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The Gentleman’s Guide to Dieting When You’re Home for the Holidays

The holidays can be a trying time for anyone trying to maintain a strict diet and fitness regimen. Every event is centered around drinking booze and overeating, and the sheer number of events makes it nearly impossible to keep a steady gym schedule.

But for many people, the worst part of dieting during the holidays isn’t the temptation of Christmas cookies and eggnog—t’s dealing with your fucking family.

If you come from a family like mine — where family members keep track of, and feel free to openly question and comment on each other’s eating habits — maintaining a diet means having to explain and defend yourself.

I vividly remember trying to cut weight for football as a kid and my mom deeming it necessary to announce that fact to everyone at a barbecue. Or my grandparents essentially force-feeding me chili and Hershey’s chocolate every time I visited — offering me food until I’d finally break down and accept their hospitality.

This might be because we hail from the Midwest, where people equate food with love, and every dish is a casserole smothered in processed cheese, and dieting is seen as an affront to a person’s way of life. But it’s not something unique to my family. For some reason, many people feel entitled to comment on what their loved ones eat.

But whatever their reason, it’s annoying as hell — and flat-out rude. And being the recipient of such attention can be immensely frustrating. That’s why I’ve arranged this gentleman’s guide on how to deal with the familial side of dieting.

Don’t Say Anything

Your best bet for avoiding the dreaded diet conversation is to not mention it at all, and simply hope no one else notices. You simply make yourself a plate of the few healthful options available, eat it and go about your business. This is easier said than done, however, especially if you’re part of a family that takes food very seriously and monitors each person’s consumption. In that case, you might find Aunt Bettie asking why you didn’t treat yourself to her signature meatballs.

Fill Up Your Plate, Just Don’t Eat the Unhealthy Parts

In that case, it’s best to just fill up a plate as if you were trying to eat yourself to an early grave, but then only eat the parts that coincide with your specific dietary restrictions. You can just move the macaroni and cheese, stuffed shells, stuffing and ham around your plate until it becomes a big mess of assorted foodstuffs, making it seem like you ate it all — or at least most of it.

Bring a Dish for Yourself

Play it right, and your family will be so dazzled by your contribution that they won’t even think to scrutinize your motivations. After all, healthy doesn’t mean unappetizing. You can bring roasted Brussels sprouts! Everyone loves Brussels sprouts, and they’re amazingly easy to make. Just halve them with a chef’s knife, toss them in a bowl, douse them with olive oil, salt and pepper and then either cook them in a cast iron grill on your stove top until nice and brown, or roast them in the oven at 450 degrees for approximately 35 minutes.

Or fish. Grab a huge slab of salmon from your local deli, smother it with olive oil, salt and pepper (again) and broil for approximately 15 minutes.

Don’t Evangelize

Similar to how you don’t want someone questioning your dietary decisions, no one else wants to hear you drone on about the veganism documentary you discovered on Netflix and how all the animal protein they’re ingesting will give them cancer. Overeating is as much a part of Christmas as shitty holiday songs. Don’t shame people for their gluttony, and they might pay you the same respect.

Tell Them to Mind Their Own Damn Business

If subtlety doesn’t work, you can politely tell Aunt Jeanie to keep it to herself when she questions the abundance of greens on your plate and/or tries to foist a slice of pie on you. No one other than a board-certified physician should be allowed to question your dietary decisions.

Be Completely Honest

Why do people feel compelled to comment on someone else’s diet in the first place? A popular theory is that people feel threatened by seeing their friends and family members diet — it reminds them of their own weight and dietary issues — so they lash out with passive-aggressive quips.

Much like they shouldn’t take personally the decisions you make about your body, you shouldn’t take personally the questions they pose to you. I know this is incredibly difficult — dieting is already an emotional exercise for a lot of people, and combining it with familial relationships makes it all the more volatile. But if you can casually, yet directly, address their questions, the matter will likely soon be over.

So the next time a family member asks, “What, are you on a diet or something?”, stay calm knowing that their question says more about them than it does about you, and politely respond, “Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”

If they see you’re comfortable not only maintaining, but discussing your diet plan, they may just drop the inquiry altogether. Also, “Why do you ask?” is an excellent and underused passive-aggressive comeback. It not only deflects the initial question, but it makes the other person feel rude for even asking it.

Happy holidays, everyone.