Boundary Phrases for the Holidays

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It’s November, so that means that holiday season 2022 is in full swing. The last couple of years, due to the pandemic, we have not been to an in-person family Thanksgiving (the last one being Thanksgiving 2019). While it has been sad to not be able to be in close quarters with our families during the holidays, I also have to admit that at times, I felt relief at not being able to attend in-person Thanksgiving. Inevitably, talk about food/dieting/bodies comes up (especially when we spend Thanksgiving with my side of the family), and it often feels exhausting to try to navigate my way through these discussions. Five years ago, I wrote the Holiday Survival Guide edition of our newsletter, detailing some strategies for dealing with weight/food/diet talk that many of us encounter at these gatherings.

While much of what I wrote in that blog still rings true for me, I have had some more thoughts about how to make these types of holiday gatherings less fraught for my patients. Specifically, I have been thinking about how having your own “boundary phrases” at the ready could be key in helping you get through these tricky situations. And, given that we will be going to an in-person Thanksgiving this year thanks to our daughter finally getting vaccinated and us having boosters, I am sure that I will be putting these into practice for myself.

Boundary phrases are phrases that one can use to establish a boundary with a friend, family member, or acquaintance who has overstepped your comfort level. While boundary phrases can be used in many different situations and for many different reasons, I think having some that are specific to weight/food/diet comments at the ready could help my patients feel more confident at holiday gatherings. As such, I thought it made sense to put together a list of some of my favorite body boundary phrases that have worked for me and for some of my patients. As always, these might not work in every situation, but I’m hopeful that you will see one that feels like a good fit for you.

1. In response to someone making comments on your (or others’) bodies in a negative way.

“Yikes…commenting on other people’s bodies is really not OK!”

“Please don’t comment on my body again.”

2. In response to someone saying fatphobic things to you when they “only care about your health!”

“The only person I discuss my health status with is my doctor.”

“If you truly care about my health, then please also care about my mental health as commenting on my body is harmful.”

3. In response to someone telling a fat joke or making derogatory comments about fat people in general:

“Huh. That’s a really odd thing to say – I’m not sure why you shared it with me.”

“Could you explain to me why that was funny?”

“I hope you aren’t saying this to me because you think I agree.”

4. In response to someone making comments about what you are eating, specifically if they are trying to be “helpful” in identifying “fattening” foods you should avoid.

“Thanks, but I don’t need any diet/nutrition advice. I’m all set!”

“Yeah, I’m not interested in talking about food in those terms. So please don’t do it with me.”

5. In response to someone talking to you about their own diet/ food restrictions for changing their own body size.

“I’m working on making peace with my body currently, so I don’t think I’m the right person with whom to discuss these things.”

“Yeah, that diet sounds pretty difficult and unsatisfying. I’ll pass!”

Again, I know that these phrases might not work exactly for every fatphobic conversation or comment you might encounter at your holiday gatherings, but hopefully, one or two of them could be helpful in setting some clear boundaries with your friends and family members.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

What I Love About Thanksgiving

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Ever since I was little, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. My mom was usually the one to host the festivities, and every year she would make it special. While I didn’t really help much with preparing the meal, I was in charge of setting the table and making the place cards and would make sure to decorate each one with the appropriate Thanksgiving flair (i.e. turkeys, pilgrims, and various fall leaves).

What always amazed me about the Thanksgiving meal was how seamlessly my mom would pull it off, or at least how seamlessly she made it appear! No doubt she has had a lot of practice doing this over the years, and I’m sure her first few attempts were filled with errors of timing and, perhaps, trying too hard. But by the time I was old enough to understand, I came to see my mom as a culinary genius.

I firmly believe that my mom’s real expertise was in editing herself. She always focused on a few staple dishes every year and never made too much food. Unlike some Thanksgivings I’ve heard about, there were never three kinds of mashed potatoes, obscene amounts of bread or endless desserts. She kept it simple – salad for starter, turkey with stuffing, sweet potato casserole, two kinds of homemade cranberry sauce, cranberry bread and usually steamed green beans for the main meal. Dessert usually consisted of a couple of baked goods, like brownies made from scratch and maybe some pecan pie with Brigham’s vanilla ice cream. Lots of food, to be sure, but it never felt like too much.

Aside from the food, I really enjoy the family togetherness of it all. My siblings don’t live locally, so the holidays are usually the only times I get to catch up with them and their kids. Some of my fondest memories are those in which we would gather together after the meal to hang out in the den either watching sports on TV or playing a friendly game of Trivial Pursuit. My father passed away from dementia 2 years ago, and one of the last really good memories I have with him was the last Thanksgiving he spent in our home. All of us gathered in his bedroom to spend some time with him before the meal. Even though he struggled to communicate at that time, I am hopeful that it was a special Thanksgiving for him, too.

A lot of my patients who struggle with eating disorders have a difficult time with Thanksgiving, as it can feel like a very food-centered holiday. I can definitely understand where they are coming from, as it must be difficult to be surrounded by delicious food when sometimes food feels like the enemy. What I try to remind all my patients is that Thanksgiving is only one day. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you eat a bit more than you usually do. And if there is a particular dish that you absolutely love and don’t get to eat it often, give yourself permission to enjoy it. Life is too short to not enjoy the delicious food and heart-warming company of the holiday. I hope all of you are able to relax, spend some quality time with your family and friends and savor the day.

Cooked Cranberry-Orange Relish

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Recipe is courtesy of Karen Levy, who adapted it from one found in the New York Times Cookbook.


  • 1 pound raw cranberries, picked over and washed
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 3 Tbsp Grand Marnier liqueur
  • 2 tsp grated orange rind
  • 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds


  1. Combine all the ingredients, except the almonds, in a saucepan and cook until the cranberries pop open, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  2. Skim the foam from the surface and cool. Stir in the almonds just before serving.