You better watch out, get ready to cry, you might want to pout, I’m telling you why – the Food Police is coming to town. ?

‘Tis the season for cookie exchanges, family gatherings, office potlucks and cocktail parties. And you know where there’s food—especially food you don’t typically see at other times of year—you bet the Food Police are going to be there.

They’re eyeing your plate, they’re checking it twice. They say it’s “for your health” but they’re really not nice. The Food Police is coming to town. ?

Often it’s a general comment, like “Oh, I really shouldn’t have that.” or “Thank goodness I went to the gym this morning!”

Sometimes, it’s “in good fun”, like “Calories don’t count at Christmas!” or “I guess I’m on the naughty list this year!”

The baddest cops will zero in on who they consider their worst offenders, giving them the once-over and making direct comments like, “Are you sure you should be eating that?” or “Boy, you’re pretty hungry, aren’t you?”

They’ll seize your gingerbread men, take away your fruit cake. Who cares what they say is “bad” or “good”? It’s just food, for goodness sake! ?

What’s worse is that often the Food Police aren’t strangers that we can brush aside – they’re often coworkers, friends, families, loved ones… People who we expect to support us, so we feel even more hurt by their words and actions.

4 Tips for Handling the Holiday Food Police

1. Remember It’s Not About You

It may sound cliché, but it’s absolutely true – even when comments or gestures about food, dieting and bodies are being directed at you, they’re more about the insecurities of the person making the comment, not you. While that doesn’t necessarily lessen the harm that they’re doing, nor the hurt that you feel, keeping this in mind allows you to make space to feel compassion. We live in a culture that glorifies thin bodies and restriction (“diet culture”), and for some, striving toward the thin ideal is their way of showing discipline and “being on Santa’s good list”. Feeling compassion for the fact that this person may be making these comments because they don’t know better might give you a bit of space to respond differently, instead of reacting from a place of being upset, hurt and/or angry.

2. Set Boundaries

Many of us are people-pleasers, and this can sometimes be taken advantage of during the holidays with the “spirit of giving”. Know your limits and don’t be ashamed of them – you are keeping yourself well and safe. This might mean that you limit the number of commitments that you make during the holiday season. It might mean that when you do attend events, you limit how long you spend there or who you decide to sit near and talk to. You may want to allow yourself to go outside or get away from the party in some way for a break in the conversation.

You might want to practice the different ways of saying “No” in front of a mirror a few times:

“No, thanks.”

“No, thank you.”

“Thanks for your concern, but no.”

“I really enjoyed myself and I’m grateful for everything you’ve done, but I’ve had enough, thank you.”

It's OK to say 'No' during the holidays. Click To Tweet

3. Be Prepared

Until the day diet culture is no longer the dominant culture, unfortunately the burden is still on us to mitigate the harm that can be done by the Food Police. Consider any upcoming events or situations where you may run into the Food Police, and have a plan for managing those situations. (See: “Setting Boundaries” above) You may want to arm yourself with ways to stop or walk away from diet talk, or to change the subject:

“To me, the holidays are about joy and celebration, and talking about dieting doesn’t make me feel joyful or celebratory. Can we talk about X instead?”

“It makes me feel uncomfortable to talk about my food/my body. Let’s talk about something else.”

“These potatoes are *soooo* delicious! Care to share the recipe?”

“Do you have any other plans for the holidays?”

4. Chip Away at Diet Culture

Working through tips 1-3 is more than enough, but if you feel comfortable and have the energy to do so, you may want to start planting the seeds of HAES® and intuitive eating with your loved ones, so that perhaps one day you might not have to deal with the Food Police. This tactic is similar to tips #2 and #3, with an added invitation to explore these new-to-them ideas, which can be as subtle or overt as you’d like. For example:

“To me, the holidays are about joy and celebration, and talking about dieting doesn’t make me feel joyful or celebratory. In fact, I’m trying something called Health At Every Size® – have you heard of it?

I’m trying something different for my health right now and talking about food/my body this way really hinders my progress.”

“These potatoes are *soooo* delicious! I’m glad I can enjoy them again, now that I’m trying intuitive eating.

I would like to stress that your mental safety is paramount, so really get a sense for your audience before you start to plant these seeds. You might get tough, triggering questions like, “What if someone is so fat that they can’t leave their house? How can that be healthy?” or “Aren’t you afraid that you’re never going to stop gaining weight?” If you have answers to them, great, but if you don’t, that’s OK too. It’s OK to say, “I don’t have a good answer to that question, but what I know is it’s working for me.”

What If… I’m the Food Police?

On the surface, it may sound silly that we would be doing something harmful to ourselves, but diet culture is so widespread and insidious that it’s not uncommon to internalize those messages. It’s no coincidence that “I’m my own worst critic” or “I’m my own worst enemy” are common phrases in our vernacular.

The Food Police may be inside you if you hear yourself saying or thinking:

“This was a bad day because I ate X”

“I can’t believe I took seconds! I should be so ashamed of myself.”

“It’s OK if I eat X, I’ll make sure I burn it off later.”

“I’d love to go to that party, but I can’t because there will be food there.”

“I really should be trying harder to lose weight.”

The tips are similar, but with slight tweaks:

1. Give Yourself Compassion

Like everyone else, you are living in diet culture, and being upset at yourself for your food choices, or not being as far as you want to be in intuitive eating is not going to help. A good place to start changing your self-talk might be imagining you are instead talking to a friend, or perhaps yourself as a child.

2. Say “No” to the Food Police Voice

You are more than a Food Police. Lean on the strength of your compassionate voice to say “no” to the Food Police voice. You might tell yourself something like, “No, thanks. I know you’re worried about me, but I’ve got this.”

3. Be Prepared

Consider situations that tend to bring out your inner Food Police, and have a plan for managing those situations. You might want to arm yourself with ways to stop diet talk from others so that you don’t feel tempted to join in, or ways to change the self-talk happening in your head. For example, you might say to yourself, “To me, the holidays are about joy and celebration, and thinking about dieting doesn’t make me feel joyful or celebratory. I’m going to do X instead.”

4. Chip Away at Diet Culture

Immerse yourself in anti-diet books, podcasts and social media. This list of resources is a great place to start.

You better watch out, you better be prepared. It’s the Food Police who should be scared. The Food Police is gonna go down! ?

Have you ever run into the Food Police? What did they do or say? How did you deal with them?

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