Thanksgiving and Body Image: How to Talk About Food
Thanksgiving is almost here. While Thanksgiving can be a great holiday for spending time with family and enjoying delicious food, it can be a source of stress for many people, especially those with a history of eating disorders or body image issues.
This is especially true for children and teenagers. Statistics show that about 50% of 13-year-old American girls report being unhappy with their bodies, and that number jumps to nearly 80% by age 17.
While unrealistic images on social media and in magazines are partly to blame, conversations about food and bodies at home have an impact on how teens and young adults view themselves. youth in their bodies.
On a food and family holiday like Thanksgiving, it’s important to be mindful of how we talk about food and the body, especially in front of children.
We sat down with Zoë Bisbing, the founder of Body Positive Therapy NYC and talked about how we can be more mindful about how we talk about food and bodies on Thanksgiving and how to create a more body positive environment at home throughout the year.
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There are two major factors that can make Thanksgiving a difficult holiday when it comes to body image: family and food. Bisbing says the amount of emotion that comes up around food and family can make Thanksgiving “a minefield,” especially for people with a history of body image issues or unhealthy eating.
“If kids grow up in a family where bodies are always talked about or diet is always talked about,” Bisbing said. “Then the family doesn’t always feel like a very safe place to go with feelings of discomfort or insecurity about the body.”
While Thanksgiving is quintessentially a holiday about gathering with family and feasting, “we live in a somewhat chaotic culture where not all people feel very comfortable sitting down for a big meal.” and enjoy themselves,” said Bisbing. “A lot of people experience a lot of guilt and shame about eating or don’t feel comfortable eating with their families.”
With this combination of food and family, Thanksgiving can be a setting for “emotional arrows,” as Bisbing calls them, to fly.
Often, this takes the form of elderly relatives commenting on how children’s bodies are changing. Regardless of whether comments like these are positive or negative, Bisbing says they are harmful because they often reinforce the idea that fat is bad and thin is good. They also increase body awareness in all people, regardless of age.
These emotional arrows can also take the form of food-related comments. Many of these comments are connected to food culture, a set of beliefs that associate thinness with moral value.
“It’s like second nature for people to say things like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so full. I need to exercise,’” Bisbing said. “Just some negative comments, or just, even if they’re trying to enjoy themselves, commenting on what they have to do to make up for it.”
Comments like this can be harmful, especially for children to hear, because they push the idea that enjoying food is something that should come with guilt, rather than pleasure and satisfaction.
“There are a lot of comments flying around about, ‘oh my gosh, what I did was so bad and rude,’ which just sends a message that somehow there is shame or morality in food, where it has no place,” Bisbing said. saying.
What Can Parents Do to Shift Conversations About Food and the Body at Thanksgiving?
Being more conscious about how you talk about food doesn’t mean you have to avoid the topic altogether.
“We want to remove food talk because it can fit into a diet mentality,” Bisbing said. This can be seen as “removing the conversation that suggests there is a risk in eating the food,” says Bisbing.
Instead, talking about Thanksgiving food can focus on the rich sensory experience that food can have.
“Helping children of all ages gain food acceptance skills and food appreciation skills, food literacy skills, getting kids involved in cooking is hugely positive for their bodies. own right,” said Bisbing.
Bisbing said Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to build these skills in children.
“Thankful, especially for all the flavors and traditions that, hopefully, are wrapped in those, there are many memories to give to your child,” said Bisbing.
Avoiding talking about bodies on Thanksgiving can be difficult, especially when you add relatives to the mix. But there are still ways you can shift the conversation and keep your kids safe, even when relatives are involved.
The key is to be effective interpersonally and know who you are talking to.
“Your 99-year-old grandmother probably won’t engage you in a conversation about body positivity and eating disorder risk,” says Bisbing. “You don’t have to teach an old dog new tricks.”
In examples like this, the best solution is to protect your child from that person, especially if the person is at risk of throwing a dart without knowing it.
“Sometimes it has to be as drastic as taking your child away from a particular person without much interaction,” Bisbing said.
For other family members, you can get ahead of the issue by talking first about how your family learned about the importance of body positivity and asking them to tone down the body language.
Whichever route you take, Bisbing said the key is to use interpersonal skills effectively to set boundaries “with trust and compassion.”
How can parents foster a positive body environment outside of the holidays?
Establishing a culture of body positivity at home starts before Thanksgiving. One way to do this is to minimize how often your family talks about bodies.
“Can you turn that down a little and turn up the volume to talk about people’s insides?” Bisbing said.
You can also increase the representation of different bodies in your home through books and art.
“Make sure you have some kind of body positive visuals so your kids are growing up in an environment where they can see normal bodies looking all kinds of ways,” Bisbing said.