As I sit in sessions with clients recovering from eating disorders, this is what I hear them saying over and over and over again:
“I just wish everyone would quit talking so much about food and weight.”
“I wish people would quit commenting on everyone’s food and other people’s bodies.”
“I wish people didn’t pick apart their body or their food choices around me.”
Food and weight talk is everywhere. It’s impossible to escape. When you are struggling with food and body image, these conversations can be debilitating. While I don’t think it’s wise to hold other people accountable for how you feel, I do think we would all do well to be more sensitive to these issues.
Because here’s the thing:
Your “healthy lifestyle” advice = someone else’s eating disorder.
Your weight loss advice = someone else’s eating disorder.
Your “clean eating” plan = someone else’s eating disorder.
Your new diet = someone else’s disorder.
With how common disordered eating is, chances are HIGH that someone hearing you talk is struggling with food and body image.
Conversations about food rules, diets, meal plans and weight loss affect us all adversely, even if you don’t identify with having an eating disorder or disordered eating. Perhaps if we didn’t talk so much about food or our bodies, we’d all more naturally be able to take care of ourselves in ways that felt truly supportive – without all the second guessing or overthinking that happens when we make them such big topics of conversation.
I’d challenge all of us to find better things to talk about.
But if you do find yourself in the middle of food, diet, body image or weight loss conversations, here are 6 tips for how to handle it:
- Avoid playing the right or wrong game. You’ve made the choice to use a non-diet, weight-neutral approach for improving your health and wellbeing. Others may have not made that same choice. It’s easy to want to declare yourself as right and them as wrong. While there’s plenty of data to support the decision you’ve made, you won’t feel any better pitting yourself against them. Instead, use some reminders like “stay in your lane” or “good for you, not good for me”.
- Stay true to yourself. When you are tempted to swerve into someone else’s lane or think that what is good for them might be good for you, remind yourself of allllll the reasons you’ve chosen to not go down that road again. WHY do you want to quit fighting food and your body? Why have you chosen this road instead of that one? What/where did that road ever get you? What goals for food and body peace are you working toward? Stay firmly planted in your own story.
- Leave the conversation. I think this might be the bravest thing you can do. Recognize how this is affecting you and have your own back. If that’s not possible, try to change the conversation.
- If you choose to stay in the conversation, you can participate without compromising your values. It is possible to support others without agreeing with them. That might sound like, “I can tell this is really important to you and I’m happy for you” or “I can see you are working hard to solve this problem for yourself”. You can also discuss the benefits you’ve seen in practicing a non-diet approach if you feel up for it. Or you can stay totally silent and just observe with quiet confidence. There’s no right way to handle it – do what feels most comfortable for the situation you are in.
- Establish boundaries. If it feels appropriate, ask loved ones to respect the work you are doing to heal your relationship with food and your body by not commenting about diets or weight around you. This doesn’t have to be confrontational, in fact it’s a way of helping loved ones love you better! When you communicate in authentic and compassionate ways, I think you’ll find that verbal boundaries are well received and respected. At the very least, work to establish mental boundaries where you avoid taking on other people’s stuff. This might look like envisioning a bubble around you so comments just bounce off of you. It may be continually reminding yourself not to take on other people’s concerns, beliefs and insecurities. You can remind yourself that what other people say has everything to do with them and nothing to do with you. THEY said it, you didn’t. You can be a compassionate person who cares about other people without internalizing their issues or beliefs around food or weight.
- Lastly, regularly connect with non-diet, body positive messages through uplifting social media accounts, podcasts, blogs, articles, books, support groups, etc. It’s important to stay connected to your goals and you’ll find you are more resilient to diet culture when you do.
Stay safe out there, friends!