December 1, 2022

Eating Disorder Recovery During the Holidays: How Do You Respond When Someone Talks About Weight?

How do I tell my family to stop commenting on my weight?

Whether it’s you who’s receiving triggering comments about your weight or your child is, it’s important to shut this type of talk down. Comments about weight send the wrong message, and research shows that hurtful weight-related comments made by family members are linked to the development of eating disorders.

If your child already lives with an eating disorder, it becomes even more important to learn how to navigate these harmful comments.

Of course, negative comments about weight can trigger a lot of emotional distress for most people, including those with eating disorders. For example, comments like: “Is that all you’re going to eat?” or “You better get on a diet starting tomorrow!” can wreak havoc on a young person’s self-esteem, especially if they’re in recovery from an eating disorder.

But well-intentioned “compliments” about weight can be triggering, too. For example, comments like, “You look so skinny and great!” or “You look so much healthier with the extra weight you’ve gained,” when your child is recovering from an eating disorder, may trigger a desire to relapse. 

Lastly, comments don’t have to be directed at the person with an eating disorder to be upsetting. Many people talk negatively about their own bodies. You might hear comments from family members like, “This pie is going straight to my thighs.” Although these self-directed comments may be harder to control, they may unwittingly convey the message that we should be thinking about our weight at all times.

When these topics of conversation come up, use your best judgment as to how to address them. Sometimes, assertive and firm boundary-setting may be necessary. At other times, it may be best to simply ignore these comments.

If you’re the parent of someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, talk with your child before the holidays to come up with a plan about how you can respond (or not respond), together, to comments like these.

Use assertive language

First of all, don’t be afraid to use assertive language when shutting comments about weight down. Assertiveness is often described as the middle road between aggressive and passive communication, and is known to reduce stress and make it easier to communicate your needs. Learning how to communicate assertively can also help you (or your child) feel more empowered and improve your self-esteem.

For example, let’s say a relative makes the comment: “You’ve gained a lot of weight since I saw you last year.” 

An aggressive response might be: “You’re a terrible person for saying something like that.”

A passive response might to not respond at all, or saying something to appease the family member like, “You’re right, I really need to lose weight.”

An assertive response communicates your needs and opinion in a respectful but direct way. Some examples of assertive responses in this scenario could be:

  • “I would prefer you not to make comments like those anymore.”
  • “Please stop talking about my weight.”
  • “I’ve decided not to focus so much on my weight, and I’m asking you to respect me and do the same.”
  • “It hurts my feelings when you make comments like that. Please don’t do it again.”

Set clear boundaries

You can also set clear boundaries around comments about weight, and communicate these boundaries before the event to prevent any misunderstandings.

Talk with your child about what rules and boundaries they’d like respected. For example, maybe they’re uncomfortable with any talk about weight or body image at all. Or maybe they’re okay with their family members asking them about how their treatment is going.

Communicate these boundaries clearly to your family members before the meal. Be clear about what the consequences will be if these boundaries are broken. For example: “If someone comments on my daughter’s weight, we will no longer engage that conversation. If they continue to do it, they will be asked to leave our home.”

Ignore them or step away

If your family members refuse to respect your boundaries, it may become necessary to leave the room (or the event itself) to protect your child.

You can also decide, with your child, when it may be appropriate to ignore these comments. If your child is uncomfortable with confronting these types of comments head-on (and would prefer you not to engage in arguments either), give them permission to step away or go to another room. They should feel free to engage – or not engage – these comments in a way that makes them comfortable.

Other ways of ignoring comments like these include tuning relatives out, putting in their headphones, or turning to another conversation.

Foster empathy

Lastly, remember to be compassionate with yourself, whether you are recovering from an eating disorder or you’re parenting someone who is. Responding to comments like these, in a society with rampant diet culture, is hard – and you’re doing the best you can. You may not respond to these comments in the exact way you’d planned to – and that's okay.

Although it isn’t required of you, it might also help to foster empathy for others in the room as well. People making these types of comments have likely been brought up the toxicity of diet culture themselves, and may feel unable to develop a healthier relationship with food. Learn when these comments aren’t intended to cause harm, while also not letting them slide.

Eating disorder treatment in Bellevue

Our eating disorder treatment program for teens specializes in helping young people recover from all types of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, and ARFID. 

When it comes to eating disorder treatment for teens, it’s important that the program is developmentally appropriate for this age group. At Cadence Therapy, we involve the family in teens’ treatment every step of the way – because that’s what the research indicates is most effective.

Our eating disorder treatment facility in Bellevue is conveniently located near the I-405 and SR-520; we also work with patients from Seattle, Mercer Island, Kirkland, and Redmond.

Give us a call or fill out our interest form to learn more about our eating disorder program for teens. 

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