Hi Rachel! I have a family member who won’t stop making comments and jokes about diet and food. I told her to stop, but she believes that I am being too sensitive.
How should I respond to diet talk?
If you’re considering intuitive eating, or, maybe you’re well into the work of dismantling the dieting mentality, but still struggling with the inevitable: diet talk amongst your peers, then keep reading.
As you build confidence in a non-restrictive and intuitive approach to food, then you’re likely to spark unsolicited criticism. This is the result of a multi-trillion-dollar industry known as wellness culture. Here’s the scenario:
You’re enjoying a sundae for dessert (because it’s an accessible option that appeals to you). But without warning, confused family members subscribing to the idea of a stereotypical “dancer’s diet” question your choice. Or, you’re eating fruit for dessert (because it’s an accessible option that appeals to you) and peers overwhelm you with the “you’re so healthy!” comments.
Family dynamics and close friendships can be especially challenging when it comes to diet talk. But you cannot control nor prevent all instances of criticism, so it helps to equip yourself with tools to navigate through them. This article will provide you with concrete steps to master diet talk with confidence. Then, you’ll get tips and examples of how to respond to diet talk, weight comments, and wellness conversations.
5 steps to responding to diet talk
#1: Acknowledge Your Awareness
If you’re reading this post, then you’re aware that harmful diet talk exists. This is one of the first steps in The Healthy Dancer and a topic to which I devote much of my career: dismantling diet culture. Identifying the dieting mentality and learning about the various messages that perpetuate an oppressive culture that stigmatizes certain body types and food choices is a major step. Be proud of that!
But don’t let down your guard. Keep up the work of unlearning these harmful messages so that you can identify and decipher the truth from trends. Follow me and other intuitive eating dietitians who maintain a social media presence designed to teach you about supportive lifestyles.
#2: Shift Your Self-Talk
Before you can confidently challenge diet talk from others, you’ll first need to evaluate the way you talk to yourself. Do you feel disappointed when the mere presence of diet talk instills self-doubt? No matter how long you’ve been working on building a supportive relationship with food, years (and even just a few months) of subscribing to diet culture can make it harder to fully dissociate from it. In fact, we can argue that these thoughts and desires are rooted in a mindset originally designed as a false sense of control, comfort, and safety; sold to us by the culture itself.
Utilize compassionate curiosity to notice when these thoughts emerge. Do patterns exist? Specific triggers? Remember: thoughts about dieting and/or the desire for weight loss won’t disappear overnight. From here, you can turn to the research. Remind yourself why restrictive habits don’t promote “health” or performance. Here are the most common myths, debunked:
#4: Empathize, but with boundaries
For many, it’s not easy to refrain from diet talk, especially if topics of weight and “health” feel important and necessary. These ideas are sold to us from diet and wellness culture. While remaining empathetic, try setting boundaries. An example could be, “I know your intentions are well-meaning and that you want what is best for me, and I know you feel strongly about your food- and body- beliefs, but this is a subject I need to avoid right now as I’m working to build a more supportive relationship with food.“Here is another article to learn more about setting boundaries.
It is very likely that you’ll have to continuously remind others about your boundary. Persistence and consistency are key and will eventually help to reinforce your work in healing from diet culture. It can also be helpful to have a partner or friend on board with your newfound diet-free life. This is where support and community come in handy. The Healthy Dancer community is one such way to begin building that support if you’re struggling to identify someone in your immediate circle (friends and family). The more diet-free allies the better!
#5: Determine if it’s worth your energy
Sometimes, we’re not up for the conversation. First, realize that this is okay! You’re learning how to prioritize your energy so that you can feel good throughout the day. If conversations about food and body weight strike anxiety, then it may not be the time to partake in such a discussion. Planning an exit strategy will help:
- Change the topic of conversation. If a friend wants to discuss his or her diet, respond with a transitional comment like, “speaking of new trends, I recently started watching this new TV series about….”
- Set a boundary. This can be tough in family settings, but it’s worth a try. You can remind your loved ones that you’ve been harmed by diet culture and are now “working to build a more supportive relationship with food and therefore, would appreciate all body- and/or food-related comments be left at the door.” Another option: “I know that was intended as a compliment, but I feel uncomfortable with people judging my body.”
- Opt out with honesty. try a simple statement like, “diet talk is all around us… I bet we can find something more refreshing to discuss!”
- Exit. If that doesn’t work, step away for fresh air or do a quick phone check. Even in work settings, you can step away! Remember, self-care is a large part of this journey. This is your reason to opt out of triggering conversations.
If you’re up for a convo:
The journey towards building a sustainable lifestyle makes you the expert on your body and your mind. If you feel up to it, explain your decisions. You can even explain what a non-diet approach looks like and refer them to professional resources. Here are a few examples:
- I’m learning how to make food choices that best serve my body. I choose foods that nourish and energize my body. I also choose foods based on how I’m feeling and what I’m craving at the moment.
- I’m learning how to build confidence around all foods, from desserts to veggies. The point is to make choices that fuel me and satisfy me while listening to my internal cues of hunger and fullness. It’s intriguing, you should try it!
#4: Take A Social Break
Social media is harmful. I know, it’s a bold statement, but emerging research exemplifies the many ways in which social media is harming our health. And disordered eating and negative body image are part of it. We’ve all experienced the way targeted ads work. Hearing a commercial about Noom can result in diet-focused ads pushed to your feed without warning. This even goes for when you follow “anti-diet” content (yep, even “anti-diet” can be pretty diet-y these days!).
Facebook and Twitter, along with YouTube are some of the biggest platforms known to perpetuate weight stigma. Instagram’s algorithm has also been questioned as a “method [that] has led some people, including children, to content promoting eating disorders, misinformation, and hate-targeted posts.” See the full article here. The bottom line: reducing or eliminating your social media use might help. You can unfollow accounts flooded with triggering “lifestyle” advice, mute accounts that cause you to feel bad, or completely sign off during times when self-doubt feels overwhelming.
#5: Get Support
If it feels like many of your peers are sucked into diet culture, or the dieting messages in your studio are rampant, then seek additional support. The Healthy Dancer is a community that is led by me, a non-diet dietitian and certified counselor of intuitive eating. My site is designed to be a library of anti-diet (and free) advice for dancers. Keep it in your back pocket, along with my podcast for additional support.
Below are common scenarios that may arise in conversation. Preparing a few responses can help to set the stage for a constructive response. But remember: changing others’ views isn’t always easy nor is it your job to successfully execute. It can be very challenging for others to acknowledge paradigms like Healthy At Every Size and Intuitive Eating. It’s even more challenging for some to reevaluate internalized fatphobia and diet culture beliefs- especially true for those entrenched in diet and wellness culture for years.
Nonetheless, planting the seed might be all it takes. This doesn’t mean you need to show up with the studies and research, but rather, consider a personable approach on an emotional level. Explain your experience with diet and wellness culture and how moving forward, you’re looking to build more supportive habits.
Sample Responses to Unsolicited Food and/or Diet Comments:
- Comment: I’m so bad and ate way too much junk today!
- Response: You’re not bad! Food holds no moral value in regards to being “bad” or “good.” Try focusing your attention on eating in a way that makes you feel energized, nourished, and satisfied.
- Comment: Oh you’re a dancer! I bet you eat so healthfully.
- I choose foods that nourish my body so I feel energized throughout the day. Whether it’s a cookie or a salad, I choose foods that I’m in the mood for… these satisfy me!
- Comment: I’m so bad. I finished an entire brownie sundae. Want to start a juice cleanse with me tomorrow?
- Response: No thanks, I feel best when I include balanced meals and snacks throughout my day.
- Comment: I have no willpower. If I ate that, I wouldn’t be able to stop!
- Response: I’m sure that’s not true. I’m working on tuning into my innate feelings of fullness. It helps to know that I can save leftovers and simply have them tomorrow! Try it!
Sample Responses to Unsolicited Food and/or Diet Comments:
- Comment: You’re so [insert body-related comment here]. I’m jealous!
- Response: My body is not up for discussion, thanks for understanding!
- Comment: Looking a little bloated today, aren’t we?
- Response: Let’s take the focus off of my body… this type of talk doesn’t contribute anything to our lives.
- Comment: I heard the artistic director is really strict about body weight. You may have to lose a few pounds.
- Response: First, I’m working on building a better relationship with my body, and therefore, I don’t appreciate such comments. Second, my abilities as a dancer shouldn’t be defined by my body weight and/or shape. I’m confident in my technique.
Key Takeaways: Dealing With Diet Talk
You can plant the seeds of a non-diet lifestyle, but remember: your priority is to maintain your autonomy and confidence. Realize that although we can express our opinions and reasons for our decisions, we cannot control the opinions and decisions of others. The best we can do is protect our mindset and if it’s accessible, educate others about professionals who can help.