What Is The Most Important Nutrition Tip This Holiday Season?

Written by: Emily Russo, MS, RD, CDN

here is a holiday tip that will benefit everyone

They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year – and it certainly can be. But holiday gatherings can also be tricky to navigate. We often feel judged on how our bodies have changed, what we are or are not eating, and what we should be eating in the start of the New Year. So, to help set the record straight, here is a nutrition tip that will benefit everyone…

As a person who loves all things food, I look forward to holiday meals, especially that first mouthful of crispy latke. Like most typical Jewish American households we engage in conversation (loudly!) complimenting the chef and asking how the latkes were made. Our favorite debate is whether or not it’s necessary to squeeze out all of the onion liquid before frying. The jury is still out on that one.

trigger warning: this post may be triggering to those recovering from eating disorders or trauma related to body image and appearance

Food For Thought
But discussions take a downhill turn when we comment on how much or how little someone is eating, if we are being good or bad for having dessert, or how we look compared to last year.

Oftentimes, these comments aren’t blatant but are instead hidden within the standard holiday chitchat. Following are some examples – do any of these sound familiar?

  • “Wow, you look so skinny! What have you been doing?”
  • “We all gained the freshmen 15. Don’t worry, you’ll get back to your normal weight soon.”
  • “Do you want to do a cleanse together after the holidays?”
  • “I don’t usually eat this much, but I was at the gym at 6 a.m. today so I deserve it.”
  • “If I ate that much, you’d have to roll me out the door. You must have an amazing metabolism!”
  • “After the holidays, I’m going to get back on track with my eating.”
  • “This is a cheat day.”
  • “Maybe you should skip seconds this year. Obesity runs in our family.”
  • “I crave carbs all the time – don’t let me near the mashed potatoes.”
  • “We won’t let our kids have any sugar.”

Unintended Consequences
Though these comments may not be triggering or offensive for some people, that doesn’t make them appropriate for everyone at holiday gatherings. This includes the well-meaning observations that can have unintended consequences.

For instance, you may pay a compliment to someone for weight loss without realizing it was due to an illness. And applauding a family member for restraint at the buffet table could be interpreted as a subtle (or not so subtle) sign that cutting back is indeed warranted.

In fact, feelings about body image are so intertwined with self worth that any remark in this arena can hit the wrong note. I recently read some statistics from a body image survey which gave me pause:

  • 46% of all women surveyed reported they had been ridiculed or bullied for their appearance
  • 30% of all women surveyed said they would trade at least one year of their life to be at their ideal weight or shape 

Sociocultural Ideal of Thinness
It’s more than simply hurting someone’s feelings. A review of research studies indicates that the best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness. Applauding weight loss and thinness perpetuates this. Meaning, seemingly harmless actions like praising weight loss perpetuates the thin ideal that can contribute to the development of eating disorders.

It is especially difficult when we feel like we don’t measure up to this thin ideal during the holidays. Most of us likely have at least one relative or friend who is notorious for pointing out physical traits. A large world-wide survey sadly showed that 8 in 10 girls (79%) and even more women (85%) admit to opting out of important events in their lives when they don’t feel they look their best.

What Will You Say?
If we truly want our friends and family to feel comfortable around the holidays and not be self-conscious, we can change the subject. We can take weight, appearance, and eating habits off the table this year. There are so many more interesting things to know about one another.

How do you plan to catch up with friends and family over the holidays? Let us know in the comments section below. We appreciate fresh ideas and welcome your feedback.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Helpline for support, resources, and treatment options.

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  1. Nadja

    I have a friend who is very thin (but not having an eating disorder), and she hearsremarks about her weight every week, like “men don’t like thin women”. (This is just to point out that being thin doesn’t guarantee anything). So yes, Emily, I totally agree with you, and when I think about your article, I’d go even further: At a holiday dinner table, don’t talk about ALL kinds of health issues (food intolerances should be mentioned to the host long before the party), job/school problems, money, politics, sports (unless you’re at your sports club party). Discuss these topics some other time and get to know each other better – what made you happy this year, what were you grateful for, what are your plans for next year?
    All best, Nadja

  2. Georgina Russo

    Definitely food for thought – no pun intended! I hadn’t realized how even well-meaning comments can send the wrong message. Thanks for raising awareness on this issue.

    1. A.J.

      I thought the same as Gina regarding the well-intentioned comments. Now it occurs to me that those comments are essentially placing heightened value on thinness.

  3. Meaghen Neumann

    I love this message. This is always such a huge topic of conversation across both my husband and my families during the holidays. Never makes anyone feel good. Inspired to be more mindful this year !!