Soter: America Has a Problem with Food During the Holidays


(Photo by Nicole Michalou | Courtesy Pexels)

By Theadora Soter, Multimedia Managing Editor


I’ve spent Thanksgiving out of state with extended family for as long as I can remember. We cook, we laugh and we watch football. But this past November, I recognized we also spend a lot of time talking about food — and not in a positive way. Between the comments about skipping carbs prior to the Thursday feast and the diets that would start when Friday came, I realized that my family had fallen victim to America’s toxic food culture. And after some light research, it became apparent that we aren’t alone. This holiday season — and all seasons to come — younger generations have a chance to change the nation’s narrative surrounding food.

America and Food

Historically, the United States’ culture has always had a difficult relationship with food and weight gain. Take La Parle’s obesity soap that came out in 1903, or the 1920s “reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet” tobacco campaign. There’s also the 1950s cabbage soup diet that my dad still partakes in today. Whatever period you look at, diet culture has clearly always had a strong thread in America’s tapestry.

Today, dieting is a $71 billion industry. But instead of making a profit for specific businesses like Atkins or Weight Watchers, today’s dieting focuses more on the individual. For example, there’s the tea advertised all over the internet as the thing that took 40 pounds from Khloe Kardashian. Ironically, influencers that profit from diet culture, such as the Kardashians, are also the faces of the body positivity movement that exists today. This hypocrisy forces us to question the intention of the body positivity movement that overwhelms our social media feeds and Aerie dressing rooms.

The body positivity movement functions on conditionality. You can only feel good about your body if you have fat in certain places and muscle in others. Women feel the need to change aspects of their bodies to love them. And they change those aspects by once again giving into the diet culture that has largely shaped our society.

Thankfully, the damaging contingencies that body positivity campaigns depend on have received backlash. This response highlights the long road that lies ahead to fix our attitudes surrounding body image — and so do the statistics. At the beginning of 2021, a reported 30 million Americans lived with an eating disorder. And as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to spike, so do eating disorder hospitalizations. Because food relationships get even more complicated during the holiday season, it’s important now more than ever to be mindful of this correlation while celebrating with family.

Food During the Holidays

It’s no secret that Americans celebrate with food, with all the holiday recipes, treats on doorsteps and indulgent feasts proving this. Americans are also looked down upon by society for gaining any noticeable amount of weight. The judgment we place on people because of their weight creates serious inequity in very real ways. Surprisingly, weight discrimination is legal in the workplace in 49 states. And 40% of U.S. adults report that they experienced weight discrimination during their lives.

The nation’s weight discrimination causes a lot of anxiety during the holiday season. We’ve all heard the rumors that the average American gains 10 pounds from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, but this is blatantly false. The average American actually only gains one pound during the holidays. But even if the rumors were true, weight gain should not warrant comments. Weight is a good thing because food is a good thing.

This sentiment rings especially true after 2020’s holiday season when the idea of celebrating with loved ones seemed impossible. Instead of family meals and homemade candies, I spent last year eating Chinese takeout at my house — alone. This year, we have the chance to make the holiday season about indulgence, joy and family once again.

What We Can Do

When you think about the people talking about food during the holidays it’s usually aunts, grandmas and creepy great uncles. As the incoming generation, we have a chance to shy away from these conversations during the holidays and all year round. We can help cultivate a healthy food relationship in younger siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews.

Negative comments about weight gain or food indulgence lead to decreased self-esteem — a common cause of depression. But beyond the real mental health impacts conversations about food and weight gain cause, there’s also the potential of pain that can damage needed relationships.

Discourage your loved ones from talking about weight and food this holiday season. Remind them that whoever they are talking to or about is worth much more than the food on their plate and the size of their pants. And if it’s you making the comments, remind yourself.

America’s struggle with food will not be solved this holiday season. Vanity will continue to drive diet culture’s sales and people will continue to fall victim to the toxic conversations surrounding food. But with a little more awareness, we can dissuade loved ones from these traps and encourage conversations about what the holiday season is about — whatever that might be for you.


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