How to Deal With Unsolicited Comments About Diet This Holiday Season

Family holiday dinner

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The holidays are a time meant for enjoying friends, family, and festivities. For most people, these festivities include food and drink. No matter what eating choices you're making, sometimes others make comments or ask questions that are not easy to answer.

Holiday dining is handled differently depending on the individual. Some people choose to change up habits during the holidays, while others might want to maintain their regular eating patterns. How you choose to eat is a personal choice. Sometimes you may not even think about how you are eating until an unwanted comment arises. If you find yourself in these situations, it's helpful to have some straightforward replies in mind.

You never have to explain your food choices to anyone. The way you choose to eat is a personal decision that no one is entitled to. However, if you want to have open discourse with people questioning your choices, some strategies can help.

Prepare Beforehand

One of the best ways to reduce potential conflicts or awkward conversations about your eating choices is to prepare your family or friends before getting together. Letting your hosts or guests know that you are committing to a certain eating style, if that is the case, will eliminate any surprises. One of the best ways to do this is to simply state the facts in an excited and unapologetic tone while offering to bring a dish.

"The more you express yourself prior to the event, the less you’ll have to feel like 'defending yourself' during it, leaving you more time to focus on food and spending time with loved ones," says Dr. Andreas Michaelides, Chief of Psychology for Noom.

For instance, if you are vegan, offer to bring a plant-based dish. This is a great way to inform the host of your choices—while you might not eat all of the options on the table, there will likely be plenty you can enjoy. They may offer to make an extra vegan-friendly dish as well!

Be sure to let people know that you do not expect them to accommodate you but that you will provide your own dishes to share any additional planning or work. Thank them for understanding and move on. There’s no reason to ask permission or explain your choices any further if you don’t want to.

Dr. Andreas Michaelides

The more you express yourself prior to the event, the less you’ll have to feel like 'defending yourself' during it, leaving you more time to focus on food and spending time with loved ones.

— Dr. Andreas Michaelides

Avoid Being Defensive

If snide remarks or insults regarding your food choices surface during gatherings, try to avoid becoming hostile or defensive. After all, this type of reaction is likely what the person is aiming for. Instead, reply with a positive comment about how your choices have been working for you.

People won't always understand or agree with your choices, and that's ok. You don't have to change their minds. It's easy to internalize other people's judgments, but know that they are not a reflection of who you are.

Dr. Andreas Michaelides

Before a gathering, practice what you may say to someone who confronts you. Prepare a script. This may be as simple as saying, 'no, thank you' repeatedly, or you could deescalate the situation by telling a joke. The main idea is to come up with a plan ahead of time so you are not caught off guard.

— Dr. Andreas Michaelides

Ask for Support

When someone questions your food choices, replying with a request for support might simultaneously throw them off guard and make them feel less inclined to be combative. After all, it would be difficult for most people to outright refuse to support you when you ask for it, especially in a social setting.

It’s wise to provide some context for how your friend or family member can support you. Start by letting them know that underhanded comments and questions that seek to make you feel defensive are not wanted. 

Explain how your friend or family member can support you instead, such as stopping others from making comments, refraining from pressuring you or second-guessing your decisions, or asking different questions that are more positive and genuine.

Decide the Topic is Off-Limits

If fielding comments and questions about your food choices is not something you want to do, you can always tell people that the topic is off-limits. When the situation arises where you’re being pressured to defend or explain yourself, just state that you’d rather not talk about it. 

A simple way to do this is by replying to any dissenting comments or questions by saying "let's not get into that now." If discussing the topic at another time and setting is an option, then you can add "I'd love to have an open discussion with you about this at another time."

After making that clear, ask an upbeat personal question about lower risk topics, like new movies or future travel plans. This will often be enough to signal that bringing up your food choices is not an options, and you will not participate in conversations focused on the topic.

Setting boundaries with your friends and family is a healthy choice. Although maintaining your boundaries can feel stressful, they are a necessary part of a healthy relationship. Healthy boundary formation includes not compromising your values for others.

A Word From Verywell

Your personal decisions regarding your eating habits are just that—personal. You do not have to explain or defend yourself to anyone. That being said, there are times when you may wish to open discourse about your choices in an effort to garner support and understanding.

While this may be difficult, remember that setting boundaries and expecting support are aspects of healthy relationship building. Opening up honestly and confidently about your eating choices can also have its benefits by allowing discourse to begin, creating more understanding, and diffusing conflict.

You may be surprised when more of your friends and family are more open and supportive at the next gathering because you were brave enough to provide an example.

1 Source
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  1. Berkeley University Health Services. What Are Personal Boundaries?. 2016.

By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.