Even if you largely have a great time with your family, hanging out with loved ones can be a diet culture minefield. If you’re struggling with disordered eating, dealing with body image issues, or trying to break a cycle of chronic dieting, comments about food or bodies from (well-meaning or otherwise) loved ones can hinder your progress—and just generally make you feel terrible about yourself.
For Latine people, it can feel difficult to unwind from our identity. Since food is a symbol of love in our culture, many of us are expected to eat everything on our plate and to go back for seconds, but also to not gain “too much” weight. “Although there is so much love and value placed on food in many Latine families, there is also a lot of pressure to conform to cultural beauty standards and a lot of judgment surrounding body weight and shape,” Alice Figueroa, RDN, founder of Alice in Foodieland and The Mindful Nutrition Center, tells SELF. Sometimes, this means comments about weight can flow a little too freely at family gatherings.
Latinas, specifically, face cultural pressure to maintain a big bust and butt while having a tiny waist. We might get labeled as “flaca” (“skinny”) or “gorda” (“fat”). “Although these descriptive nicknames may be used as terms of endearment, they can be upsetting to people struggling with body image issues and disordered eating,” Figueroa says.
“In our community, comments about bodies are often presented as, ‘We’re just worried about your health,’ or even as terms of endearment,” Dalina Soto, RD, founder and owner of Your Latina Nutrition, tells SELF. These good intentions can make navigating these comments even trickier, she adds—when a loved one thinks they’re doing what’s best for you, it can be harder for them to understand why their comments are actually harmful.
Whatever a family member’s intention, the effects can be really detrimental. “Comments related to food and body, even the most well-intentioned ones, can influence a person’s self-worth and self-respect, as well as their sense of safety and control,” Melissa Carmona, LCMHC, a bilingual therapist based in North Carolina and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, tells SELF. For people struggling with disordered eating and body image, these triggering remarks can exacerbate their preoccupation with their size and eating habits. So even if it feels hard to address uncomfortable and hurtful attitudes toward food, health, and size in your family, it’s important that you do it if it’s negatively impacting you.
Along with Latine family values and beauty standards, another factor contributing to food and body shaming is the fact that our traditional dishes are often demonized as “unhealthy” within diet culture’s standards. Latines also feel pressure from their doctors to cut out cultural staples like rice or tortillas, despite these being nutritious and delicious carbohydrate sources. We also regularly see headlines stating that our community faces higher rates of diabetes and heart disease (despite much of this stemming from lack of access to quality health care and other social determinants of health, rather than individual behaviors like food choices). These negative narratives about our food and health can influence us to harshly judge our own food and bodies and one another’s. But we don’t have to accept them—here’s what to do instead.
How to navigate food and body shaming from loved ones
When it comes to addressing damaging comments from loved ones in the moment, you may feel stuck, especially if your family’s values make it difficult to speak up. “In the Latine community, familismo involves putting our families first and being loyal to them,” Carmona says. “Respeto speaks to respecting our elders and demonstrating gratitude toward them.” These values can seem to conflict with setting boundaries for yourself and addressing food and body shaming with loved ones.