The Holidays vs Our Loved Ones

Practice assertiveness during the holidaysMuch of the joy we find during the holidays comes from spending time with family and loved ones. However, with as much joy as it can produce, the holiday season can also create stress. We sometimes lose sight of our own needs amidst the busy-ness of this time of year. Being surrounded by family and friends can also pose challenges for those who are working on goals that involve improved health.

Common Challenges with the Holidays

The holidays can be tough for reasons that many of us have in common:

  • Fear of dealing with loved ones’ comments about your weight
  • Pressure to eat or not to eat
  • Feelings of obligation to try everyone’s homemade dishes

On the flip side, you don’t have to endure or accept any discomfort. Instead, you can choose to see these challenges as opportunities for assertiveness. Whether it’s your grandma who is always trying to show love via food or a well-meaning co-worker at the office party who keeps asking how much weight you have lost, you can learn to respond with grace and self-respect by using effective assertiveness.

Effective Assertiveness

What exactly is effective assertiveness? It’s assertiveness based on the idea that we all have the right to express our thoughts, feelings and needs to others. Being assertive is not being aggressive, but it is delivered confidently. Assertiveness is a skill, not a personality trait. It can be mastered with practice and reinforced by positive experiences. The more you try it, the more chances you have to see it work!

There are some pretty basic elements of assertive behavior. These include:

  • “I” Statements: Clearly state your thoughts on the situation with statements that begin with “I” vs “You.” The latter may make someone defensive.
  • Confidence: Speak in a confident and positive tone of voice. Use direct eye contact and open body language to show that you mean what you say, but you aren’t angry.
  • Tension: Try to avoid arguing and getting drawn into unrelated issues.
  • Cooperation: Give the other person a chance to understand, but don’t force it.

Practical Tips for Making it Work

When you learn this skill, the experience can truly be life-changing. The skills you learn will be useful not just during the holidays, but year-round!

These two assertiveness techniques can be particularly useful:

  • Behavior Rehearsal
  • Repeated Assertion (aka the “broken record”)

Behavior rehearsal is practicing how you want to look and sound. Pre-plan for the sticky scenarios you may face during the holiday festivities. Come up with “I” statements you can use. For example, if you think that someone will continuously comment on your weight or on your eating habits, practice saying, “I would appreciate it if we could focus our conversation on something else. All this food, weight and body talk is making me feel uncomfortable.”

Repeated assertion is keeping to your point no matter what! Stick to your guns if someone tries to:

  • Manipulate you
  • Use a verbal side trap against you
  • Press you to argue
  • Use logic that doesn’t matter in the situation

To most effectively use this technique, do this:

  • Repeat yourself calmly
  • Say what you want and don’t want
  • Stay focused on the issue

Peer pressure to eat or try a certain dish can be overwhelming. Simply state, “That food just doesn’t fit with my meal plan right now.” Say this repeatedly until someone stops offering that food to you.

Also, sometimes assertiveness is simply saying “no thank you” without apologizing or explaining why you declined. “No” can be a complete sentence! The holidays can be so hectic that we often don’t have time to accept every invite or meet everyone’s expectations. “I’d love to, but I can’t” is a polite way to decline as well as a way to take care of yourself.


Before the holiday season starts, take some time to think about what challenges you might face.

  • Who or what might jeopardize your health goals?
  • What situations could be hard for you food-wise?
  • When would you feel self-conscious or uneasy?
  • What will cause you the most stress?

Once you’ve thought through these questions, give yourself the best gift you can this holiday season: permission to stand up for yourself, say no and take care of your own needs!

About the Author:
Kelly Broadwater, LPA, LPC, CEDS-S, is a psychologist and certified eating disorders specialist. She has more than 15 years of expertise in working with bariatric patients and has developed psychotherapy group curriculum on a variety of topics, including interpersonal effectiveness and assertiveness training. She encourages those who feel like assertiveness is foreign or scary to work with a licensed mental health professional for further coaching.