Recently, a friend gushed about his low-carb diet, another about his calorie counting app, and another about the new weight loss program she's following. There have also been several instances of people discussing the body and eating habits of others as if they were something of their own.
I don't know if it's a pandemic, some sort of post-summer weight gain panic, or just that my resurgent social life (thanks to loose restrictions in England) reminded me of how ubiquitous diet talk really is, but Boy did i dont miss this.
When these topics come up, I get into a white-hot rage that I have to work hard to contain, and I often come out with a cutting comment. As someone who has struggled with disrupted eating habits for almost a decade and who only recently did so made peace with eating and gaining weightI want these diet culture subscribers to know how harmful these types of conversations (and the behaviors that come with them) can be.
However, the truth is, however uncomfortable it may make me, it is not my job to blame it. They are on their own journey and I am not their therapist, nutritionist or mother, and the way I react just makes things uncomfortable – it doesn't help anyone.
They are on their own journey and I am not their therapist, nutritionist or mother, and the way I react just makes things uncomfortable – it doesn't help anyone.
Unfortunately, the diet talk isn't going anywhere anytime soon. As much as we've made progress in the past few years – with magazines Prohibition the term "bikini body", nutrition professionals Move from recommending weight loss for its own sake, and more and more people are starting to conceive that inseparable links between diet culture and white supremacy – many (if not most) of us are still actively pursuing weight loss, following the restrictive diet that is the taste of the month, and judging other people's bodies and habits without prompting.
The story goes on
ONEAs long as diet talk continues around us, we need to find ways to make our peace with it – which is not one size fits all. I spoke to eating disorders therapist Shira Rosenbluth LCSW, certified dietitian Casey Bonano, and dietitian Kirsten Ackerman to help you balance the boundaries of your dieting talks with compassion for others who don't have the same food history as you .
First things first, what is diet talk?
Dieting conversations are pretty much what it sounds like, namely, people discussing their specific – and often restrictive – diets, a topic of conversation that is extremely common with friends, family members, or co-workers. "Less obvious forms of nutrition talk can include speaking negatively about your or other people's food or body, discussing calories, describing foods as good or bad, and calling yourself good or bad, depending on what you do eat, "says Bonano.
Why is diet talk harmful?
Dieting conversations can often leave both the speaker and talkee feeling like their bodies are wrong, or that the food they are eating is wrong. For people with dysfunctional eating habits or diagnosed eating disorders, this type of conversation can quickly become stressful.
"Dieting talk makes me feel deeply uncomfortable," says Chloe Faulkner, who is struggling with an eating disorder. "I'm angry that this is the way the world works and that the majority of those who discuss diet have had their entire lives grappling with one fad or the other."
Rachel Charlene Lewis, a rth Carolina-based writer and editor, is concerned about diet talks. "I hate the idea of people thinking about me and my body and how it looks and how big or small it is," she says. "(Diet talk) also brings to the surface a wide range of negative body thoughts, and the notion that food is bad, bodies are bad, and we need to change our bodies to be worthy."
Faulkner and Lewis are among a lot of women I've talked to who feel uncomfortable when it comes to dieting talk, but a lot of people don't even realize they are – or that their words can be harmful. "Unfortunately, dieting talk is considered so normal that people don't usually pick it up until they're on their way to changing their relationship with food," says Bonano.
"I hate the idea of people thinking about me and my body and how it looks and how big or small it is."
Diet conversations aren't going anywhere anytime soon. So how can you make peace with it?
When you are on a journey to heal your relationship with food and get off dieting, you may, like me, be highly negative to diet talk in your circles. That said, as long as we are anchored in diet culture as a society, diet talk will inevitably occur and you may not be able to fight it every time it does.
"It's really important to think about how much energy you have right now and remember that you don't always have to tackle and break down the diet culture," says Rosenbluth. “This can really make you feel burned out and exhausted!
But just because sometimes you have to let the diet do the talking without trying to correct it, doesn't mean you are doomed to live in discomfort forever. "I promise you that you can get to a place where diet talk no longer affects you, your mood or your behavior," says Bonano. "You'll get to a place where it rolls right off you without sticking."
When you are in recovery or become aware of how harmful diet culture is, it can upset you quite a bit. "It's easy to transfer this anger to others who are engaged in dieting talks," says Ackerman. “Over time, you will realize that viewing diet conversations as a personal attack can be a waste of your energy. They realize that it is not the fault of the dieter or the person who is talking about the diet.
For Ackerman, it will be easier for you to deal with diet conversations if you can separate the diet interviewer from the diet culture as a whole – each of us must learn to manage our unique relationship with food within a disordered culture, and we can't don't decide what this trip will be like for anyone but us.
What are some healthy ways to respond to diet conversations?
Change the subject
Changing subjects is the easiest way to respond to diet conversations without causing additional discomfort. There are two ways to do this: first, you need to introduce a new topic or distract the conversation from topics that don't suit you well. "If I feel that the topic cannot be changed, I try to move it into a conversation that is more health than looks, as I find it uncomfortable and harmful," says Anmol Irfan who often has to make unwanted comments about her body or weight.
The second way to change the subject is to express your discomfort and ask the people you are with if there is anything else you can talk about. "I feel uncomfortable with close friends and family and prefer not to know about their new goals for abs, diet, and weight loss," said Lewis. The experts agree that setting such a limit can get your message across in a productive way and get the conversation back on safer ground.
Leave the conversation
If you've tried changing the subject or expressed your discomfort to someone who continues to have diet discussions, it is probably a good idea to leave the conversation when you are able. "You can respond to diet conversations in a healthy way by moving away from the situation," says Ackerman.
Unfortunately, of course, you cannot always physically leave the room. If so, it might help just to turn it off. "My immediate reaction is to be calm," says Faulkner. "I listen to be polite, but I will not comment or say anything about my own diet or health. Ideally, I want to leave the conversation entirely, but under certain circumstances it is not always possible without looking rude. "
Explain why dieting conversations make you uncomfortable
"In some cases, it can be helpful to let friends and family know why these types of conversations aren't helpful when you're ready and have the energy (and you think the person is open)," says Rosenbluth. Tell them about your relationship with food and how you understood that dieting and body shame are harmful – try to keep them personal, and remember that the people you speak to are not necessarily from the same place come like you. Be patient with them and remember that if it gets too much, you can always change the subject.
What are less healthy ways to respond to diet conversations?
When you're on your way to breaking free of diet culture it can be hard to understand why someone still chooses to subscribe to it, even though “the overwhelming evidence of dieting is that it frequently leads to weight cycling “, Says Rosenbluth.
Think of all the time, effort, and unlearning it took you to give up the diet or pursue the "perfect body". You probably wouldn't have listened to someone who told you to just eat the damn cupcake when you were in the middle of dieting culture yourself – try to extend that understanding to your fellow human beings. "My first recommendation is to try not to convert anyone," says Bonano. “Some people are not in the same place or on the same trip and that's fine. If people are not prepared for this information, you will (…) end up wasting a lot of energy. "
"Getting defensive, argumentative or combative is generally not good," continues Bonano. “Letting go of a diet is against our culture and there is a big learning curve. You can always ask if the person is interested in hearing your perspective, explaining how your trip went, or providing resources on the topic. "
Bottom Line: You can't convert anyone, but you can both protect your energy and offer your perspective on nutrition talks with compassion and understanding.
Before you get started, check out some of our favorite inspirational quotes to help develop positive attitudes about food and the body:
Powerful quotes inspire healthy attitudes
Start gallery: Celebrities who have finally renounced a diet
More from SheKnows
Best of SheKnows
Sign up for the SheKnows newsletter. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest news.