Cover Your Mouth!: Disordered Eating is a Communicatable Disease

The seasons are changing, and it’s that time of year when we have to start being extra-careful about our immunity.

And I’m not just talking about the flu–I’m talking about body image issues.

In case you weren’t aware, disordered eating is a communicable disease–or, perhaps I should say it’s a communicatable disease. It’s not the kind of disease that’s spread by hugging–on the contrary, hugs are an essential daily vitamin that can help you build your immunity. It’s the kind of disease that spreads from person to person through negative self-talk, marketing ploys, and cultural habits.

Every year during this time our attention turns to America’s favorite past time: coming up with an excuse for eating and then coming up with an excuse for punishing ourselves for eating.

And every year during this time, our TVs, radios, blog feeds, and social media networks turn into a giant discussion about how to binge, how to stop bingeing, and how to make up for bingeing once the season is over. This is the time of year when it seems like you can’t have a conversation about anything without bringing up who’s eating what, where, and when, and how you’ll be doing penance for it.

It’s in the national media, and it’s also close to home. For example, just two days ago, during my 2 minute savasana at my yoga studio, one of the newer yoga teachers said in her soothing “savasana” voice (and I’m loosely quoting, because I wasn’t taking notes while lying in corpse pose), “The holidays are coming. And you’re going to eat a lot. But you will come back to yoga, and you will get back in shape.”

[Insert sound of a record scratching here.]

Um, what?


How about, “The holidays are coming, and you’re going to spend lots of quality time with people you love. Food and exercise may be involved, but they’re not all that important in the grand scheme of things?”

Or, “The holidays are coming, and if you do choose to fixate on food, know that you’re not alone, and that you don’t have to punish yourself with exercise to make up for it. Throw away your scale and do yoga because it feels good?”

Or even, “The holidays are coming, and it can be difficult to be around food and family members and stressful situations. Keep coming back to yoga because it will give you the tools you need to stay mind-full and avoid stuffing yourself belly-full out of frustration or stress?”

Look, I know that there’s little I can say in this one blog that’s going to get the Today Show to stop showing you segments about how to cook a 5000 calorie Thanksgiving and then burn off a 5000 calorie Thanksgiving, or TV commercials to stop glorifying disordered eating behaviors (like fixating on or sneaking food), or the inevitable “January 1 is coming so eat while you can but save your money for a gym membership” magazine ads.


That said, change has to start somewhere–and it can start with YOU.

If you want to have a happy and healthy holiday season, then it’s up to YOU to start changing the way YOU talk about food with family and friends.

No, you may not be able to get your yoga teacher to keep your savasana sacred, but when the ladies in the locker room are talking about how fat they already feel because they’re anticipating the holiday binge, you can choose not to participate–and, even better, change the subject by asking them who they’ll be celebrating with or where they’ll be traveling.

As soon as food or exercise comes up as the topic of conversation, YOU have a choice to change the channel, leave the room, or redirect the conversation. And if you’re stuck on your yoga mat, you can choose not to listen–or, do what I did, and focus instead on the upcoming asanas (or yoga poses), which you want to try to work on.

Whatever you do: Don’t feed the negativity about feeding!

Even if you don’t have an eating disorder, if you’re a member of the western culture and even marginally exposed to our cultural practices around the fall/winter holiday season, then you have plenty of opportunities to be exposed to the communicatable disease that is disordered eating.

Just as you can spread a cold when you forget to cover your mouth when you cough, so can you spread disordered eating and exercise behaviors when you choose to indulge in the negative body talk about indulging during the holidays.

Build up your immunity now by practicing the following:

  • Worried about bingeing on once-a-year foods? Cook a dish or two now, and enjoy it on a random week night so you can remember that Thanksgiving or Christmas (or whatever holiday you’re celebrating) is not the only time you’ll have access to that food.
  • Make a list of non-food or gym-based activities that you’re looking forward to participating in from now through January. Use that list to redirect the conversation when friends or family (or you!) start fixating on food.
  • Get a notebook or a piece of paper, and put a check mark every time you catch yourself saying something negative about your body in anticipation of the holiday season. About the chime in on that “I can eat less and exercise more” conversation with your girlfriends? Check it off. Mind racing with anxiety when a stuffing commercial comes on? Check it off. The benefits are two fold: over time, you’ll be able to start unconsciously making the catches, AND you’ll be able to mindfully redirect your thought process with positive self-talk.
  • Be honest with friends and family: ask them not to make a big deal about food and exercise in conversation. You’re allowed to set healthy boundaries, and as long as you’re being respectful in how you ask (i.e. don’t attack them for bringing up the leftover situation), you can help condition those with whom you spend your time to notice when they’re engaging in triggering conversation as well.
  • Remind yourself that a holiday feast is just another meal. Allow yourself to savor the foods you don’t normally eat, but remember to spend time savoring the company you’re in as well. You’ll spend less time gorging (or restricting but fixating) on the sweet potatoes if you’re having a great conversation with your family and friends.

You don’t have to worry yourself sick over your food and exercise situation this holiday season. Change the way you communicate, and in turn, those around you might follow suit.

And, just in case, make sure you’re getting plenty of vitamin H* in the meantime.

Stay hungry,


*Hugs, obviously.

7 thoughts on “Cover Your Mouth!: Disordered Eating is a Communicatable Disease

  1. Great entry! I’m noticing it around campus already, everyone talking about leaving for thanksgiving and “packing on a few pounds” over the break, or how they’re going to “watch what they eat” out of fear of gaining a little weight, or how they’re starting to go to the gym now to preempt the holiday eating. I really try to ignore it, because one of my goals for this holiday season is to truly enjoy it, and not wind up having a panic attack or crying like I have for the past few years. I just want to enjoy finally being home with my family, WITHOUT the emphasis on food or exercise.

    • It’s scary how ubiquitous it is, especially on college campuses…it starts in October and lasts through spring break…stay strong and keep ignoring it–because you know that there’s so much more to value in life (especially at this time in your life) than the food chatter.

  2. My friend planned Thanksgiving, specifically for me. Just a few people, just a few foods. She’s worked really hard to make the eating part safe for me so I can just enjoy the holiday and our time together like everyone else.

  3. Agree completely – the last couple of years I have spent time with friends over Christmas in a very positive environment regarding food and exercise. A walk before dinner because that’s a nice thing to do, no comments about ‘earning’ the meal. Everyone’s favourite foods cooked and shared.

    This year, I’ll be seeing my family which is a little less straight-forward

    Oh dear, your yoga teacher could do with taking some advice from mine who last night encouraged us to repeat to ourselves ‘May I take care of myself joyfully’.

    • Ah, I wish I could import some of your yoga teacher’s wisdom! It’s funny, because I’ve taken a couple of classes with this new teacher, and I usually really like what she has to say (she even does a “be present in your body” exercise in the beginning of class that most teachers don’t do)…but that just stuck in my craw. I think that most people just don’t even realize that the weight loss culture has so taken over our mindsets that there’s no way of separating it from our language without being really conscious of it.

      I hope that all goes well with your family holidays 🙂

  4. Pingback: Healing Our Thoughts, Words, and Actions with Kaila Prins

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