Be prepared to set your boundaries when it comes to talking about dieting
It might happen on lunch breaks in the staff room, while eating out with friends, or seemingly out of nowhere from, sometimes, well-meaning relatives – and over time, diet talk can really grind us down.
Eating a varied and nutritious diet is important for all of us, but diet talk that focuses on restrictive eating, weight loss, or which is fuelled by food guilt, can have a negative affect on our relationships with ourselves – and for those who have experienced disordered eating in the past, or who struggle with their body image, it can be triggering.
Here, with the help of nutritional therapist and eating disorder recovery coach Sasha Paul, we explore the ways you can confront diet talk if it’s making you uncomfortable, and dive into how to set boundaries on this sensitive topic.
Separate the diet talker from diet culture itself
“When you’ve become aware of all the ways that diet culture is harmful, conversations around dieting can evoke difficult feelings,” Sasha says. “The first thing to consider when confronted with a diet talker is that they likely have no idea about the harm or discomfort the conversation has caused you.”
If you can, pause and take a step back. Question what might be prompting the things the individual is saying, and consider whether it’s more of a comment on their own relationship with food than it is on yours. That said, if the person you’re talking to is close to you, and you feel comfortable with them, Sasha recommends considering explaining to them why diet talk is unhelpful for you.
Set boundaries where possible
Setting up boundaries is about making it clear what is and isn’t acceptable. We can apply them to all areas of our lives, and putting them in place when it comes to dealing with diet talk can be an effective way to manage it.
“By being clear where conversions around dieting and weight loss are making you feel uncomfortable, you give others the opportunity to respect your boundaries,” Sasha explains. “Remember, those that care for you will only want you to feel safe and happy in their presence, and by making them aware of your discomfort, you will only be nurturing your relationships.”
A simple, “This kind of conversation makes me uncomfortable, would you mind if we don’t talk about diets?” is all it takes to make it clear that this isn’t a chat you want to have.
"I am on my own unique journey to food freedom and acceptance"
Change the subject
“Sometimes it’s not possible to have a full conversation explaining why diet talk is harmful, or that you feel uncomfortable around it,” Sasha explains. “If that’s the case, and diet talk comes up, try to strategically move the conversation on.”
Fall back on small talk, or ask the other person questions about themselves to engage them in a new topic.
“If you have managed to express your discomfort but the conversation continues, try to leave it if you’re able to,” Sasha adds. “If you cannot leave the conversation, then you might want to disengage from it until it naturally moves on, to protect yourself.”
Use coping strategies
If you’re already at the point where diet talk has triggered or upset you, Sasha recommends trying the following coping strategies...
Mantras and affirmations. If you’re working on eating intuitively and self-acceptance, but encounter a conversation about weight loss, try repeating the mantras ‘I am on my own unique journey to food freedom and self-acceptance,’ or ‘I am good enough, just as I am.’
Journaling. Grab a pen and paper, and allow yourself to write freely. You might want to use prompts to help you think through diet talk conversations that affected you, such as: what makes my path different from the person I had this interaction with? How could our values differ? What am I trying to achieve by opting out of diet culture?
Breath work. Taking some time to breathe, meditate, or get some fresh air, can help you to feel calmer, and to process your thoughts and feelings in a healthier way.
Reach out. Talking to a friend, family member, or professional about what affected you can be helpful, allowing you to process what happened, support you to feel better, and help you move past the incident more easily.