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When Your Secret Santa Gift Promotes Diet Culture

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“I finally got my secret Santa gift!”

I was so happy when I saw something sitting in my box at work. I had been waiting patiently for my secret Santa to leave me something this week. I thought I had been forgotten or I was too complicated because I wrote no food due to my allergies. As soon as I opened it up I was mortified. In my gift were packets of hot apple cider and a magazine titled “Clean Eating.” I was thankful for my apple cider, but the magazine triggered something in me. I tried to chalk it up that the person was trying to help me find other recipes for my allergies, but I felt like I was being judged.

There are many reasons why I stay away from magazines like “Clean Eating” because of my previous eating disorder. Magazines like this usually involve a type of restriction. Although I am weight restored, I still have trouble with negative thoughts and body dysmorphia. I started to think maybe it’s because they see me eating and think that I should be eating healthier.

I was upset by the gift all week. I kept thinking that they must think I need to be on a diet. I joked with some of my work friends, but internally I wanted validation that I didn’t need a magazine to tell me if what I was eating was considered “good food.”

Diet culture often surrounds the holidays. People tend to eat things they don’t normally eat and often gain weight. I hear people say how they will diet after the holidays and that they’ve gained weight. There is nothing wrong with holiday weight, with eating and being full. Society fills our head with the idea that we have to lose weight or that gaining a bit of weight during the holidays means that we are less than. When I was a teenager I often would beg my mum to buy the newest magazine that had the latest diet or a celeb who had lost weight. Now I do my best to ignore the headlines. Clean eating is one of the diets that is promoted as a healthy lifestyle. While clean eating has its benefits, it also sets a mindset that there is something unclean about eating foods that aren’t homemade and made from unprocessed foods.

When it was finally revealed to me who my secret Santa was, I realized that the person was trying their best and didn’t intentionally try to give a gift that was offensive. They honestly believed they were giving me a gift that would help me with my allergy food restrictions. Unfortunately, as much as we try to put down things we like and things we don’t on secret Santa forms, many of us have had the experience of getting a terrible secret Santa or getting an unwanted gift. I’ve realized that sometimes these gifts don’t have an agenda. They aren’t usually given out of malice or because they want you to lose weight or because they wanted to remind you of a triggering event. Most of the time we can’t control what gifts we receive. If you feel triggered by a gift understand that the gift has nothing to do with you, it’s a reflection on the mindset and the person who is gifting it. The best we can do is acknowledge the trigger and know that we don’t have to keep the gift.

Have you ever received a gift that was triggering?

Getty image by Stefan Tomic

Originally published: December 30, 2021
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