Setting Healthy Boundaries around the Holidays
When you were a kid, adults probably drilled into you that you should “be nice,” share your toys, and put yourself in other people’s shoes. Those are necessary lessons, of course. Humans are prosocial creatures. Our ancestors needed the protection of the clan, so they had to get along and be team players. Individuals who […]

woman about to make a phone call to set boundaries with family around the holidaysWhen you were a kid, adults probably drilled into you that you should “be nice,” share your toys, and put yourself in other people’s shoes. Those are necessary lessons, of course. Humans are prosocial creatures. Our ancestors needed the protection of the clan, so they had to get along and be team players. Individuals who caused strife within the group risked being kicked out, which could be a death sentence.

It pays to be considerate of others, but that message often gets twisted into “don’t rock the boat” and even “other people’s needs are more important than your own.” When getting along is your top priority, you become loathe to assert your own needs. However, in the long term, being too self-sacrificing is detrimental to your relationships and your own mental wellbeing. It’s a slippery slope into allowing other people to make unreasonable demands on your time or say or do things that hurt you (often unintentionally).

Moreover, not being honest about your needs is unfair. Other people never get the chance to reciprocate the consideration you’re offering, and all the while you are stewing in hurt or resentment because you aren’t getting what you want.

Boundaries protect your time and your physical and emotional space. They help ensure that your needs are met. Boundaries can look like:

  • Turning down social invitations.
  • Saying no to requests from your boss or coworkers that you can’t reasonably fulfill or that are outside your scope.
  • Staying true to your values (e.g., shutting down a conversation that has turned sexist or racist).
  • Protecting your personal space from other people who are sapping your time, energy, or happiness.
  • Enforcing much-needed personal time.

Did you get squeamish just reading that? The truth is, setting boundaries can incredibly uncomfortable, even downright scary. Keeping the peace is the path of least resistance, but it’s not always the right choice. Learning to set healthy boundaries is one of those necessary-but-difficult adulting skills that we all need to practice.

What Does It Mean to Set Healthy Boundaries?

Boundaries communicate how we want others to treat us.

The word makes it sound like they are walls we erect to keep other people at arm’s length, but the intention is actually to foster better relationships. Sometimes it does mean creating distance from someone. Often, though, you’re letting the other person know what they can reasonably expect from you or telling them what would make a given situation agreeable to you.

Boundaries are not “mean.”

Boundaries are honest. They facilitate positive interactions by reducing the likelihood of mixed signals, miscommunication, and disappointment. In fact, setting boundaries is an act of generosity for yourself and others. You could lie, shut down, or cut others out of your life when you’re not getting what you need. Instead, you’re doing the hard work to improve the situation.

As Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Boundaries create clarity. It’s kinder to give important people in your life—whether they be friends, romantic partners, relatives, your boss, even your hairdresser or personal trainer— the chance to have an authentic relationship with you. The alternative is letting them labor under the impression that you’re happy when you’re not. Think about how awful it feels to find out that a friend has been secretly upset with you, or your boss thinks you’ve been doing a lousy job, but you had no idea.

Brown uses the term “shared purpose” in the workplace context, but it is relevant to any of your relationships. When you prioritize “being nice” above being honest, people don’t ever really know where they stand with you. Relationships can only be successful and fulfilling when all parties are on the same page.

Boundaries are not selfish.

Other people’s needs are not more important than your own. Setting boundaries simply means putting your needs on par with others’.

This message can be hard to accept. Boundaries can feel selfish, especially if you aren’t used to asserting yourself. Others may act like you’re being selfish when your needs conflict with theirs. There’s nothing inherently selfish about candor. You can care about other people and be loving, helpful, and generous without exceeding your personal boundaries.

Sometimes you do use boundaries to create space to focus on yourself, and that’s not selfish either. Everyone deserves to prioritize their own wellbeing—all the time, but particularly when you’re dealing with illness (acute or chronic), grief, depression, or other issues. Who benefits if you collapse under the weight of trying to do it all?

Boundaries Don’t Mean You Never Compromise

You’re probably not going around setting boundaries in most of your day-to-day interactions. There’s no need. Boundaries are generally reserved for situations in which your time or physical or mental health need a buffer. Even then, nothing precludes you from seeking out mutually beneficial arrangements.

Even people who are great at boundaries don’t get their way all the time. They understand how to prioritize, but they’re willing to put their foot down when it matters.

Signs That You Aren’t Setting Healthy Boundaries

The following are signs that you’re in a situation where you probably need to establish better boundaries:

  • Resentment or simmering anger toward someone else
  • Consistently low energy/motivation to complete a task or interact with someone
  • Feeling disempowered, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Saying “I have to…” or “I should…,” followed by dread, namely in situations where you don’t actually have to do that thing. You probably should pay your bills or call the dentist about your toothache. You don’t have to bake cupcakes for the bake sale or go to your parents’ house for Christmas.

How to Set Boundaries

1. Be honest with yourself.

Step one is asking yourself, “In what situations am I feeling overwhelmed or burned out? Toward whom do I feel resentful? Where do is my energy stretched too thin?”

Next, be totally candid with yourself, without judgment, about why you aren’t already setting better boundaries. You would have already done it if it felt easy. Something is making you avoid rather than confront the situation. Usually it’s that you don’t want the other person to be mad, hurt, or embarrassed, you strongly value being helpful or agreeable, or you fear social or professional repercussions.

2. Get clear on what you want.

In an ideal world, how would the situation be different? You can’t ask for what you want unless you know what that is.

For example, let’s say you have a coworker who repeatedly comes into your cubicle to chat, interrupting your workflow. Possible solutions (boundaries) include:

  • Request that they only email or text you during certain periods of the day.
  • Put a do not disturb sign on the back of your chair when you’re trying to focus, and ask them to respect that.
  • Schedule a standing morning coffee break with them, and ask them to let you work until then.

However, none of these is the right answer if what you really want is to keep your coworker relationships strictly professional, no idle chitchat necessary.

3. Ask for what you need.

Keep it clear and concise so the other person understands exactly what you’re requesting. Again, setting boundaries is not mean, so avoid apologizing or overexplaining. You can convey through your tone of voice and word choice that you feel neither angry nor aggressive.

Melissa Urban of Whole30 fame has a useful green-yellow-red system. Essentially, it means you employ the minimum effective dose needed to establish the boundary. Start by being gentle but direct if it’s your first time communicating the boundary and/or you suspect the other person is not intentionally overstepping. If you have to repeat yourself, or if the other person’s behavior is explicitly harmful, you should feel free to draw an even more explicit line in the sand.

Taking the coworker example, you might start by saying: “I love chatting with you, but I get my most focused work done in the morning. I need to be in the zone from 9 to 12. Will you jot down the things you want to remember to tell me, and we can catch up at lunch?”

If your coworker repeatedly “forgets” not to interrupt you:

  • “Remember, I said I need to concentrate in the mornings. Hold that thought until lunchtime.”
  • “I need my cubicle to be off-limits in the morning.”
  • “I can’t talk now.”
  • “Please don’t come into my cubicle just to chat.”

4. Hold firm

After you ask for what you want, there’s often an awkward pause, or sometimes the other person apologizes profusely. You might be tempted to add a concession that suggests maybe the boundary isn’t firm. That’s not clear, which means it’s not kind.

Do: “I have a hard time refocusing when I’m interrupted. When I’m wearing my headphones, that’s my sign I’m not available to chat. Let’s catch up at lunch.”

Don’t: “I have a hard time refocusing when I’m interrupted. When I’m wearing my headphones, that’s my sign I’m not available to chat. I mean, unless it’s really important. Don’t even worry about it.”

What If the Other Person Gets Upset?

They might, and that’s not your problem. You can only control how you communicate, not how the other person reacts.

Don’t expect them to react badly, though. Other people often respond with grace if you communicate your needs in a straightforward, non-blaming manner. Sometimes they will react with hurt, anger, or defensiveness. Your job here is to hold firm and stay in your truth. Don’t apologize or backpedal. “I understand it’s disappointing, but the answer is no. Maybe we could pick up this conversation again in a day or two.”

In healthy relationships, setting boundaries usually works. The recipient might initially respond poorly, and they may sometimes overstep by mistake. Just as setting healthy boundaries feels uncomfortable, being on the receiving end can be difficult too. Most people don’t have a lot of practice in either role. However, good relationship partners ultimately respect your boundaries.

When you keep having to set the same boundaries with someone over and over, or if they respond with extreme negativity, you need to ask yourself whether they are someone you want in your life. An inability to respect boundaries is a sign of a toxic relationship.

Setting Boundaries This Holiday Season

The holiday season can seriously test your boundary-setting skills. Between the increased demands on your time and extended family dynamics, a whole fortress could be in order! Here are some examples, from gentlest to firmest:

When You Want Certain Discussion Topics to Be Off the Table:


  • We’d love to see you, but we’re all feeling extremely burned out after this election cycle. We’ll only be able to attend if we can agree not to talk politics at the dinner table. If everyone is amenable to that, let me know, and I’ll start making travel arrangements.
  • We’ll come, but we aren’t staying if there’s a repeat of last year. We’re going to have to leave if anyone starts fighting about politics.
  • Honestly, I’m feeling skittish about how much animosity there has been lately. I’m going to pass on the holidays this year.


  • I know you’re concerned about my health, but it makes me uncomfortable when you bring up my weight. I’m taking care of myself, and I don’t want to discuss my body. Can we please change the subject?
  • I only discuss this topic with my doctor. I need you to respect that and not ask me about my weight anymore.
  • My body isn’t anyone else’s business, and comments about my weight are hurtful. Please stop.


  • No thanks, I’m not drinking right now. I don’t mind if other people are drinking, but I’m doing a personal experiment. I hope nobody tries to pressure me.
  • I’m not drinking right now, and I’d like everyone to respect that. Thanks.
  • Nobody else is affected if I don’t drink. Let’s please drop it and have a pleasant evening.

Safety, Personal Comfort Regarding COVID Measures


  • Thank you so much for the invitation, but with everything being so crazy right now, we’re going to stay home. Let’s plan to Zoom, though! When is best for you?
  • We’re disappointed too, but we have to do what makes us feel safe. This year, it’s staying home. We’ll miss everyone.
  • We’re not comfortable compromising on this. The answer is no, and we’re not going to change our minds.


  • Thanks for inviting us! We will come grab a cocktail in the backyard, but when people start to move inside, we’re going to head home.
  • We’d only feel safe coming if it was a small group and everyone is outdoors. If not, we’ll pass this time, but we look forward to seeing you a different time!
  • We’re not comfortable socializing in groups right now. Thanks for asking, though.

(Remember, “Thank you so much for inviting us, but we’re unable to attend” is a complete response. These suggestions are for when you want to offer more explanation or if the host is pressing you for more.)

Setting Aside “Me” Time, Protecting Your Schedule


  • Hey, [spouse/partner]. With holiday busyness, I’m having a hard time finding any time to exercise. It’s really affecting how I feel physically and mentally. Can we sit down and figure out where I can schedule 30-45 minutes to work out each day?
  • I need to exercise to stay healthy and happy. I’d like to set aside 7 to 7:45 a.m. as my workout time, which would mean you’d be in charge of getting the kids’ breakfast. Is that doable?
  • If I don’t get half an hour to myself to exercise every day, I’m going to lose it. The whole family will be happier if I disappear for 30 minutes after dinner. Cool?


  • The decorating committee sounds fun, but I’m already swamped. I’m not able to take on any extra projects. I’ll be happy to donate to the toy drive, though.
  • No, but I can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with. I’m sure it will be great!
  • I’m not able to help with holiday festivities this year.

Saying No to Obligations/Forced Holiday Fun


  • Oh gee, no thanks, I don’t want to participate in the office Secret Santa this year. Have fun!
  • Secret Santa’s not really my thing, but thanks for thinking of me.
  • No.


  • The annual cookie swap is so much fun, but I just don’t have time to make 10 dozen cookies. Maybe I could swing by for a glass of wine.
  • I won’t be able make it. Can’t wait to see the pictures on Facebook!
  • No.

It’s normal to feel nervous if this is new territory for you. These conversations can be uncomfortable even for boundary-setting pros. Give yourself a pep talk. Remind yourself that candor allows you and the people around you to be more authentic. Boundaries can improve relationships, or they can release you both to pursue more compatible ones.

When you set boundaries, you implicitly encourage others to set their own. Go into these conversations with the mindset that you’re being constructive. Most of all, remind yourself that maintaining harmony isn’t a path to true happiness when peace comes at the expense of your wellbeing. It’s far better to do the (hard) work to build relationships built on honesty, mutual respect, and shared purpose.


About the Author

Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is a senior writer and community manager for Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach, and the co-author of three keto cookbooks.

As a writer for Mark’s Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance communities, Lindsay’s job is to help people learn the whats, whys, and hows of leading a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her master’s and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and instructor.

Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sports-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping, and game nights. Follow along on Instagram @theusefuldish as Lindsay attempts to juggle work, family, and endurance training, all while maintaining a healthy balance and, most of all, having fun in life. For more info, visit

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It’s easy to get confused when it comes to health and nutrition. Even qualified experts often seem to hold opposing opinions. Yet, despite all the disagreements, a number of wellness tips are well supported by research. Here are 27 health and alimentation tips that are actually based on good technique.

These 8 practical tips cover the basics of saine eating and can help you make healthier choices.

The key to a healthy diet is to eat the right amount of kcal for how réactive you are so you balance the energy you consume with the energy you use.

If you eat or drink more than your body needs, you’ll put on weight because the energy you do not use is stored as fat. If you eat and drink too little, you’ll lose weight.

You should also eat a wide range of foods to make sure you’re getting a balanced diet and your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs.

It’s recommended that men have around 2, 500 calories a day ( 10, 500 kilojoules ). Women should have around 2, 000 kcal a day ( 8, 400 kilojoules ). Most adults in the UK are eating more calories than they need and should eat fewer calories.

Starchy carbohydrates should make up just over a third of the food you eat. They include potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals. Choose higher fibre or wholegrain varieties, such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice or potatoes with their skins on.

They contain more fibre than white or refined starchy carbohydrates and can help you feel full for longer. Try to include at least 1 starchy food with each main meal. Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram the carbohydrate they contain provides fewer than half the kcal of fat.

Keep an eye on the fats you add when you’re cooking or serving these variétés of foods because that’s what increases the calorie content – for example, oil on chips, butter on bread and creamy sauces on pasta.

It’s recommended that you eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and veg every day. They can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Getting your 5 A Day is easier than it sounds. Why not chop a banana over your breakfast cereal, or swap your usual mid-morning snack for a piece of fresh fruit ?

A portion of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables is 80g. A portion of dried fruit ( which should be kept to mealtimes ) is 30g. A 150ml glass of fruit juice, vegetable juice or smoothie also counts as 1 portion, but limit the amount you have to no more than 1 glass a day as these drinks are sugary and can damage your teeth.

You can choose from fresh, frozen and canned, but remember that canned and smoked fish can be high in salt. Most people should be eating more fish, but there are recommended limits for some types of fish.

You need some fat in your diet, but it’s important to pay attention to the amount and type of fat you’re eating. There are 2 main types of fat : saturated and unsaturated. Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease.

On average, men should have no more than 30g of saturated fat a day. On average, women should have no more than 20g of saturated fat a day. Children under the age of 11 should have less saturated fat than adults, but a low-fat diet is not suitable for children under 5.

Try to cut down on your saturated fat intake and choose foods that contain unsaturated fats instead, such as vegetable oils and spreads, oily fish and avocados. For a healthier choice, use a small amount of vegetable or olive oil, or reduced-fat spread instead of butter, lard or ghee.

When you’re having meat, choose lean cuts and cut off any visible fat. All variétés of fat are high in energy, so they should only be eaten in small amounts.

Regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay. Sugary foods and drinks are often high in energy ( measured in kilojoules or kcal ), and if consumed too often can contribute to weight gain. They can also cause tooth decay, especially if eaten between meals.

Free sugars are any sugars added to foods or drinks, or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies. This is the type of sugar you should be cutting down on, rather than the sugar found in fruit and milk.

Many packaged foods and drinks contain surprisingly high amounts of free sugars.

More than 22. 5g of total sugars per 100g means the food is high in sugar, while 5g of total sugars or less per 100g means the food is low in sugar.

Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. Even if you do not add salt to your food, you may still be eating too much.

About three-quarters of the salt you eat is already in the food when you buy it, such as breakfast cereals, soups, breads and condiments. Use food labels to help you cut down. More than 1. 5g of salt per 100g means the food is high in salt.

Adults and children aged 11 and over should eat no more than 6g of salt ( about a teaspoonful ) a day. Younger children should have even less.

As well as eating healthily, regular exercise may help reduce your risk of getting serious health conditions. It’s also important for your overall health and wellbeing.

Read more about the benefits of exercise and physical activity guidelines for adults. Being overweight or obese can lead to health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and stroke. Being underweight could also affect your health.

Most adults need to lose weight by eating fewer kcal. If you’re trying to lose weight, aim to eat less and be more réactive. Eating a saine, balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Check whether you’re a saine weight by using the BMI healthy weight calculator. Start the NHS weight loss plan, a 12-week weight loss guide that combines advice on healthier eating and physical activity. If you’re underweight, see underweight adults. If you’re worried about your weight, ask your GP or a dietitian for advice.

You need to drink plenty of fluids to stop you getting dehydrated. The government recommends drinking 6 to 8 glasses every day. This is in addition to the fluid you get from the food you eat. All non-alcoholic drinks count, but water, lower fat milk and lower sugar drinks, including tea and coffee, are healthier choices. Try to avoid sugary soft and fizzy drinks, as they’re high in kcal. They’re also bad for your teeth.

Even unsweetened fruit juice and smoothies are high in free sugar. Your combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies should not be more than 150ml a day, which is a small glass. Remember to drink more fluids during hot weather or while exercising.

Some people skip breakfast because they think it’ll help them lose weight. But a healthy breakfast high in fibre and low in fat, sugar and salt can form part of a balanced diet, and can help you get the nutrients you need for good health.

A wholegrain lower sugar cereal with semi-skimmed milk and fruit sliced over the top is a tasty and healthier breakfast. Further informationThe Eatwell Guide can help you get the right balance of the 5 main food groups. The guide shows you how much of what you eat should come from each food group. Read more about eating a balanced diet and understanding kcal.


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