A friend of mine told me a curious story this week: Her preschool-aged daughter brought home an Amish friendship bread starter, a classroom-wide gift from her teacher. The recipe included items she doesn’t keep in the house and required bread-making skills.
The expectation, of course, was that each child’s parent(s) would hunt down the proper ingredients and learn any skills needed to teach their child how to make bread. With no notice, during the holiday season, before the starter exploded from the confines of its Mason jar.
My friend appreciated the thought that went into the gift — from a young teacher who’s passionate about baking — but wasn’t thrilled to have this extra burden.
Mixed Feelings Are Okay!
This is the conflicting nature of the holidays for so many of us. A season that “should” be joyful becomes an obligation to appear joyful while staggering under a stack of expectations, emotional labor and extra duties. For many who’ve experienced losses, trauma or tragedy around the holidays, an extra box of grief gets added to the pile.
That’s not to say that the holidays suck for everyone, or that they suck all the time for those with mixed feelings. I might enjoy a holiday karaoke night with friends and utterly dread going to a family gathering the next day (or vice versa).
For many of us, family is where the expectation boxes start piling up in our arms. For some of us, the holidays look like this:
- Eating a smaller amount than desired at a holiday dinner to prevent remarks on our body size or food preferences
- Appearing alone at holiday gatherings to prevent a “non-traditional” significant other from having to deal with negative reactions from our family members or work colleagues
- Arranging family events that we know we won’t enjoy, because our family expects us to
- Cooking more food than we can reasonably be expected to cook, without sufficient help
- Scrambling to buy, write, address and send out dozens of holiday cards so no one’s feelings are hurt
- Being overwhelmed for months on end
Shades of Tinsel: It’s Not Just “Cut Them Off” or “Put Up With It”
Holidays are also when cultural and social norms are instilled and heavily reinforced. That means those of us who live in fat bodies, or are LGBT+, are pretty likely to face a lot of criticism in spaces that should be joyful and warm and welcome.
It’s easy to say “well, just cut those toxic family members out of your life.” Real life, of course, is more complex than that. You can love your uncle and enjoy his company, and still wish he didn’t make a negative comment on your weight once per visit. You can wish your parents would accept your gender preferences without wanting to cut them out of your life. You can love your family and yet not want to hear a constant string of comments that make you feel alone and defensive, or listen to long conversations full of diet talk.
For folks who were raised in an environment where they weren’t allowed to develop or set boundaries, the holidays add yet another box to the now-teetering stack:
- Am I allowed to attend a holiday gathering and expect not to hear negative comments about my body?
- Is it okay to expect my family members to respect my life decisions and not force me to defend those decisions every time I see them?
- How on earth do I go from feeling beaten down after every holiday to being okay while still being able to see my family?
40+ Resources for Holiday Boundary Setting and Self Care
If you’ve ever said “I hate Christmas,” or “I feel like I should be happier during the holidays,” I’ve got your back — whether you choose to (or even want to!) celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, solstice, New Year’s, or just would prefer it all to go away.
You deserve to have a holiday season that’s happy, not a punishment for being you. For the many, many of us who struggle at the holidays, here are some of the best resources on how to set boundaries, take care of ourselves, and know when to draw the line during the holidays.
For Those Who Live in Large Bodies, or are Fat or Superfat
“I am seeing a ton of food shaming, food policing, and food moralizing. All of this is crap.” My Dogs Help You Tell The Food Police To Take A Holiday
The Faces discuss strategies for getting through the holiday season without flipping the dinner table at Aunt Betty’s house. Episode 16: Fat for the Holidays
“Comments like this can rattle and shatter us, especially if our body image has been shaky for years.” Navigating Rude Food and Weight-Related Remarks at Your Holiday Meal
“The Holidays are Coming” is one third of the Dieting Axis of Evil along with “New Years Resolutions” and “Bikini Season is Coming.” The Worst Holiday Diet Tips
“For the most part, I find people can learn to respect the boundaries we set about talking about (or choosing not to talk about) our weight. After all, our bodies are our business, and not anyone else’s. But there are always those few people who find it their “moral obligation” to police our bodies.” Do I owe it to anybody to lose weight?
“Let me suggest that you don’t have to put up with weight shame (during holidays you celebrate or any other time). You don’t have to put up with body snarking, body stigma, or concern trolling. You don’t have to allow a running commentary on your body, health, or food choices from anyone. You don’t have to accept treatment you don’t like because people are your family, friends, or because they “mean well”. And you don’t have to internalize other people’s bullshit, you don’t have to buy into the thin=better/healthier/prettier paradigm or be preached at by people who do.” Combating Holiday Weight Shame
For Those Who are Sad or Grieving
“Ultimately, I’m writing to you, who for a million different reasons find peace difficult to come by in a time when it’s supposed to be plentiful.” To Those Who Struggle This Christmas
“The holidays are unbearable for so many people and I don’t want you to ever feel alone in this. Here’s a list of hotlines with someone just waiting to talk to you on the other end.” The Militant Baker
“It’s okay to have an unhappy holiday. Just because all is merry and bright around you, doesn’t mean your feelings have to match. If you’re depressed, be depressed. You can be blue when everyone else has donned green and red—or silver and gold.” Depressed During the Holidays
For Those with Eating Disorders
“Let’s make one thing clear: All eating should be guilt free, because all foods are guilt free. However, I understand that this is often not what we are taught, and we can end up with so much shame around eating during the holidays.” FREE Ultimate Guide to Guilt Free Holiday Eating
“Surviving the holidays when you have an eating disorder is not always easy. If you are like many of my clients you are not looking forward to the holiday parties, events, dinners, and plans. I have some tips to help you survive the holidays if you have an eating disorder.” Eating Disorder Holiday Survival Guide
“Here are some tips to enjoy the holidays and the special foods they bring, without all the stress and chaos that you may have experienced in past years.” 6 Sane Holiday Eating Tips
“You can’t take care of everyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first. You’re just going to burn yourself out, and you won’t be able to enjoy all those happy holiday moments you work so hard to create.” How to Get Through the Holidays Without Losing Your Mind
“Have you ever insisted, “Uncle just got here—go give him a big hug!” or “Auntie gave you that nice toy, go give her a kiss,” when you were worried your child might not offer affection on her own? If yes, you might want to reconsider the urge to do that in the future.” Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.
For Those Who are Overwhelmed
“Often, families at this time of year consist of a variety of personalities, values, and beliefs. Sometimes those beliefs are outdated and downright damaging. But we’re expected to remain silent (especially women!) and “just try to enjoy the holiday!” So what exactly are we getting together to celebrate here? If we have to just shut up and sit down for this shit, we become part of our own oppression. Wait! Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating togetherness?!” When “The Holidays” are Triggering…or worse!
“We can fight this, resent our lot in life, and hate ourselves – but in battle of You vs. Yourself, you will always lose. (These odds are never in your favor.) We can also make the conscious choice to make room for our SPD at the proverbial holiday table. Move over, Great Aunt Mildred. Watch out, carved turkey. I’m a’comin’!” Surviving the Holidays with Sensory Processing Disorder
For Those with Anxiety
“The holiday season can feel fraught with overwhelm, tricky conversations, and the huge weight of internal and external expectations. To support you in showing up for your life differently this holiday season, I recorded this short episode to remind you that you are allowed to take care of yourself, set and maintain appropriate boundaries, and say no (especially when you really really really want to).” needy 27: daily reminders for a joyful holiday season
“While enjoying these moments, I am also struggling with the darkness inside that comes along with the shorter days. My impulse is to burrow deep and rest until spring awakens the earth again. But until January comes there is simply too much to do. Thus I have come up with some strategies to help me get through this time of both light and dark.” Holiday Stress: Five Ways to Manage the Chaos that Comes with the Holidays
“The holidays are full of joy and cheer. Unless they’re not. For people with anxiety and depression, the holidays can be pretty miserable, leaving them looking for some kind of relief. If you’re the type to suffer from the holiday blues, there are ways to get through the season without a great deal of suffering.” Have a Strategy: 6 Steps to Ease Social Anxiety This Holiday Season
For Those Learning Boundaries
“These sorts of comments (not to mention the unspoken judgmental stares or side-eye glances) are clearly customary for tons of people but they aren’t the only thing that can make visiting home/people you haven’t seen in a while/relatives difficult. I have a few simple tips for you if you’re feeling anxiety around this holiday season while preparing for a visit.” THREE PRINTABLE SIGNS (+ TIPS) THAT WILL MAKE YOUR HOLIDAYS MORE ENJOYABLE
“For me the secret is boundaries. I think it’s best to start by deciding what constitutes behavior that you will put up with. If it’s anything other than “anything goes” then I would consider setting some boundaries with consequences that you can follow through with.” Setting Boundaries At the Holidays – In Song!
“I’m writing you now because a holiday visit is looming and I’m either going to spend it miserably, silently tamping down my frustration yet again, or completely losing my shit. How do I get her to see that her “interest” is actually an unhealthy obsession?” Holidays in “Health” Hell
“During no time of the year do body boundaries become more difficult to maintain than the holidays. Just like Santa, so too do your rights to privacy and dignity suddenly become a magical fantasy. It turns out that you have the right to boundaries all-year round, not just the months when we’re not wearing cable knit sweaters.” Take The Cake: 4 Body Boundary Tips For The Holidays
“When we do this work, we remain surrounded by diet culture. We may find little enclaves where we are insulated from it, but at the end of the day we still have to go to the office, hang out with friends, have family gatherings, etc. Diet culture is right there waiting for us when we leave our cozy body positive cocoons. How’s a person to deal? Try this advice on for size.” Coping when your friends, colleagues, and family are still dieting
“Setting your intentions in preparation for a family visit is key in helping you stay grounded and calm. This is all about identifying values, creating goals, and using coping skills when things get sticky.” 3 Nourishing Ways to Navigate Family Visits During the Holidays
For Those Who Want to Change
“Because we largely can’t understand the details of another person’s relationship with food, the best practice is a simple one: Don’t offer unsolicited commentary on the food that is or isn’t on someone else’s plate this holiday season.” Laura Steinkoenig
“I’m telling you this because if you’re not fat, you may never see this commentary, and you may not understand that people you love may be secretly terrified to go home because of how often it’s reinforced in both direct and indirect ways that their kind of body is deemed unworthy of existing. And it’s made extra hurtful because the ones doing this are people who are supposed to love them; and they don’t even know the damage they’re doing.” Deborah Ackerman
“Below are 50 things that we can chat about instead, things that strengthen our connection with others on many different levels, things that are serious, and things that are silly, things that are big, and things that seem small.” 50 Things To Talk About Besides Dieting or Your Weight
“We’ve all been there: Someone we know is suffering, and we’re not sure what to do.” Christmas blues: Four mistakes we make when comforting friends who are struggling
“Today I wanted to take a second to talk directly to fat shamers, accidental fat shamers, and potential fat shamers – however well meaning they may be – about how they can stop the problem before it even starts at the holidays, and all year long!” Here’s How to NOT Ruin The Holidays For Fat People
“She has already started to question me, she senses something is amiss. She has asked why her aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are so concerned with diets and losing weight and changing their bodies. She hears you talk about not eating bread or cake or limiting your portions or going for a run to work something off. She hears you say you want a large piece of cake but will take the small one. She hears your partners tell you – yes, you should definitely take the small one and it doesn’t even phase her when she should be horrified that someone would tell someone else what to eat.” Dear Family Members during the Holidays
“Of course, there can be lots of joy and wonder and magic in the hustle and bustle. The key is to remember yourself, too: to acknowledge that you also deserve caring even when things get hectic, even during a season of giving. Because it’s hard to give when you’re empty, exhausted, and annoyed.” Caring for Yourself Over The Holidays
“I have created a Holistic Nourishment Checklist & Personalized Self-Care Plan for you. It is 8 pages of information, checklists and a self-care plan template to help with your relationships to self, body and each other, as well as to support your journey to holistic wellness this holiday season and beyond.” Free Holistic Nourishment Checklist
“My point is that holidays are hard as fuck for some of us. And that is okay. It isn’t our fault. It isn’t something that we need to be filled with shame about. It isn’t something that we can fix in ourselves nor that we need to.” Holidays are hard AF.
“Diet and weight talk is unhelpful for everyone. It can be harmful for people in recovery from eating disorders, for children, and for pretty much anyone who is trying to have a healthy relationship to food and their body. It’s also just boring. As an eating disorder and body image therapist, the following are a few tips for dealing with the inevitable “diet” and “weight” talk this Thanksgiving.” Tips for Dealing with Diet and Weight Talk Over The Holidays
“Instead of focusing on diet-saturated tips and tricks, and fear and numbers, focus on what kind of holiday you’d like to experience. What are you most excited about? What memories would you like to make? What traditions would you like to start or continue? What would you like to savor? What brings you joy?” Savoring the Holiday Season on Your Own Terms
“Aunt Ethel, I know you comment on my weight because you think it’s helpful, but it’s not, and I need you to stop doing that.” The Non-Dieter’s Holiday Survival Guide
“Learn how to set stress-free physical activity goals that help you make the most of the holiday season.” Mindfully Active Goals for the Holidays
“Today, I want to reach out and invite you to think about shifting your self-care a bit to support you right now. It still needs to be on your list – your “this is non-negotiable” list – even as you wrap presents and bake cookies and run to the store yet again and how the list goes on and on. Here are a few ideas to help you think about ways to practice self-care right now. Choose just one from this list to try. Or let these ideas be a springboard for your own.” 10 ways to practice self-care at the holidays
And finally, a Christmas classic that makes me howl with laughter every time I re-read it. “The year I learned that Christmas did not, in fact, originate as a celebration of my amazing ability to temporarily transform into a “good” child for a few weeks was the year my grandparents took me to see their church’s nativity play.” The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas
Tell Me About It
Have your own holiday self-care and boundary-setting tips to share? Are there links I should add to this list? Drop your wisdom in the comments, please!
Looking for some body-positive folks to hang out with virtually over the holidays? Join us in the Body Love Blanket Fort, my free and body-safe Facebook group.