts can help us achieve certain goals – lifting heavier weights, swimming faster, running a race, doing pull-ups, etc.
  • Sports help us appreciate the amazing things our bodies can do

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and they affect people of all ages, genders, races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Only 6% of people with an eating disorder are medically underweight. In other words, someone on your team, or in your fitness class, may be suffering, even if you do not know it.

  • Many people who struggle with mental health issues find working out to be beneficial.* You have no clue what the person next to you in your workout class is going through, so its best to just be as kind to one another as we can be.
  • Jokes about fitting into jeans may seem funny, but for people who are going through bodily changes that may necessary for their recovery, such talk might be terrifying.
  • Rhetorics of fear around weight only serve to stigmatize persons in larger bodies, when our sport or activity should a place of inclusion. Our bodies are not all meant to look the same!
  • Instead of focusing on weights and calorie burns, there are so many other things to brag about that, quite honestly, are more impressive. Instead of pounds or inches lost, talk about the mental and physical health benefits your routine has brought you. Instead of remarking on someone’s weight, praise their hard-work and dedication, or compliment a recent race or personal record.

But wait, isn’t weight loss a health benefit?”

  • Weight is not a condition or disease. Conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, etc., which I firmly believe should be treated, do not only affect people with a high BMI, nor does everyone with a high BMI have one of these conditions. Also, while some may experience weight loss in the process of treating these conditions, others may not.
  • BMI is not a measure of health. It was a tool designed to measure populations and it was only based on white European men!
  • Before posting “before and after photos,” think about the message you are sending to those who have a similar body type to the “before.”
  • People lose and gain weight for a variety of reasons. Complimenting someone’s weight loss could be complimenting their eating disorder. Someone may also be undergoing cancer treatment, experiencing gastrointestinal issues, or struggling with depression. You really do not  know, so better to err on the side of sensitivity.

I am an athlete, and quite honestly, I believe running saved my life when I was a teenager. ** Triathlon training is what is helping me deal with the stress and isolation of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it pains me to witness the dark side of sports on a regular basis. Countless times I have heard people share the story of their first triathlon, only to not share a picture of their triumphant finish because their training did not result in “weight-loss” or they do not believe they have a “triathlon body” (newsflash- there is NO triathlon body!) All athletes, coaches, and fitness instructors have a responsibility to do our part to stop weight-stigma and recognize the goodness in all bodies. No better time to start than today!

* While the mental health benefits of exercise are plenty, sports are not a substitution for professional help.

** I want to acknowledge that everyone’s experience in sports is different, and can be dependent on a variety of factors. Sometimes the best choice in a person’s recovery is taking a break from sport or giving up a certain sport for good. One also should not undertake any exercise program without medical clearance. However, I do firmly believe that sports and eating disorder recovery can be compatible.