‘Tis the season to…slim down before the next event, restrict food, count calories, plan your New Year’s weight loss diet, fixate on body size and shape. But, is any of this even close to being jolly?

If you have been working on developing a healthy relationship with food this year, the last thing you want to hear at your next party or family gathering is diet talk (which can include topics such as weight, fat and body talk).

Instead of allowing diet talk to put a damper on things, use these tips to stay focused on the people, the celebrations and the reason for the holiday season. 

What is diet talk?

Diet talk has become a normal part of culture. Now that I am sensitized to it, I seem to hear it everywhere! It includes the following (all of the example phrases are things that I have heard in the past few months): 

Types of Diet Talk

Examples

Viewing food and eating as black and white or good and bad

“Today I was good; I stuck to my meal plan.”

Speaking badly about oneself when food standards are not met

“I’m so bad; I shouldn’t have eaten dessert.”

Putting undue focus on body shape, size and weight (directed at self or others)

“I hate my flabby arms.” Or “You’re lucky you’re so skinny.”

Feeling guilt or fear around food

“I could never eat that. Don’t you know how many calories are in it?”

Focusing on calories, diets or “lifestyle changes

“You should really try                    . It’s so much better to eat this way.”

Critiquing food choices

“Are you really going to eat all that food?”

Being hypervigilant about types or amounts of food, when you do not have an underlying allergy or health condition that requires it

“What’s in that? How did you make it?”

Linking food to weight

“Did you see how much food there is? I’m going to weigh a ton by the end of the day.”

Using exercise as a licence to eat

“Good thing I worked out today, now I can eat                        without guilt.”


If diet talk is so negative, why do people do it? Perhaps it is just a habit. Or maybe they are doing it for validation or justification for their “good” eating behaviour. Others may be using it as a passive aggressive way to comment on someone else’s appearance or eating behaviour.

If you recognize that your self-talk includes diet talk, consider using positive affirmations to counter these voices. The goal is to reframe thoughts and beliefs by affirming a positive truth. In doing so, you may feel better equipped to move forward. Here are some examples:

Diet talk – “I’m so bad; I shouldn’t have eaten dessert.”

Positive affirmation – “I am learning how to include foods I enjoy eating.”

Check out this blog from a registered dietitian to learn more about the power of positive affirmations. 

As a dietitian who believes in a non-diet intuitive eating approach, diet talk makes me sad. Focusing on weight instead of health can really distract from key self-care practices such as honouring your hunger and nourishing your body. It overemphasizes the importance of WHAT we look like instead of WHO we are, and takes the joy out of eating.

As well, diet talk can contribute to the following:

  • Feelings of guilt and shame, which have never been good motivators for health
  • Poor body image
  • Viewing food or certain behaviours as black and white, good or bad
  • Re-triggering individuals who are trying to develop a better relationship with food or who have disordered eating
  • Negative thoughts about food and body, especially for young children who may be listening

Seven ways to deal with diet talk

The holidays can feel anything but merry when diet talk abounds. If you have never challenged diet talk before, it can feel scary or uncomfortable. But, the results may surprise you. I remember the first time I mustered up the courage to speak out against diet talk. Some people brushed me off, some had never considered the negative impact of their words before, while others became very interested in hearing my perspective and we have since had some great discussions.

As a first step, decide in advance which topics on food and weight are okay with you and which ones are not. Your boundaries may depend on who says it and/or the situation. You may benefit from a support network that understands where you are coming from either via a friend or family member who will attend the event or an online community. Use yourinner compassionate voiceif you meet with resistance. The issue likely belongs to the other person; it is not about you.

If you encounter diet talk during the holidays, here are seven options for dealing with it. 

1. Use a grounding phrase. Come up with a sentence that you can repeat whenever diet talk comes up.

Comment: “I can’t believe I ate so much food. My New Year’s resolution is going to have to be about losing weight this year.”

Response: “I would rather not talk about weight, but I would love to hear about .”

 2. Be short and sweet. If someone is asking you direct questions, you can answer with a simple yes or no. You are not required to justify your choices or your body.

Comment: “Are you really going to eat a dinner roll after all of those mashed potatoes?”

Response: “Yes.”

3. Speak your truth. Return diet talk in kind by speaking about your journey toward a healthy relationship with food. Share what you have learned about topics such as intuitive eating, mindful eating or Health at Every Size® in a gracious way.

Comment: “…and now I’m doing [insert diet/cleanse/detox]. You have to cut out all these foods but it’s supposed to be so good for losing weight and getting healthy.”

Response: “I’ve actually decided to stop focusing on my weight this year and get back in touch with my hunger and fullness signals. Have you heard of intuitive eating before?”

4. Nip it in the bud. If diet talk starts, ask the person to stop. You may want to ask for a “No Diet Talk” holiday before the event as well.

Comment: “Did you see cousin Ashley last week? She’s really let herself go and gained so much weight.”

Response: “I am not comfortable talking about this. Let’s focus on catching up with each other instead.” OR “Remember when I asked for your support on having a “No Diet Talk” holiday? Let’s change the subject.”

5. Ignore it. You do not have to engage if you do not want to.

Comment: “I didn’t really eat anything today because I needed to save all of my calories for this big meal.”

Response: “So, anyway…”

6. Re-direct the conversation. Suggest a more neutral or enjoyable topic to discuss. After all, you are probably all together to have fun and create some special memories.

Comment: “How could you use [insert food or ingredient] in that salad? Didn’t you watch that documentary? This stuff will kill you. I should have made it myself.”

Response: “Remember last year when we all went sledding after lunch? It was fun! Does anyone want to do that again?”

7. Remove yourself from the situation. If the conversation is getting to be too much, take a break. Clear the table or go to the washroom. Your self-care is important.

Comment: “It’s really all about portion size. You just have to take your food and measure it out before you eat so you don’t take too much. Does anyone want to see how I do it?”

Response: “Please excuse me for a moment.” 

‘Tis the season

The holidays are about reconnecting with family and friends. They offer a great opportunity to catch up and share ideas, interests and insights about yourself and the world. Show your loved ones that they matter because of who they are, not what they look like, by saying goodbye to diet talk.

AFLCA members

Are you looking for practical nutrition tools for your clients? Log in to the AFLCA Members section of the website and order free resources today!   



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Jaclyn Chute, RD

Registered Dietitian

Jaclyn (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and Project Manager at Dairy Farmers of Canada. She believes eating should be both nourishing and satisfying, and is passionate about helping others develop a healthy relationship with food.

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