Holiday Survival Guide

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It’s November, and that means the holiday season is upon us. Many of my patients have mixed feelings about the holidays. On the one hand, these celebrations can be a joyous time with one’s family and friends, full of tradition and connection. On the other hand, these same gatherings can be highly triggering and lead to serious anxiety. Of course, the fact that most holiday celebrations are centered around food can complicate matters even more.

While I love my family and cherish the holiday celebrations we have together, it can still be challenging at times. As I have written about previously, my family does not really understand the principles of Health at Every Size® (HAES) and Size Acceptance. In addition to this, my sister is Oprah Winfrey’s personal Weight Watchers coach and firmly entrenched in diet culture. Needless to say, my family gatherings can be seriously difficult at times!

Over the years, I have accumulated some practical strategies for dealing with challenging family situations, so I thought I would share them with you. Keep in mind that not all of these strategies will work for you, but, hopefully, one or more of them will aid you in navigating these tricky situations and permit you to enjoy the holiday season.

1. Create Safe Spaces

One way that I have found to help my family gatherings be less triggering is to ask my family to refrain from talking about dieting, weight loss/gain, or judgments about weight or food choices during our time together. This can be achieved by sending an email to the main holiday participants ahead of time or making a few phone calls. Another way to achieve this would be to send along some HAES materials to explain the basics. Finally, if you feel uncomfortable reaching out to everyone yourself, you could ask your significant other or trusted family member to relay this information to everyone else.

2. Have an Ally

While this might not always be possible, bringing a supportive friend, partner, spouse, or family member to a holiday gathering can be tremendously helpful. Ideally, this person would be someone who understands/is open to HAES and Size Acceptance and could advocate for you if needed. If your ally cannot be with you at the actual event, making a plan to talk, text, or Skype with them before and after the gathering can also be helpful and make you feel more supported.

3. Take Space

Sometimes despite best efforts, family members or friends will talk about dieting, weight, and/or moralizing food choices. Unfortunately, this is common practice in our society, and many people (especially women) use it as a way to bond with each other. If the conversation turns to these triggering topics, you have every right to get up and leave the table, room, or conversation. Take a walk outside, hang out with your nieces and nephews, play with the family pet, or just find another space and take a few minutes. Sometimes all you need is a few moments alone.

4. Set Boundaries

If a friend or a loved one consistently makes comments about your weight or food choices, you have the right to tell them that this is unacceptable. In the moment, it can feel very difficult to stand up for yourself, so it might be helpful to think of some replies ahead of time. Some examples could include “Please don’t talk about my weight,” “I would prefer it if you didn’t make judgments about my food choices,” or “My food choices are none of your business, so please do not comment on them.”

5. Practice Regular Self-Care

While of course I would recommend engaging in self-care activities year-round, the holidays are an especially important time to do so. Practicing intuitive eating and physical activity, getting enough sleep, and managing stress are some basic ways to take care of yourself. If you are in therapy, it can be helpful to prepare for challenging situations with role-playing, i.e., have your therapist help you practice your responses to difficult family members or friends.

In the end, sometimes holiday gatherings are just about getting through it with as little scarring as possible. Inevitably, Aunt Edna will start talking about her latest cleanse, or cousin Fred will comment on how much weight someone has gained/lost. In some cases, there really is nothing you can say or do to change a family member’s or friend’s thoughts about weight/dieting/food, so the best thing you can do is agree to disagree and move on. Remember that these events are time limited, meaning that they will not last forever. I hope that some of these strategies will be helpful for you during the upcoming months – you can do it. Happy Holidays!


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Generally speaking, Zootopia is a really nice Disney film. As Joanne and I were walking out of the theater and talking about how much we both liked it, she turned to me and said, “There was only one thing about it that bothered me, and I am guessing you know what it is.” Sure enough, I did, as the same problem had caught my eye as well.

The main reason I like the film is because it teaches some wonderful lessons about having the courage to be different, break down barriers, and acknowledge and overcome prejudice. However, the writers missed an opportunity to apply these same themes to body size and instead reinforced widely-held stereotypes about larger individuals.

Although the film does feature characters of various shapes and sizes, both protagonists are stick thin while the rounder characters are generally presented in a more negative light, such as the main character’s portly father, who in his first scene explains how he was too afraid to go after what he really wanted in life and settled for one spent as a carrot farmer.

The most glaring example is Officer Clawhauser, a large, dopey, and disorganized character often shown with food or in the act of eating. An early scene in the film portrays him as so messy and oblivious that he is unaware that he has a donut lodged in his collar.

How ironic, and unfortunate, that in a film that is largely about breaking down stereotypes, Disney glaringly reinforces one. The writers probably never even considered there might be an issue with this because the sad truth is that in a society in which we generally reject stereotypes based on race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, we inexplicably tolerate those based on body size that are no more accurate than the others, yet are just as abhorrent.

If you bring your children to see Zootopia, consider using the occasion to talk about body size and its associated prejudice. The film does a solid job of teaching that not all prey animals are cowardly, predators need not be savage, and the symbolism contained therein about the human race, but it misses an opportunity to shut down the stereotypes that heroes must be thin and larger individuals are glutinous, lazy, or unkept. This is where you, the parents, can come in and complete the lesson.

David Bowie

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David Bowie and Duran Duran are the only two artists I have been listening to virtually my entire life, and somewhere in an unpacked moving box in our basement sits my tape copy of the former’s Let’s Dance album that I got in kindergarten.

Although I do not care for everything Bowie released, I greatly respected his ability to oscillate between styles so drastically that I was left enjoying only parts of his catalog, as opposed to those of artists whose sound is so consistent that I can accurately base my impression of their body of work on a single song.

His versatility, I expected, would form the basis of the numerous tributes that poured in via social media yesterday as the shocking news of his illness and death became public. While some of them certainly did, several centered around the profound impact Bowie had on many individuals and our culture as a whole in terms of empowerment, self-acceptance, and tolerance for diversity and differences.

Nobody said it better than Richey Rose, a guitarist living in New York City, in the following tribute he posted yesterday:

“I had my Bowie phase a little over 10 years ago, when I was a sophomore in college. I had just gotten my first record player and found Hunky Dory at Pop’s (best used record store in my hometown of Lexington, KY). Of course I’d always known Bowie, especially because I’d just gone through a massive Velvets/Warhol/60’s & 70’s NYC discovery the year before… but that record was my first effort into becoming properly acquainted with him as an artist. Needless to say it opened Pandora’s box. I became obsessed and fully engrossed in everything he’d done. A friend gifted me an original pressing of Ziggy and I promptly wore it out; teaching myself all the guitar parts along the way. YouTube was just starting and there were interviews, videos, concert footage – it was my own personal archive into David’s creations and contributions to the world. I was beyond inspired. I’d always been self-conscious about being too skinny, too ‘pretty’ if you will, and had grown up being mercilessly teased because of it. Bowie was literally the first artist/person/thing to make me feel strong and powerful because of my body instead of feeling the total opposite, which I’d done for so many years before. I thought he was a total fucking badass; I thought he was God. Reading everyone’s stories today I realize that Bowie touched EVERY one of us on so many different levels… but not just musically. Sure his records taught me an invaluable amount about songwriting, melody, production, etc. but furthermore Bowie inspired and forever changed my perspective on life. For that I am eternally indebted and grateful. There’s certainly a bit of Bowie inside us all… RIP.

The bold face used above was my own doing in order to emphasize the passage that I expect most universally resonates and relates to our work as dietitians. Joanne and I do a great deal of activism in the size acceptance movement because on a daily basis we see the consequences of people living under the oppression of weight stigma: eating disorders, shoddy medical care, failing weight-loss pursuits, bullying, weight cycling, disordered eating, and other conditions, approaches, and consequences that only serve to worsen health, not improve it.

In an era when another celebrity gained our trust only to abuse it and built us up until it was personally and financially advantageous to tear us down, Bowie’s lessons of acceptance and being true to ourselves juxtapose in even greater contrast and feel that much more important to reinforce. No matter which Bowie era is your favorite, whether you are a Starman, Ziggy Stardust, Young Americans, Scary Monsters, Modern Love, Heart’s Filthy Lesson, Reality, or Lazarus fan, or even if none of those are your cup of tea, we can all recognize that he impacted our world in a way that extended well beyond his music.