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How to Have a Fat-Talk-Free Holiday Season

autumn in CT, big tree

Yesterday, clinical social workers and authors Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel provided some great insight into navigating all the “healthy eating” advice we’re bombarded with in the beginning of – and throughout – the holiday season.

But reading articles on what not to eat and how not to gain weight in magazines and on the Internet isn’t the only issue.

Oftentimes, we don’t have to go far to hear the fat talk.

At holiday parties and family gatherings, it’s common to talk about “being good,” to speak badly about yourself if you’ve overeaten, comment on your own figure or others and make comparisons about what others are eating.

The talk inevitably turns to dieting, fat grams, calories, weight loss and weight gain and sinful meals.

Fat talk can make us feel uncomfortable, at the very least. But most likely, it makes us feel guilty and ashamed and makes our body image take a nosedive.

If kids are listening – and most likely they are – they pick up on these damaging words and start to question their own eating choices and their own bodies.

So I asked Judith and Ellen, authors of The Diet Survivors, how they suggest steering the conversation to something more meaningful and positive. They said:

The holiday season gives us an opportunity to be together with family and friends in a deeper and more connected way than simply focusing on what we’ve eaten or not eaten, or how much we weigh.  In The Diet Survivors, Lesson #57 reads:

Avoid diet conversations: They are boring, encourage competition among women, and keep you from knowing your true nature and spirit.


“As a diet survivor, you well know the endless conversations shared among friends, family, and colleagues regarding the topic of diets, weight and body size.  In this culture, women are encouraged to be concerned with the minutiae of their bodies and to bond together in sisterhood over body hatred…What is the cost for creative, intelligent, and passionate women to direct these qualities into the relentless pursuit of thinness?  How many conversations focus on weight at the expense of sharing important ideas and insights about yourself, each other and the world?

Think about realistic ways to move away from diet conversations.  Refuse to take part in the endless diet talk that acts as an obstacle to rewarding conversations that are a part of living a rich life.  This means committing yourself to refrain from initiating diet conversations and exploring ways to redirect diet conversations initiated by others.” (pp. 278-279).

We suggest that you develop a sentence for yourself that you can use when the topic of holiday weight gain comes up.  For example, you might respond, “I’d rather not focus on weight and food, but I’d love to hear about ___________________(fill in the blank with whatever is of interest to you).  Your goal is to refocus the conversation in a way that will allow you to connect with those around you.

Of course, there are times you will meet with resistance.  You may need to use your internal compassionate voice to tell you that you do not have to join in; this is the issue of your family and friends, but you don’t have to participate.

If it’s a good time to help clear the table or make a trip to the bathroom, give yourself permission to actively move away from the conversation.  Use that time to consider other topics that will feel more meaningful to you.

Body image expert Robyn Silverman and psychologist Lynne Kenney also offered suggestions for celebrating the holidays free from fat talk in this fantastic post.

Here are two of my faves from Dr. Robyn’s list:

Start a new tradition: Some go around the table and say what they’re grateful for while others retell old family stories. In the spirit of Fat Talk Free Holidays, why not start a tradition of celebrating our strengths? Ask everyone to say 1-3 things that they feel are assets they possess.  You can also go back around the table and flip it—what are 1-3 assets you admire about someone else at the table? This is not about competition or comparison but rather, about seeing people for their strengths rather than their deficits.

Nip it in the bud: If someone starts to “fat talk,” pull them aside and remind them kindly about your Fat-Talk-Free Holiday plan.  While some adults may be able to filter out opinions about fat, calories, and weight, children and teens are very impressionable.  Your silence, in this case, can be seen as an endorsement of the behavior and what the guest is saying.  Speak up so that everyone can get back to focusing on enjoying family, food, friends, and some fat-talk free time.

And from Dr. Lynne’s:

Think first, speak second. The messages you send your girls really matter. They listen closely and watch even closer. Are you commenting on your need to diet? Do you identify some foods as “good” and others as “bad.” At the dinner table recently I heard a mom say, “Eat your dinner so we ca get good stuff, the dessert.” Desert can indeed be yummy, but it’s not the good stuff.  Stop labeling foods, eat a touch of it all without comments and judgment. Fat-Talk-Free is the way to be!

Add an activity to the holiday weekend. Family activities like sports, games and crafts bring each other joy. Consider a family game of football, a walk in the forest, or a game of Bananagrams. You can find a list of fun family activities for your fridge in The Family Coach Method. Rebecca Cohen offers great tips on planting and playing outdoors. Download her family activity list and put some family fun in your holiday.

At your family gatherings, have you experienced “fat talk”? How do you think you’ll steer the conversation away from calories, weight and fat?

P.S., Please check out the round-up of posts for this month’s Self-Discovery, Word by Word at Karen’s blog Before & After: A Real-Life Story. Remember this month’s word was “vulnerability.”

How to Have a Fat-Talk-Free Holiday Season

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). How to Have a Fat-Talk-Free Holiday Season. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Mar 2014
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