In two previous articles, we’ve discussed how to combat triggering language and diet talk. We’ve even walked through a few sample scenarios for when diet talk comes up in conversation. But what happens when the conversation is too much to handle?
Setting boundaries is incredibly important for guarding ourselves against diet culture and for living a life of food freedom. When stuck in the trenches of diet culture, boundaries go out the window. Our needs and our opinions around food become dependent upon an unattainable goal (like a “perfect” diet or an “ideal” body type). We’re made to believe that our self-worth is defined by the foods we eat and by the size of our body. This morality around food and body is the very premise of diet culture (a topic I talk more about here).
Social media also plays a role as we’re given a direct lens into the lives of anyone willing to share. Since this level of vulnerability is somewhat encouraged in today’s world, we have to be extra diligent in making sure that our daily decisions are not solely based upon needing to please those around us. Rather, we need to build the confidence to base decisions on intrinsic and unbiased desires. But what does it actually mean to set boundaries? And what role does self-worth play in our ability to set those boundaries? This article will dive into it.
Where Did Our Boundaries Go?
As a mom, it’s fascinating to watch my children utilize the power of “no” to practice their individuality, challenge their independence, and well, build personal boundaries. I’ve seen firsthand how, as humans, we seek independence from a young age. And while this aspect of parenting can be frustrating at times (especially when “no” becomes the most used word in my son’s vocabulary) it exemplifies his implicit ability to set boundaries.
But with age comes new experiences and, well, diet culture. Quick-fix diets tell us what to eat, how to eat, and when to eat. We’re made to believe that there is an “ideal” body to strive for and in order to achieve it, we *should* eat in a specific way. We become dependent on a faulty framework of how to care for ourselves, struggling to feel confident in our current bodies, and second-guessing our food choices.
For dancers, authority figures like teachers and directors can also impede on our abilites to build self-trust if they’re trying to integrate body standards within their schools or programs. Often times, such individuals are highly valued in dance. But we have to remember that at the end of the day, they too are just people with their own biases and limited education around weight science and nutrition. Their beleifs surrounding body weight and dancer diets are rooted in a culture that normalizes disordered eating and promotes unsustainable practices like food restrictions and weight cycling.
How Do We Build Back Our Boundaries?
Now, just because my kids are experimenting with setting their own boundaries doesn’t mean that as a parent, I cannot implement rules for reasons of safety, time, and practicality. I’ve also learned that as a parent and authority figure, I can hold boundaries while still teaching my kids to value their wants and needs. And the same holds true for you.
If you do not feel comfortable in a conversation, then it’s okay to exit. And while it’s normal to worry about hurting another’s feelings, understand that it’s not your responsibility to fix their feelings. You can recognize their disappointment and perhaps even validate it, but you should not have to suppress your wants in order to satisfy others. Here’s an example:
Your peers are chatting about a new diet they’re starting. Because you’ve begun the work of discovering food freedom, you find that this conversation triggers old thoughts. Despite failed attempts to shift the conversation, your peers continue. You exit the situation and notice some judgment from your peers. Later on, you explain, “I understand why you feel upset with me…” (recognizing their disappointment). “You are allowed to have different opinions than me and it’s cool that you know what you want…” (validating their feelings). “But, I too know what I need right now in order to continue this road towards a healthier relationship with food and body.”
The goal is to rebuild trust with your body’s instincts. From there, you’ll build confidence. But remember: if you’re actively struggling with restrictive eating, disordered eating, or an eating disorder, then your instincts might be a bit off… You’ll need to seek professional support if that’s the case. Turning to a licensed professional, such as a mental health therapist and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist is recommended.
Start Here: Redefine Your Self-Worth
Building boundaries goes hand-in-hand with self-confidence. This can be hard for a dancer who is struggling with poor body image and body dissatisfaction. In order to build the confidence needed to actually set boundaries, you need to first reassess your personal values and self-worth. As a human, you are worthy of saying no. As a human, you are also worthy of nourishing your body in a way that supports your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
Fellow practitioners Hillary Kinavey and Dana Sturdivant created an incredible platform that teaches us how to redefine the terms for our daily lives. Rather than listening to diet culture, we have the power to take back our relationships with both our bodies and our plates. Do yourself a favor and check out their work at Be Nourished. You’ll find incredible resources for building body trust, which in turn helps with the process of healing our relationship with food.
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